I’ve been reading The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters: Memos, Missives, Pitches, Proposals and E-Mails (edited by Erik Bruun) off and on for months and months now — it’s a 500 page book. I’ll probably finish it up tomorrow.
I don’t know what it is about letters and other primary sources but I very much enjoy reading them.
The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters immediately made me think of Letters of a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters (edited by Andrew Carroll), a unique collection of more than 200 letters from the arrival of the Pilgrims to the present day. In fact some letters, such as Cesar Chavez’s Good Friday 1969 letter to E.L. Barr, Jr. (President of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League), are in both books! The Journals of Lewis and Clark and I Love You, Ronnie by Nancy Reagan are two other primary source books that I love — Lewis and Clark for it’s beautiful historical and scientific account of exploration of America’s West and I Love You, Ronnie for the Reagans’ tender and heartfelt expressions of love.
But back to The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters . . . this extraordinary collection presents business advice from big names like Alfred P. Sloan, Jack Welch, John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci through their own correspondence. Drawn from around the world and across history, these personal and professional communications reflect the wit, eloquence, practical wisdom, and historical interest of letters, memos, emails, and telegrams.
Grouped into fourteen categories, the letters offer general business advice, discuss labor conditions and the difficulties of employment, address the roles of government and business, discuss the pros and cons of central banking, issue praise, assign blame, propose deals, market products and services, and promote new ideas.
These are the topics:
- Benjamin Franklin on Writing a Good Letter
- David Ogilvy to his nephew on the advantages and disadvantages of a college education
Beasts of Burden
- Cesar Chavez‘s Good Friday 1969 letter to E.L. Barr, Jr. (President of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League)
Business and Government
- John Wayne‘s proposal to President Lyndon B. Johnson to produce The Green Berets (1966) as a patriotic film to support the Vietnam War
The Competitive Edge
- William Randolph Hearst‘s outline of how to run a successful newspaper
Compliments and Complaints
- Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie & Clyde) commending Henry Ford on the reliability of his cars, particularly for quick getaways
- An amusing note from a dissatisfied customer to a French typewriter shop using the defective typewriter that used “x” instead of “e”
Deals (Proposals, Deal Negotiations, Sealed Deals)
- P. T. Barnum‘s offer to purchase Ulysses S. Grant‘s Civil War relics before Grant got himself out of debt by writing his Personal Memoirs
- Telegram negotiation of a raise between R. R. Lingeman to Monocle Periodicals
- Andrew Carnegie‘s note to his good friend and longtime business partner Henry Phipps Jr. after selling Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan for $480 million
Employment (Getting a Job, Career Choice, Management, Employment, Departing Work)
- A letter of recommendation for Albert Einstein
- Louisa May Alcott‘s letters to her family about her troubles to make ends meet ten years before publishing Little Women
- John D. Rockefeller, Jr.‘s 1926 proposal to his father, John D. Rockefeller, to create compensation packages based on company earning and stock performance
- Robert Benchley‘s May 29, 1933 series of six telegrams of excuses to his boss Art Samuels at Harper’s Bazaar including my favorite, “Am being inducted into Indian tribe”
- Correspondence between a GE laid-off employee’s wife and Jack Welch
- J. P. Morgan‘s October 29, 1907 memo to create a $30 million bond issue that prevented New York City from going into bankruptcy
- Bernard M. Baruch predicting the 1929 stock market crash in a letter to Senator William H. King
- Kentucky Distillers’ Co offer to sell its list of customers to the Keeley Institute, the widely known alcoholics’ sanatorium; “Our customers are your prospective patients”
- Correspondence regarding Norman Rockwell‘s endorsement of paint-brushes made by two rival companies
The Money Chase
- Richard Quincy seeking money from William Shakespeare
- Robert Louis Stevenson (author of classics such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island) carefully and politely begging his parents for money
- President Calvin Coolidge on the importance of thrift
- Jef Raskin‘s sarcastic 1979 memo to Steve Jobs with what at the time seemed to be a preposterous list of proposed features for the Apple Macintosh computer
- Thomas Jefferson‘s instructions to Merryweather Lewis
- Hugh Hefner‘s letter to newsstand sellers about a “brand new magazine for men“
- Bill Gates urges Apple Computers to license its software to Microsoft in 1985
- Letter from Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss) asserting his rights to the Water Tourture Cell which he invented
Work and Business Ethics
- John Adams to Abigail Adams on self-improvement
- Charles Dickens to his youngest child on the important of good morals
The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters is inspirational, humorous, poignant, and informative. Most of the items in this collections are publicly available and no longer protected by copyrights.
Still, the value is in the collection and I’d like to purchase a copy to add to my ever expanding library.