by Sam Walton with John Huey
Just before he died of cancer in April, Walton, the iconoclastic founder of Wal-Mart, set down the story of his life with the help of FORTUNE senior editor Huey. It is a folksy tale of an American dream come true.
With a fervor that would make Horatio Alger proud, Walton recaps his overalls-to-riches life, from his humble birth in Oklahoma in 1918 through his first entrepreneurial effort as a five-and-dime store owner to his ascent to CEO of the world’s largest retailer. Interspersing plain talk with testimonials from family, friends and colleagues, Walton sketches a detailed portrait of a back-to-basics family man who, despite his wealth, drives a pickup truck, wears $89 suits and pays $5 for a haircut. Walton writes: “I just don’t believe a big showy lifestyle is appropriate for anywhere, least of all here in Bentonville [Ark.], where folks work hard for their money and where we all know that everyone puts on their trousers one leg at a time.”
Throughout the book, Walton preaches his gospel: Work hard, keep costs down, make your employees your partners and always satisfy your customers. At times, his down-home tome is in danger of sounding clichéd—particularly when Walton lays out such commonsense strategies as commit to your business, communicate and swim upstream. Still, there’s no denying that the Walton way works. Just ask any Wal-Mart shareholder who bought stock when the company went public in 1970: A $1,650 investment would now be worth about $3 million. (Doubleday, $22.50)