King of Capital tells the history of Blackstone in the larger context of the financial and corporate worlds, along with what was going on with other buyout firms. But what if you don’t want to read 300 pages — or not right now?
Wikipedia has several entries that do a pretty good job of explaining what the business is about and where it came from:
The main Private Equity page is a good primer, with definitions and sources.
A separate entry on the history of PE and venture capital traces them back to their roots and chronicles them in some detail over many decades.
For more nitty gritty, check out this surprisingly readable (it was meant for congressmen, afterall) U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2008 of big buyouts from the peak of the market: “Private Equity: Recent Growth in Leveraged Buyouts Exposed Risks That Warrant Continued Attention.” It includes case studies of the buyouts of Nieman Marcus and Hertz.