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Understanding accounting best practices is an asset even if you don’t work in financial services. Accounting underpins all business, including personal banking, so people who know the basics can make better decisions about loans, investments, and financial planning.
If math isn’t your cup of tea, that’s all the more reason to dig into the books on our list. Research shows that people who have math anxiety are more likely to avoid numbers even if there is a significant payoff for engaging with math, which is a shame because there are so many accessible resources.
The history of accounting is interwoven with the history of capitalism, nation building, and civil rights. Because of its broad reach, we chose accounting books to reflect the scope of the subject; while we certainly included titles in the how-to and basic instruction category, we also included books about the history of the profession and those that are sure to be of great interest to students and practicing certified public accountants (CPAs).
Best Overall: Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance
Highly reviewed by the likes of The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, and The Wall Street Journal, Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance became an immediate best seller after its 2012 win of the Nib Waverly Library Award for Literature. Written by longtime journalist and author Jane Gleeson-White, Double Entry tells the captivating story of the dawn of accountancy and of capitalism itself, and it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand how those of us in the United States and Europe ended up with the flavor of capitalism that we have now.
That a book about the history of accountancy won a literary award should tell you all you need to know about Gleeson-White’s deft storytelling prowess. The story begins around 7,000 B.C. and ends with the 2008 economic crisis. If that seems like a lot of ground to cover in one book, you’re not wrong; however, Gleeson-White does it with an effortlessness that undercuts the complex story being told. Double Entry is an important work of historical and economic significance, and its showcase of the incredible progress of our economic system over time offers plenty of food for thought for those in and out of the field of accountancy.
Best for Beginners: Accounting for Non-Accountants: The Fast and Easy Way to Learn the Basics
Written by CPA Wayne A. Label, a professor with a Ph.D. in accounting, Accounting for Non-Accountants: The Fast and Easy Way to Learn the Basics has a clear aim that it delivers directly and effectively. Label writes specifically for the reader who is unfamiliar with basic accounting terms and concepts, making it a wonderful introduction to the subject. The foundations of accountancy are tackled clearly for readers, starting with basics like the defining features of financial statements, generally accepted best practices in accounting, and accounting standards in the United States and internationally.
Readers who work their way through Accounting for Non-Accountants will walk away with a basic understanding of accounting acronyms (of which there are many), terms, governing bodies, and best practices. Label also includes chapters on basic short-term analysis, budgeting, auditing, ethics, and fraud. The format of the book is classic textbook style, with shaded boxes containing “Quick Tips” and “Alerts” as well as helpful glossaries of terms. Each chapter begins with a bulleted list of the basics contained within it at the start, which makes it easy for reference readers to find what they need.
Best for Small-Business Owners: Accounting QuickStart Guide: The Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Real-World Financial & Managerial Accounting for Students, Business Owners, and Finance Professionals
A best seller for a reason, Accounting QuickStart Guide: The Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Real-World Financial & Managerial Accounting for Students, Business Owners, and Finance Professionals is one of the only accounting books on the market that aims itself at both students and small-business owners. Author Josh Bauerle, a CPA whose passion for the subject leaps out from the pages, wrote the book in part because he believes accounting knowledge can help business owners make better decisions when it comes to comparing loan terms, tax planning, and rectifying cash flow issues.
Bauerle covers both financial accounting and managerial accounting in Accounting QuickStart Guide, and he does so using lots of real-world examples that will be immediately recognizable to entrepreneurs. To encourage business readers to read through the book in its entirety, Bauerle includes a brief summary of each chapter in the beginning of the book. We concur with his position that readers, especially in small business, will benefit from reading Accounting QuickStart Guide from cover to cover. The chapters build on one another and gradually give the reader the tools that they’ll need to make empowered business decisions based on accounting best practices.
Best for Investors: Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks and Fraud in Financial Reports
In the fourth edition of the best seller Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks and Fraud in Financial Reports, authors Howard M. Schilit, Jeremy Perler, and Yoni Engelhart provide readers entré to the world of fraudulent accounting tactics. Schilit, the author of the first edition, is renowned in the field of forensic accountancy, having spoken on the topic in front of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission many times. He is also the founder and CEO of Schilit Forensics, an investment research and training consultancy that helps clients identify fraud and misleading accountancy practices.
In Financial Shenanigans, Schilit and his co-authors arm investors with the knowledge that they’ve been gathering over the last 25 years of investigative accounting. The book covers not only outright fraud but also more common practices that companies use to inflate their worth to prospective investors. In some cases, bad corporate culture is responsible for misleading practices, like using recent acquisitions to bolster the bottom line or relying on shady metrics to paint a misleading picture of the company’s health. Venture capitalists and even smaller investors can benefit from the knowledge contained in Financial Shenanigans, but it’s also a fascinating read if you’re interested in fraudulent reporting in general.
