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Archive for the 'Business' Category

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Introducing Class Clowns

Class Clowns

“At the end of the day, the underlying motivations of the various actors matter less than knowing how to avoid the mistakes detailed here. The trick is to retain the passion for education but lose the emotional or ideological commitments to particular solutions.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Knee’s introduction.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Why For-Profit Education Fails

Class Clowns

“Should anyone care that a bunch of very rich people have failed in these ventures? In fact, this should matter to anyone concerned about education. That failure, repeated so consistently, has given credible fodder to people who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere. But that sphere will always comprise public and private, nonprofit and for-profit institutions, and for-profit businesses play an essential role.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share an excerpt from “Why For-Profit Education Fails,” an article by Jonathan Knee that appeared in The Atlantic.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Why For-Profit Education Fails
By Jonathan A. Knee

[O]ver the past couple of decades, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply market discipline or new technology to a sector that often seems to shun both on principle. Yet as attractive and intuitive as these opportunities seemed, those who pursued them have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts. JP Morgan backed Edison Schools’ ill-conceived effort to outsource public education in the late 1990s and saw the business lose 90 percent of its value during its four years as a public company; Goldman Sachs was one of many private-equity firms that came up empty after betting on the inevitable ascendance of for-profit universities; the billionaire Ronald Perelman shut down his futuristic K–12 educational-technology company, GlobalScholar, after spending $135 million and concluding that the software was faulty and a “mirage”; by the time the hedge-fund titan John Paulson was able to sell the last of his stake in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in 2015, he had likely lost hundreds of millions financing the company’s misguided mission to remake textbook publishing.

Not all financial investments in education end badly, but the number that have is notable, as are the magnitudes of the fiascos, in stark contrast to the successes of many of these same investors in other domains. The precise sources of failure in each instance are diverse, as are the educational subsectors targeted and the approaches pursued. But what many share is the sweeping nature of their ambition. (more…)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

The Road to Disastrous Educational Businesses Is Paved With Good Intentions

Class Clowns

“Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share a piece of an excerpt posted in full by EdSurge.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Adherents of particular educational business models and advocates of particular educational public policy approaches have a tendency to use very similar language in promoting their views. Their favored instrumentality of change is typically described alternatively as “transformational” or “revolutionary.” In both cases, the evidence suggests that a narrowing of focus, a nuanced appreciation of the particular market structure and context, and an emphasis on the importance of effective execution would go a long way toward improving the probability of successful outcomes.

But this is easier said than done. In general, revolutionaries are not known for their humility. Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.

In the public policy arena, there is no better example of this phenomenon than the failed efforts of well-meaning reform advocates to use Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools to revolutionize urban public education more broadly. As documented by Dale Russakoff in her compelling 2015 book “The Prize,” the Newark initiative was disastrous, leaving little to show for the massive investment. In seeking transformational results that could be used as a template elsewhere, leaders misjudged the political environment, ignored the specific needs of the traumatized local population, and entrusted execution to true believers who did not have the required skills.

It would be hard to argue that the magnitude of this failure has not set back even better-conceived reform efforts. Those most responsible for the Newark debacle frequently invoked jargon plucked from business best sellers to justify their misguided efforts. Given the embarrassing results of many of the “transformative” educational business initiatives—including a number with which the same executives involved in Newark were associated—it is unclear how compelling these references were. More broadly, the failure of these business ventures has given credible fodder to those who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere.

Read the excerpt in its entirety at EdSurge.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

A Cautionary Tale on Education Investment Flops: Jonathan Knee on Squawk Box

Class Clowns

“When you try to mix your philanthropy with your investing, you tend to do both badly…. The important thing about good for-profit education is that it’s sustainable, it’s got a sustainable business model.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. On Friday, December 16, Jonathan Knee appeared and discussed the dangers of investing in education on CNBC’s Squawk Box. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to share the video of his interview below.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Rolling the Dice

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship

“To paraphrase Virgil, both fortune and misfortune tend to favor the bold. In other words, the surest route to avoiding misfortune is certainly not by starting one’s own business. Those who are motivated primarily by a fear of discomfort, uncertainty, and the like will find a safer way to earn a living. Of course, in many instances, such people will fare better economically over the long run than the perennial risk-taker. Nonetheless, those looking for the safe route are not likely to become entrepreneurs, successful or otherwise.” — Joe Carlen

This week, our featured book is A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World, by Joe Carlen. For today’s post, Carlen discusses the traits that are most commonly shared by successful entrepreneurs throughout history.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of A Brief History of Entrepreneurship!

