The 50 Greatest Novels for Business Majors

Considering just how many subjects business envelopes, it makes perfect sense that novels prominently featuring it would run most of the literary gamut. From narratives of capitalist triumphs to inspiring stories of united laborers, students choosing such a major have plenty of great reads available. All of them, regardless of whether or not they agree with the overarching message or theme, contain some excellent lessons on eclectic, yet simultaneously wholly relevant, topics. These 50, listed in no particular order, make for an interesting enough start. But they’re not the only worthwhile reads out there, so audiences should try not to pitch little internet hissy fits over inclusions or exclusions.

Big Bad Businesses

    1. The Embezzler by Louis Auchincloss

      Although written in 1966, this sordid story of crooked financial practices unfortunately rings just as true today. Louis Auchincloss pulled from very real Wall Street scandals and the resulting government policies to expound upon corporate greed and selfishness.

    2. The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey

      Two mouth-foaming executives compete for a prestigious bank’s CEO position, willing to do whatever it takes — even if it means completely screwing over partners, clients, employees and other international businesses.

    3. Gain by Richard Powers

      Richard Powers earned the 1999 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction in his startling, sad novel about a soap company’s origins and how its later years meant terrifying cancer for nearby residents.

    4. Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima

      Young, militant martial artists take it upon themselves to rid Showa- and Meiji-era Japan of corrupted plutocrats. This being a Mishima novel, the conspiracy involves painstaking planning and plenty of the ultraviolence.

    5. The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

      Business students who love themselves a legal thriller should pick up this novel about a tobacco conglomerate’s seriously shady dealings, underhanded cheating, generous bribes and callousness towards cancer patients.

    6. Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley

      Politics and corporations collide in this rollicking, provocative satire of lobbyists and their willingness to kiss as many cabooses as possible so their industries go largely unchecked.

    7. Seaguy by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart

      Evil multinational corporations are a staple in science fiction and superhero literature and comics, of course — it’s pretty much its own subgenre by this point. But this spot-on tragicomedy about a Disneyesque conglomerate versus the eponymous, scuba-suited idealist is one of the most hilarious and depressing examples.

    8. The Great Divide by T. Davis Bunn

      This is another legal thriller, this time wrapping up political, social, humanitarian and ethical issues regarding American companies and Chinese sweatshops into a suspenseful, intense read.

    9. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

      Jurassic Park might be a work of science fiction, but it still raises some valid — not to mention wholly realistic — questions about allowing finances to preclude ethics and safety. And, of course, whether or not all advances and discoveries really need monetization.

    10. Holy Water by James P. Othmer

      Professional mishap after personal mishap land a former executive in a developing nation, where he learns the harsh, seriously health-compromising realities hidden by his brand new employer.

Classics

    1. The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells

      The Rise of Silas Lapham sports a classic narrative of the various immoral, unethical and even inhumane temptations that come packaged with business success and rabid social ladder climbing.

    2. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

      Although the author set out to mercilessly satirize everything he deemed ridiculous about society, he saves particular ire for crooked financiers — spurned on by a series of fiscal scandals in the 1870s.

    3. Bartleby, The Scrivener – A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville

      More novella than novel, Herman Melville’s silly classic could probably be considered the original Office Space, detailing a man’s work-related descent into overwhelming apathy.

    4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

      The Great Gatsby probably needs little to no introduction, but here’s one anyways. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless tale of a charming, wealthy businessman falling prey to Jazz Age consumption and frivolity is an English class staple bursting with valuable lessons.

    5. Something Happened by Joseph Heller

      Bob Slocum finds himself behind the wheel of a large automobile. Has a beautiful house. And a beautiful wife. He’s a businessman living the American Dream he’s supposed to have, and that’s exactly why he’s utterly miserable.

    6. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow

      Seize the Day‘s central figure is an out-of-work actor, who provides some valuable lessons about family and depressing unemployment realities during the rise of America’s middle class — both of which still resonate even today.

    7. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

      Hollywood’s slick and sinister business side takes center stage in a scathing, yet oddly scintillating look at how blind ambition, greed and power hunger cause disaster, even death.

    8. Post Office by Charles Bukowski

      Postal workers are a marginalized lot, and one of Charles Bukowski’s most popular novels pulls from his own life to discuss the drudgery and turmoil; he didn’t really mean for it to be read as a political, social or economic treatise, but rather a quirky slice of life from an oft-overlooked demographic.

    9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

      Objectivism and its encouragement of “rationalized selfishness” is definitely (thankfully) not everyone’s favorite philosophy, but Atlas Shrugged remains a classic read all the same. Even people disagreeing with this story of government versus industry can still use it gain a glimpse into some of their more extreme capitalist peers’ perspectives.

    10. The Financier by Theodore Drieser

      In this riches-to-rags-to-riches cautionary tale, a young businessman grows so confident he believes himself above those pesky “ethics,” gets caught, loses everything and struggles to regain financial footing.

Corporate Culture and Consumerism

    1. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

      Watch an advertising agency slowly fall to ruin after the dot-com bubble bursts, with simultaneously hilarious and wrenching insight into America’s gossipy, yet oddly filial, corporate culture.

    2. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

      Creatively and emotionally crippled beneath rigid, ritualistic conformity, consumerist pressures and empty business babble, frustrated men turn towards violence and terrorism to let the self-loathing out.

    3. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

      This popular, brutal novel mercilessly — if not outright gleefully — satirizes the ugly corners of 1980s corporate culture and the arrogant, sociopathic yuppies what sprang from it.