Best Educational Resource: Accounting All-in-One for Dummies
Other books out there can give you an overview of accounting terms and practices, but Accounting All-in-One for Dummies is more akin to an accounting course in book form. The package, which includes nine books and access to accompanying online quizzes, offers readers a comprehensive introduction to accounting. We highly recommend this set for anyone considering a career in accounting, as it truly provides the materials necessary to understand not only the nuts and bolts of accounting practices but also what it’s like to actually be an accountant.
As the primary author of the series, Kenneth Boyd points out that careers in accounting aren’t just about sitting behind a desk in a bank. There are many types of accountants and fields in which accountants work, from tax accounting to government fraud detection to working in a small business. Boyd also points out that pursuing a career in accounting is a wise decision for those who enjoy the work, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics has projected steady, average growth in the industry through at least 2029.
Best for Corporate Managers and Executives: Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean
Authored by Karen Berman, Joe Knight, and John Case, the latest revised edition of Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean is a must-read for professionals who find themselves without the necessary skills to interpret financial numbers with confidence. Many managers and executives who have worked their way up in a company over time, and excelled due to their industry expertise and talent for managing people, haven’t taken a basic accountancy or finance course in years (if ever).
Today, businesses of all sizes are recognizing the power of data collection and analysis, but data without the ability to interpret it is meaningless. Financial Intelligence does an excellent job at centering each lesson in a real-world scenario that will be immediately recognizable to business managers and executives. The authors also are careful to include not only formal accounting terms in their descriptions but also the words that are more frequently used in real business operations.
Managers who read Financial Intelligence will walk away with a working understanding of business accounting, as well as how to interpret numbers on financial reports, talk about financials with accountants and statisticians, and make data-driven decisions that support business aims.
Best History of Accounting: A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921
Written by professor Theresa A. Hammond, who holds a Ph.D. in accounting, A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921 is an important work that deserves far broader reading from those within the accountancy field. As Hammond points out, fewer than 1% of certified public accountants in the United States are Black, which is especially unfortunate due to the field’s well-paying and recession-proof nature.
The reasons as to why so few accountants are Black is answered in the telling of the history contained in A White-Collar Profession. This isn’t only a story of racism, however; it is also a story of resilience and incredible business savvy on the part of early Black accountants, who fought their way into the profession against unbelievable obstacles. The laudable gains earned by Black accountants from the 1920s through the 1970s are charted in Hammond’s book, which also details the sharp decline in Black participation in finance jobs following a backlash against affirmative action in the 1980s.
From cover to cover, A White-Collar Profession is a fascinating read that shines much-needed light on the full history of American accounting.
Best on the Future of Accounting: The Big Four: The Curious Past and Perilous Future of the Global Accounting Monopoly
The Big Four: The Curious Past and Perilous Future of the Global Accounting Monopoly should be on the reading list of every CPA working today, as well as on the lists of writers and professors who cover accounting-related subjects. Praised by The Wall Street Journal, The Big Four details the rise of the largest accounting firms in the world: Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, EY (rebranded from Ernst & Young), and KPMG. These four firms alone have a combined revenue of more than $130 billion a year and have faced increasing scrutiny in recent decades, which The Big Four details.
The authors, Ian D. Gow and Stuart Kells, make a great team because Gow has accounting industry expertise and Kells has writing experience. Gow is a professor of accounting and the director of the Melbourne Centre for Corporate Governance and Regulation, and Kells is a well-known author and historian. Together, the Australian duo take on the past, present, and future of the big four accounting firms and the accounting profession in general. The authors write with humor and caution about the future of transparency and disruption in the field, making some bold claims that are sure to be debated among CPAs in the coming years.
Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance by Jane Gleeson-White (view at Amazon) is an excellent read for CPAs and lay readers alike, and we highly recommend it. For readers looking for an overview of accounting for business, we recommend Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean by Karen Berman, Joe Knight, and John Case (view at Amazon).
Why Trust Investopedia?
When creating this list, Mona Bushnell began with a master list compiled using best-seller lists and the author’s own domain knowledge. Next, the Investopedia Financial Review Board contributed their recommendations to the list. From there, eliminations were made on the basis of relevance, reviews, repetition, entertainment value, writing quality, and topic. The final selection of winners was made from the culled list based on the writer’s research and personal experience as a reader.
Bushnell is a lifelong business and finance enthusiast and former tech professional. An avid reader, Bushnell firmly believes in independent lifelong learning and the power of information. She holds a degree in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College.
Books+Publishing. “Gleeson-White Wins 2012 Waverly Library Award for Literature.”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Accountants and Auditors.”