But the other reason I'm glad I went back and read it is because it made me realise what a partial view you get of it from listening to governance people sometimes. Yes, it's central theme is the separation of ownership and control, but the book does not simply advocate the extension of greater rights to shareholders to address this (which is today's 'obvious' answer to the issue). They go further and argue that the separation of ownership and control changes the nature of property - hence the title.
Actually in the final chapter of the book they argue that there's a good case to be made that companies be run in the interests of 'the community'. There's also a bit in this chapter that really made me think of the ownership debate going on currently. Here they are not necessarily talking about the willing surrender of ownership, rather it is the result of wider share-ownership. But actually it reminds me of the stance some in the asset management industry are currently taking in respect of the Government, via the Walker Review, trying to get them to act more like owners:
"[T]he owners of passive property, by surrendering control and responsibility over the active property, have surrendered the right that the corporation should be operated in their sole interest, -they have released the community from the obligation to protect them to the full extent implied in the doctrine of strict property rights."
As I've said before, I think institutions should think carefully when they make the argument that they shouldn't be forced to act like owners. As Berle and Means suggest, this actually starts pulling at a thread that could cause much bigger issues to unravel.
Finally, it was also worth a read to bring to my attention the fact that an Adam Smith quote that is a particular favourite of governance people actually goes on quite a bit longer. The bit I am familiar with is the line about company directors "being the managers rather of other people's money than their own, it cannot be well expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private copartnery frequently watch over their own".
The quote is usually deployed again to strengthen the agency theory critique of public companies, and the need for a focus on shareholder value, and by extension greater shareholder rights. Yet actually in the passage Smith goes on to basically argue that joint stock companies are inherently flawed, and haven't done a great job. And this was long before the dispersed-shareholder version we have today arrived on the scene.