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The Ten Best Business Novels

From the January/February 2007 Issue

We presented our list of the Ten Best Business Movies in the November/December issue of The American. Now, here’s our list of the Ten Best Business Novels. We focused on literary merit, requiring only that each book have some connection to the world of commerce.

The Financier

Theodore Dreiser, The Financier (1912)
The story of Philadelphia tycoon Frank Cowperwood, whose love interests seem destined to mangle his finances.

A Harlot High and Low

Honoré de Balzac, A Harlot High and Low (1847)
We could have picked any of dozens of Balzac novels. This one tracks a struggling socialite who tries to marry his way to financial success with the help of an escaped convict.

The Rise of Silas Lapham

William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
The title character makes a killing in the paint business, then tries to join the ranks of Boston’s Brahmins. In the end, he maintains his integrity—but loses his business. Perhaps the greatest American business novel.

Cryptonomicon

Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon (1999)
Cryptography is the common thread that links World War II code-breakers to 1990s Internet entrepreneurs, struggling to find funding, in this time-shifting epic.

American Pastoral 

Philip Roth, American Pastoral (1997)
The story of a Jewish glove manufacturer in Newark who builds a stable bourgeois life for himself but is shaken by the social upheaval of the 1970s, in which his own daughter is drawn to political violence. Roth’s 22nd book and among his best.

The Embezzler 

Louis Auchincloss, The Embezzler (1966)
This morality tale—based on the story of Richard Whitney, the New York Stock Exchange president who landed in Sing Sing—is set during the Great Depression. It follows the scrappy Rex Geer as he becomes a leading businessman, only to turn on his friend and social patron Guy Prime when Prime gets in trouble.

The Fountainhead 

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (1943)
Howard Roark, a misunderstood architect, is the protagonist in this paean to individualism and self-interest. The novel sets out Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which she developed after fleeing Soviet Russia for the capitalist West.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit 

Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955)
A sympathetic view of struggling company man Tom Rath, whose creative energies are put to poor use by his office-politicking boss. In the end, his merit is rewarded—and he declines a high-pressure job in favor of more time with his family.

A Man in Full 

Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full (1998)
A realistic treatment of the interlocking worlds of business, politics, and social life in modern Atlanta. The book earned high marks from critics—and from President Bush, who cites Wolfe as one of his favorite authors. We prefer this one to Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), but not by much.

The Way We Live Now 

Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (1875)
A biting satire of 19th-century London, this novel centers on scheming French financier Augustus Melmotte, whose wild ride through the British establishment ends in suicide after a railroad he claimed to be building is revealed not to exist.


 

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