Rolling the Dice
By Joe Carlen

During a recent radio interview about A Brief History of Entrepreneurship, the host asked me about those traits that are most commonly found among successful entrepreneurs. Having recently written a book that traces entrepreneurship from the dawn of civilization to the nascent space tourism industry, three initial answers sprung to mind. In this piece, I will review each of them, and discuss my personal choice for the single most important trait shared by successful entrepreneurs.

Ingenuity? Certainly, some of history’s greatest entrepreneurs, especially those of recent centuries, were distinguished by their ingenuity. Yet, many more, equally successful, were not especially innovative, at least in the technological sense. Moreover, some of the most creative ones – like Samuel Crompton, the brilliant industrial innovator who failed to adequately protect his intellectual property – never attained significant financial success. Meanwhile, even some of today’s largest technology companies were not founded on particularly original ideas. Rather, some are enterprises that grew out of tweaking existing concepts and promoting them far more aggressively and effectively than the original innovators ever did. (more…)

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Introducing “A Brief History of Entrepreneurship”

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship

“Throughout history, the entrepreneur’s ceaseless quest to discover and/or develop new markets has been pursued through a variety of means, all of which have had an enormous impact on society…. So while this book does not posit a moral argument for or against entrepreneurship, it does argue that it has been a “prime mover,” an instigator of seminal transformations that have altered the course of history.” — Joe Carlen

This week, our featured book is A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World, by Joe Carlen. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Carlen’s Introduction, in which he traces the term “entrepreneur” back to its invention, and explains what made him investigate the history of economic invention.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of A Brief History of Entrepreneurship!

In 1985, Peter Drucker, the late management expert, defined entrepreneurship as “the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth,” among the most specific and meaningful definitions of the term. More literally, the words “entrepreneurship” and “enterprise” both derive from the Old French word for “an undertaking,” entrependre. Yet even in French, the related word entrepreneur did not take on its current meaning until the economist Jean-Baptiste Say so imbued it in 1800.

In the English language, until the mid-nineteenth century, when the French term entrepreneur began to enjoy common usage outside France, the term undertaker (a literal translation of the French word) was sometimes used in its stead. More frequently, however, the more evocative term “adventurer” was preferred. In this vein, the American economist William Baumol once defined the entrepreneur as “the individual willing to embark on adventure in pursuit of economic goals.” These individuals and the often unintended impact of their adventures on the course of world history are the focus of this book. (more…)

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Flying Money and Capitalist Monks

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship

“Living in the land where paper had been invented several centuries earlier, these Chinese entrepreneurs began using paper bills of credit representing and exchangeable for a certain sum of guan. Upon selling their shipments of tea in the city, usually the dynasty capital Chang’an, they would receive paper IOUs…. The lightness of paper money, especially in comparison with copper coinage, inspired the name fei-qian, ‘flying money.’” — Joe Carlen

This week, our featured book is A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World, by Joe Carlen. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Flying Money and Capitalist Monks,” Carlen’s chapter on entrepreneurship in Tang and Song China.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of A Brief History of Entrepreneurship!

Monday, October 31st, 2016

Book Giveaway! A Brief History of Entrepreneurship, by Joe Carlen

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship

“Joe Carlen delves in primary and secondary sources, including texts on modern management, and presents them in readable and attractive prose. A Brief History of Entrepreneurship is a light and enjoyable read.” — Ali Kahn, Abram Hutzler Professor of Political Economy, Johns Hopkins University

This week, our featured book is A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World, by Joe Carlen. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Media Roundup: Capital and the Common Good

Capital and the Common Good

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present a quick roundup of some of the great media attention Capital and the Common Good is getting.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Capital and the Common Good.

Georgia Levenson Keohane’s Capital and the Common Good has received lots of great coverage over the past couple weeks, starting with a review by Brenda Jubin at Seeking Alpha. Jubin claims that “[t]his book may not be an antidote to the constant barrage of attacks on the financial industry, but it shows that finance can be, and often is, allied with the interests of the public good.”

On October 3, Keohane was interviewed by Diane Horn on the Sustainability Segment of Mind Over Matters on KEXP Seattle.

Keohane has also written a number of articles about the use of innovative finance in helping to solve major world issues, including climate change mitigation; health, disaster response, and poverty reduction; and the global refugee crisis.

If you are in New York City next week, please come see Georgia at Columbia Business School where she will discuss how innovative finance is tackling the world’s most urgent problems. Capital and the Common Good 10/17 at Columbia Business School, Uris Hall, Room 322 at 6:30pm. You can find more information about the event at the website of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise.

