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As the legendary investor Warren Buffett famously observed, “accounting is the language of business.” So even if you aren’t an accountant by trade, if you own a business or work for one, or if you serve in a leadership role in a not-for-profit organization, it helps to be conversant with at least the basics.
Fortunately, there are many books that can assist. Here we list seven of the best, based on Investopedia’s analysis and the judgments of other independent reviewers. We’ve grouped them by category to make it easier to find a book (or books) that will meet your particular needs and rated one best overall for the breadth of information and advice it offers.
Best Overall Accounting Book: Accounting All-in-One for Dummies
Part of the ubiquitous Dummies series on every conceivable subject, Accounting All-in-One for Dummies has been a best seller in its category since its second edition appeared in 2018. A third edition, published on Aug. 30, 2022, has not been widely reviewed but appears substantially similar.
The “All-in-One” in the book’s title refers to the fact that its 700+ pages are divided into nine separate “books” on various aspects of accounting, starting with “Setting up Your Accounting System” and ending with “Auditing and Detecting Financial Fraud.”
The introduction to the second edition explains that its intended reader is “an accountant, accountant wannabe, a businessperson who needs to know about some aspect of business accounting, or an investor who needs to know how to make sense of financial statements.” The book also assumes a reasonable level of comfort with basic math, adding that higher-level math is “why we have accounting software.”
Best Accounting Book for Non-Accountants: Accounting for Non-Accountants
Accounting for Non-Accountants is an easy-to-read, 210-page paperback covering the basics of accounting for businesses of all sizes (though it’s most likely to appeal to smaller ones). Now in a third edition issued in 2013, it uses a fictitious small company that makes, repairs, and sells bicycles to show how to prepare a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, and other common documents. It also explains how to create a general journal and general ledger, as well as a master budget. Useful glossaries of relevant terms appear throughout the book.
The author, Wayne A. Label, is a certified public accountant (CPA) who also holds a Ph.D. in accounting. Label mentions at the end of the book that he is pondering a fourth edition, but this remains the most current one. The book is also available in a Spanish language edition, Contabilidad Financiera Para No Contadores.
Best Accounting Book for Small Business Owners: Accounting QuickStart Guide
There are any number of books on the market today that can acquaint small business owners with the rudiments of accounting, including the two books listed above. The Accounting QuickStart Guide, however, stands out for its encouraging tone, clarity, and completeness (all within 213 pages), making it a solid choice for busy business owners with a lot of other things on their minds. The book offers a good introduction to the basics of accounting and bookkeeping, along with a useful chapter on tax matters.
Author Josh Bauerle is a CPA whose bio says he specializes in working with online business owners. The latest update of this book is the third edition, published in 2018.
Best Accounting Book for Not-for-Profit Board Members: Nonprofit Accounting and Financial Statements: Overview for Board, Management and Staff
As its subtitle announces, Nonprofit Accounting and Financial Statements offers guidance for board members, managers, and employees of not-for-profit organizations. But author Thomas R. Ittelson notes that it was written “primarily from a board member’s perspective because oversight and financial accountability ultimately rest with the board.” The book walks readers through the accounting rules that apply to this sector and the types of financial statements that non-profits are supposed to prepare and board members are expected to comprehend.
In addition to this 283-page book, now in a third edition published in 2020, Ittelson is the author of a 60-page visual “companion book”—A Picture Book of Nonprofit Financial Statements, which covers statements of activities, statements of financial position, statements of cash flows, and statements of functional expenses.
Best Accounting Book for Investors: Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements
Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements begins with a quotation from the fabled “Oracle of Omaha” himself, part of which proclaims: “unless you are willing to put in the effort to learn accounting—how to read and interpret financial statements—you really shouldn’t select stocks yourself.”
While there are any number of books that attempt to distill Warren Buffett’s investing wisdom, this one has the advantage of being written by an actual Buffett, Mary Buffett, his one-time daughter-in-law, who coauthored it with David Clark, a longtime “Buffettologist.” (Yes, that’s what such people are called.) The pair have collaborated on some half-dozen books to this point, but this one, issued in 2011, focuses most specifically on how to analyze corporate financial statements to find stocks with reliable long-term profit potential.
Best for QuickBooks Users: QuickBooks 2022 All-in-One for Dummies
QuickBooks has become the go-to accounting software for many business owners. In Investopedia’s latest ratings of the best software for small business, QuickBooks Online ranked best overall and QuickBooks Self-Employed was named best for self-employed freelancers.
QuickBooks 2022 All-in-One for Dummies by CPA Stephen L. Nelson is a comprehensive guide for both new and experienced QuickBooks users. The “All-in-One” in this title means its 640 pages are subdivided into eight separate books, each covering its own topic. Nelson guides readers step-by-step through QuickBooks’ many functions, such as invoicing, paying vendors, tracking inventory, managing bank accounts, coordinating payroll, and preparing budgets and financial statements. Additional “books” cover common business analysis tools, including ratio analysis, economic value added analysis, and profit-volume-cost analysis. The final chapter throws in a handy “crash course” in Excel.
Whatever questions a reader might have about QuickBooks, this book very likely answers them.
Best Accounting Dictionary: A Dictionary of Accounting
Definitions for many accounting terms are readily available online, including here at Investopedia. But for a handy desk reference, the 480-page A Dictionary of Accounting from Oxford University Press would be a solid choice. Edited by Jonathan Law, it provides more than 3,800 definitions, not only of U.S. accounting terms, but those commonly used the U.K., Australia, India, and the Asia-Pacific region. The latest version of this dictionary is the fifth edition, published in 2016.
Other business-related books in the Oxford Quick Reference series include A Dictionary of Finance and Banking and A Dictionary of Business and Management, both also edited by Jonathan Law.
Accounting has an unfortunate reputation as a difficult, if not deadly dull, field of study. Happily, there are some very accessible books that can help anyone who wants to know the essentials of accounting that are relevant to their own work (and perhaps nothing more than that). The widely available Dummies series has an assortment of accounting-related titles, two of which made our “best” list, including our best-overall pick, Accounting All-in-One for Dummies. If that book, at 752 pages, is too intimidating, however, readers might want to start with a briefer introduction, such as Accounting for Non-Accountants or Accounting QuickStart Guide.
Why Trust Investopedia?
Reviewer Greg Daugherty has covered financial topics for more than 30 years, including stints as a senior-level editor at Money magazine and Consumer Reports. He is also the author or co-author of two books on personal finance.
To compile our list, Daugherty and his Investopedia colleagues combed the bookstores, both online and off, checked out libraries, consulted publisher websites, and reviewed reader comments online. We also asked members of Investopedia’s Financial Review Board for recommendations. We based our final judgments on the authors’ credentials, the quality and clarity of the advice the books had to offer, and how suitable they would be for readers with varying levels of accounting and financial knowledge.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, College of Business. “Alumnus Warren Buffett Celebrates 89 Years.”