    4. Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

      Young and absurdly wealthy Eric Packer spends almost an entire day in his lavish, ostentatious limo attempting to get a haircut, but the wait ends up reflecting his crushing boredom with success and privilege instead.

    5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

      Heavy pressures stemming from suburban and corporate conformity alike start shredding the marriage of a couple whose intra- and interpersonal issues start boiling over until a bloody tragedy ensues.

    6. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson

      A World War II veteran takes on an executive position with the hope of providing for his beloved wife and children, but office life and constant consumerist pursuits taxes his time and wallet far too much. This intimate glimpse into 1950s corporate culture illustrates how one man decided to place family over finances.

    7. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

      This Pulitzer winner sees a glove manufacturer watch his upper-class life slowly unravel thanks to significant social and political upheaval, which challenges his ideas of business and status alike.

    8. A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

      Four different Atlanta-based professionals find their lives intertwining after a supposed rape, with political, social, economic and racial issues slowly infusing themselves into the overarching business narrative.

    9. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

      Step inside the lives of very nervous, very low-level Microsoft employees and watch how technology simultaneously makes their careers and renders them hopelessly frustrated.

    10. Company by Max Barry

      Chipper young business school graduate Stephen Jones bounds up the corporate ladder and discovers just how utterly ridiculous office politics can get in this razor-sharp satire.

Entrepreneurship, Business Ownership and Leadership

    1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

      With his trademark kinetic storytelling, genre blending and passion for knowledge, Neal Stephenson weaves narratives of WWII codebreakers and their internet entrepreneur descendants together into an interesting reflection on politics and business.

    2. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

      A sterling work of hardboiled noir fiction, Mildred Pierce features an angry, driven divorcee who builds her own restaurants-and-pies empire and suffers from a nasty ingrate daughter.

    3. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

      One of Charles Dickens’ lesser-known novels concerns a family-owned shipping business — and, of course, the family itself — and begins with the eponymous entrepreneur’s aching desire for a male heir.

    4. The Rise of David Lavinsky by Abraham Cahan

      The Rise of David Lavinsky offers up a more cynical take on the traditional rags-to-riches morality tale, featuring a plucky Russian-Jewish immigrant who struggles with cultural acclimatization and eventually launches his own wildly successful garment business. But such achievements, of course, come with quite a price.

    5. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

      Small businesses, such as the beloved restaurant featured here, can form (and warm) the heart of a town for generations — even inspire those who never set foot in the surrounding town.

    6. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

      Half novel, half business philosophy treatise, The Goal outlines the Theory of Constraints, which discusses systems management, how constraints negatively impact manufacturing and what effective leaders must do to address them.

    7. Small Business by Tom Parker

      Unique struggles faced by small business owners form the frustrating core of this fascinating, frequently relatable novel — even for recent graduates with no interest in launching a media production firm.

    8. Paul the Peddler by Horatio Alger

      Oh, come on! What’s a listing of business novels without ol’ Horatio Alger?! Incomplete, that’s what!

    9. Empire by Gore Vidal

      Gore Vidal’s sprawling 20th century historical epic isn’t solely about business, of course, but its detailed exploration of its intersections with politics and role in shaping journalism needs reading.

    10. The Cure by Jeff Cox and Dan Paul

      Business students desiring their fiction served with a massive side of very real management and entrepreneurial advice might find this read exactly what they want.

Workers’ Rights

  1. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

    Although most people remember The Jungle for its visceral depictions of decrepit meat processing plants, Upton Sinclair really meant it as a scorching expose on horrifyingly exploited immigrant workers.

  2. Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato

    Follow a dedicated Italian construction worker as he grapples against backbreaking labor, economic turmoil, tenement living and cultural challenges in order to provide for the family he loves.

  3. The Iron Heel by Jack London

    Jack London’s dystopian vision features a terrifying American oligarchy hellbent on denying workers’ rights and destroying the middle and lower classes for good; it’s a not-so-happy look at the effects of not-so-happy business and political practices.

  4. In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

    Exploited California-based fruit pickers band together and stand up against their oppressors in this ode to keeping workers safe, healthy and fairly compensated.

  5. God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane

    Both workers’ rights and postcolonial concerns provoke considerable thought in this story of Senegalese railroad laborers fed up with inhumane treatment and unforgiving conditions.

  6. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

    Esperanza Rising may be targeted at young adults, but business students will definitely find some valuable lessons within its covers. During the Great Depression, a very young girl watches her wealthy family lose everything — including her father — and painfully rebuild after taking positions in American work camps. She herself must take part as well, which raises provocative questions about child labor.

  7. Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

    Real West Virginian coal mining strikes inspired Denise Giardina’s popular historical novel, which illustrates the destructive, deadly consequences of placing profits ahead of people.

  8. Lonely Crusade by Chester Himes

    While World War II wrecks the world, a young African-American man faces down prejudice, racism, exploitation, corruption, selfishness and — of course — poor working conditions inspiring him towards union action.

  9. Thunder on the Mountain by David Poyer

    Another interesting read for business students who want to learn more about the history of unions, labor disputes and class struggles. Even if they don’t agree with such things, that doesn’t really mean they won’t encounter them at some point in their careers.

  10. The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully

    Despite its young adult status, The Bobbin Girl still stands as a great lesson in labor history, industrialization and the horrors child workers often encountered before the legislation protecting them passed.

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