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Investing in Hope: Innovative Finance for the World’s Refugees

Capital and the Common Good

“Yet we have seen how interventions that view refugees as potential assets, not liabilities, are not only cost-effective, but the seeds of prosperity and peace.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane, Andrew Billo, John Kluge and Christine Mahoney

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. Today, we are happy to share an excerpt from an article by Keohane, Andrew Billo, John Kluge and Christine Mahoney that was originally posted at New America.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Capital and the Common Good.

Investing in Hope: Innovative Finance for the World’s Refugees
By Georgia Levenson Keohane, Andrew Billo, John Kluge and Christine Mahoney

What if, for starters, we understood that this problem was not going to resolve itself in a matter of months and removed the basic barriers to work allowing people fleeing their homes— a dislocated but often skilled labor force—to contribute, productively, to their new communities? This is not a simple task; in places like Lebanon, already high unemployment means that absorbing millions of working age Syrians is economically, and politically, complex.

Yet we have seen how interventions that view refugees as potential assets, not liabilities, are not only cost-effective, but the seeds of prosperity and peace. Consider the recent aid-for-trade deal between the European Union and Jordan, home to 650,000 Syrian refugees. Jordan will issue work permits to Syrians—20,000 issued to date, another 78,000 forthcoming—in exchange for EU aid and relaxed import duties for Jordanian manufacturers who employ Syrians. (more…)

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Fighting Deforestation and Climate Change

Capital and the Common Good

“REDD was originally premised on the idea that forest conservation could attract significant financial resources by allowing verified reductions in emissions to generate credits that could be used for compliance in cap-and-trade programs in other countries. With the delayed development of these compliance markets in places like the United States, the REDD framework has evolved as a kind of innovative finance development assistance, relying primarily on public sources of funds.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. Today, we are happy to present part of an excerpt from Capital and the Common Good, originally posted at impactalpha, in which Keohane looks at the way that REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is attempting to combat deforestation in Brazil through innovative finance.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Capital and the Common Good.

Fighting Deforestation and Climate Change: REDD Financing Lessons from Brazil and Indonesia
By Georgia Levenson Keohane

REDD — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — is a pay-for-success program designed to create economic incentives to protect forests and the carbon they contain. First introduced into the UN climate talks in 2005, by scientists and environmental advocates from Brazil and the U.S. using the term “Compensated Reductions,” REDD has evolved to include a range of innovative financing approaches to reduce emissions related to deforestation.

The motivation behind REDD is as much long-term sustainable development as it is forests per se. Among the primary drivers of growth in countries like Brazil have been the development of commodities like palm oil, soy, and beef, often through deforestation—clearing trees to raise crops and cattle. REDD’s pay-for-success design is meant to motivate less carbon-intensive production. That means improving economic output while decreasing emissions. (more…)

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Innovative Finance and the Visible Hand

Capital and the Common Good

“In this book, we will examine how creative configurations of nonprofit, commercial, and public-sector entities come together to harness market forces in the face of market failure. When these partnerships develop new or improved ways to pay for investments in public goods and social and economic development, we call it innovative finance.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present the book’s introduction, in which Keohane introduces the concept of innovative finance.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Capital and the Common Good.

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Capital and the Common Good, by Georgia Levenson Keohane

Capital and the Common Good

Capital and the Common Good shows we are living in a time where financial tools can expand to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems. This book is packed with information and inspiration.” — Robert J. Shiller, Nobel Laureate in Economics

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

A Look Inside a “Conversational Firm”

The Conversational Firm

“Most interesting to me was the fact that this company, which was so vocal about rejecting conventional bureaucracy, ended up adopting some bureaucratic practices over time—but this happened precisely because employees used their voices to speak up and say when certain conventional practices that had been rejected would not be useful. It struck me that a whole new model was emerging, one in which cross-hierarchical conversation was a central mechanism for confronting business challenges.” – Catherine Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, for the final post of the week, we are happy to provide a short excerpt from an interview with Turco conducted by Kara Baskin for MIT Sloan School’s Newsroom. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

What new approach to communication did you find inside TechCo?

