For Profit

A History of Corporations


By William Magnuson

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$25.99 CAD

An “eloquent” (Economist) history of how corporate innovation has shaped society, from ancient Rome to Silicon Valley   

Americans have long been skeptical of corporations, and that skepticism has only grown more intense in recent years. Meanwhile, corporations continue to amass wealth and power at a dizzying rate, recklessly pursuing profit while leaving society to sort out the costs. 
In For Profit, law professor William Magnuson argues that the story of the corporation didn’t have to come to this. Throughout history, he finds, corporations have been purpose-built to benefit the societies that surrounded them. Corporations enabled everything from the construction of ancient Rome’s roads and aqueducts to the artistic flourishing of the Renaissance to the rise of the middle class in the twentieth century. By recapturing this original spirit of civic virtue, Magnuson argues, corporations can help craft a society in which all of us—not just shareholders—benefit from the profits of enterprise. 

    Named a Best Book of 2022 by The Economist and the Financial Times
  • “Magnuson eloquently explains how issues such as principal-agent problems, competition law and environmental and labour rights have cropped up throughout history.”
    The Economist
  • “A historical tour de force.”
    Bloomberg Opinion
  • "A comprehensive and lively account of eight corporations that have changed the world...A valuable, discerning assessment of these enormously influential societal actors--and a clear set of recommendations to make them serve the good."
    Shelf Awareness
  • “… I can pay Magnuson no higher compliment than to say that For Profit is a book I would be proud to have written.”
    Martin Vander Weyer, The Spectator (UK)
  • “…For Profit is a well-written history of the corporation, an unexpectedly important topic for us all.”
  • “Brilliantly conceived and enlightening at every turn, For Profit is a thrilling history of an institution that has shaped all our lives—for better and for worse.”
    Lawrence Wright, author of The Plague Year
  • “In this lively and informative history of the corporation, William Magnuson shows that corporations were born to serve the public interest—only to be used and abused time and again to maximize profits for shareholders and executives. A must-read for any student of the world’s most influential form of economic organization.”
    Adam Winkler, author of We the Corporations

On Sale
Dec 12, 2023
Page Count
368 pages
Basic Books

William Magnuson

About the Author

William Magnuson is a professor at Texas A&M Law School, where he teaches corporate law. Previously, he taught law at Harvard University. The author of Blockchain Democracy, he has written for the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times,and Bloomberg. He lives in Austin, Texas. 

Learn more about this author