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Best Books of 2019: The Enlightened Capitalists by James O’Toole

Review of The Enlightened Capitalists: Cautionary Tales of Business Pioneers Who Tried to Do Well by Doing Good by James O’Toole. Originally published at Cato Journal.

James O’Toole, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, has assembled an impressive collective history of dozens of innovative—and even visionary—business leaders in his new book, The Enlightened Capitalists: Cautionary Tales of Business Pioneers Who Tried to Do Well by Doing Good. His detailed history includes a wide array of enterprises, from an early-19th century textile mill run by a social reformer to a present-day San Francisco bakery that sells fig and fennel sourdough, each one with an ostensibly more exalted purpose than mere profitability.

O’Toole has assembled a lifetime of research—he says he’s “been noodling about this book’s subject since 1970”—with copious real-world examples. Unfortunately, he provides little in terms of a theoretical framework. He seems to hope that more business leaders will adopt his preferred policies, but can be frustratingly vague on how a current-day corporate manager can decide for herself whether a given proposed policy will count enlightened, effective, and affordable.

Read the full review here.