What most excited me was the realization that there is a new organizational model that companies can shoot for today. I believe this model has become possible—and perhaps even necessary—on account of the communication technologies now available and the habits and expectations that today’s employees bring into the workplace. I call the model the “conversational firm,” and it’s the idea that organizations can have far more open dialogue across the corporate hierarchy than we ever before thought possible. (more…)

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Employees Speaking Up: The TechCo Wiki

The Conversational Firm

“Perhaps most interesting, the employees’ upward communication on the wiki was so startlingly open at times that I found myself wondering if this might be a setting in which employees had finally transcended all the theorized barriers to ‘speaking up’ to hierarchy…. Such public voice and dialogue simply have no precedent in past accounts of corporate life.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Turco’s account of the TechCo internal wiki.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

A Conversational Firm for a Conversational Age

The Conversational Firm

“[The Conversational Firm] will demonstrate that even if we retain certain elements of conventional Weberian bureaucracy (including a hierarchical decision-making structure), it is now quite possible to build firms in which the opinions of employees are heard, firms very much engaged in public discussion of their techniques. In this conversational age, with our new tools and platforms for voice, it is possible to build more conversational firms.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, we have an excerpt from The Conversational Firm, in which Turco explains her concept of the “conversational firm,” and tells how TechCo is a perfect vehicle for her to use in exploring what a “conversational firm” can be.

A Conversational Firm for a Conversational Age
By Catherine Turco

Despite bureaucracy’s apparent indestructibility, The Conversational Firm offers hope that it is possible to pry open the iron cage if we approach things from a new angle. By following what works and what does not work about TechCo’s various attempts to transcend bureaucracy with openness—and by examining when and how conventional bureaucracy slips back in along the way—the book provides insight into the opportunities and challenges of shooting for openness as well as the nature and durability of bureaucracy. Ultimately I argue that TechCo has found its way to something quite new and different from the iron cage—a new organizational form I call the “conversational firm.”

Such an organization does not do away with all the vestiges of conventional bureaucracy. In particular, it does not become an open, democratic decision-making environment. However, it does maintain a radically more open communication environment than we have ever seen before, and this fosters a more engaged workforce and a more adaptive organization. Using multiple communication channels to promote and sustain an ongoing dialogue with its employees, the firm is able to confront the tradeoffs of openness and bureaucracy directly and to leverage the collective wisdom of its workforce to navigate them. Through its ongoing conversations, the organization finds a way to challenge the market’s—and even its own— conventional wisdom, continually iterating and improving upon both the open and bureaucratic practices it adopts as it goes. (more…)

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Introducing “The Conversational Firm”

The Conversational Firm

“‘The old ways of doing things don’t work anymore,’ TechCo’s CEO told me the first time we met. The ‘old ways’ he was referring to were most everything we think of when we think of a conventional bureaucratic firm: vertical hierarchy, centralized decision making, formal rules and guidelines to control employee behavior, corporate communication that follows the rigid lines of the firm’s organizational chart, and a staid culture that stifles individual expression.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. To get the week’s feature started, we have excerpted Turco’s Preface to The Conversational Firm, in which she takes us a TechCo “Hack Night” and explains how TechCo is trying to get rid of what the company sees as outdated organizational structures and theories.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media

The Conversational Firm

“Will twenty-first-century social media technologies finally liberate organizations from stifling bureaucratic hierarchies? After spending ten months closely observing a software firm, Catherine J. Turco, one of sociology’s brightest young stars, surprises with fascinating and nuanced answers. Brimming with vivid examples, The Conversational Firm will not only shape scholarly debate but also engage general readers interested in corporate life.” — Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Conversational Firm. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, September 23 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

1976: GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company)

Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett

“Buffett began researching GEICO out of curiosity, leading to the much-cited anecdote of a young Buffett visiting GEICO’s headquarters on a Saturday morning when the premises were empty except for a janitor and an investment officer named Lorimer Davidson. Davidson later became CEO, and Buffett eventually became owner of the entire company.” — Yefei Lu

This week, our featured book is Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett: Twenty Cases, by Yefei Lu. Today, we are happy to provide an excerpt from Lu’s chapter on one of Buffett’s most famous investments: GEICO.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett!

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

1958: Sanborn Map Company

Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett

“For someone considering investing in Sanborn Maps when Buffett was investing, the assessment likely would have been as follows: Sanborn was a near-perfect business for a long time, a sole provider of a critical service, with high returns on capital; however, in the last several years prior to 1958, the business had faced serious substitution by newer technology, which had clearly and significantly eroded its core business within the fire insurance industry.” — Yefei Lu

This week, our featured book is Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett: Twenty Cases, by Yefei Lu. Today, we are happy to provide an excerpt from Lu’s chapter on one of Buffett’s earlier investments: the Sanborn Map Company.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett!