- Reading is an important common denominator amongst many of the biggest names in business.
- It's a fast way to acquire new information, think creatively, and diversify your perspective.
- Below, we've chosen and compiled 31 of the most influential business books of all time, from "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries to "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith.
Warren Buffett — arguably the most skilled investor of our time — said reading 500 pages a day was the key to success. "That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest," he explained.
That's probably why so many important businesspeople make reading a daily ritual. It's why Bill Gates reads 50 books every year (roughly one per week) and perhaps why Mark Zuckerberg kicked off 2015 with the goal of reading one every other week.
If you want exposure to new ideas, modes of thinking, and a compounded aggregate of diverse knowledge, then reading is important. And it's going to help you in business, be it by a mixture of accounts on other corporate successes or failures and lessons on lean startups, or a 2,500-year-old military tome that has been known to influence tactics in boardrooms as much as in war.
We researched and cross-referenced lists of the best business books according to influential business people and major media outlets to bring you this list.
Descriptions provided by Amazon and edited for length.
"Business Adventures" by John Brooks
What do the $350 million Ford Motor Company disaster known as the Edsel, the fast and incredible rise of Xerox, and the unbelievable scandals at General Electric and Texas Gulf Sulphur have in common? Each is an example of how an iconic company was defined by a particular moment of fame or notoriety; these notable and fascinating accounts are as relevant today to understanding the intricacies of corporate life as they were when the events happened.
Note: Bill Gates wrote in his blog, gatesnotes, that Warren Buffett not only recommended this as his favorite book about business, but actually sent Gates his own personal copy to read. Gates writes that more than four decades after it was first published, "Business Adventures" remains the best business book he's ever read.
"The Intelligent Investor" by Benjamin Graham
The greatest investment advisor of the twentieth century, Benjamin Graham, taught and inspired people worldwide. Graham's philosophy of "value investing" — which shields investors from substantial error and teaches them to develop long-term strategies — has made "The Intelligent Investor" the stock market bible ever since its original publication in 1949.
Note: Warren Buffett refers to "The Intelligent Investor" as the "best book on investing ever written."
"The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business" by Clayton M. Christensen
Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, "The Innovator's Dilemma" gives you a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
Note: Steve Jobs used this book as an explanation for one reason Apple needed to embrace cloud computing and is frequently associated with both Jobs and Jeff Bezos.
"The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success" by William N. Thorndike
What makes a successful CEO? Most people call to mind a familiar definition: "a seasoned manager with deep industry expertise." Others might point to the qualities of today's so-called celebrity CEOs — charisma, virtuoso communication skills, and a confident management style. But what really matters when you run an organization? What is the hallmark of exceptional CEO performance? Quite simply, it is the returns for the shareholders of that company over the long term.
Note: "The Outsiders" was #1 on Warren Buffett's recommended reading list in the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Letter (2012).
"Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think" by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling
When asked simple questions about global trends ― what percentage of the world's population lives in poverty; why the world's population is increasing; how many girls finish school―we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.
"Factfulness" offers a radical new explanation of why this happens, outlining the ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse).
Note: Bill Gates gave away free copies of this book to college graduates. Gates has lauded "Factfulness" as "One of the most important books I've ever read ― an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world."
"Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant" by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
"Blue Ocean Strategy" argues that cutthroat competition results in nothing but a bloody red ocean of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves (spanning more than 100 years across 30 industries), the authors argue that lasting success comes not from battling competitors but from creating "blue oceans"— untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.
"How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie's rock-solid, time-tested advice has carried countless people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives. One of the most groundbreaking and ageless bestsellers, "How to Win Friends & Influence People" will teach you: six ways to make people like you, twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, nine ways to change people without arousing resentment, and more.
"Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" by John Carreyrou
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup "unicorn" promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work.
"The Art of War" by Sun Tzu
Written in the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" is still used as a book of military strategy today. Napoleon, Mae Zedong, General Vo Nguyen Giap and General Douglas MacArthur all claimed to have drawn inspiration from it. And beyond the world of war, business and management gurus have also applied Sun Tzu's ideas to office politics and corporate strategy.
"Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action" by Simon Sinek
Sinek starts with a fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?
"Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" by Daniel Goleman
Through vivid examples, Goleman delineates the five crucial skills of emotional intelligence, and shows how they determine our success in relationships, work, and even our physical well-being. What emerges is an entirely new way to talk about being smart.
"Think and Grow Rich!" by Napoleon Hill
Through researching billionaires, Napoleon Hill crafted the philosophy and lifestyle behind those who experienced financial success. Although Hill's aim was to coach others to become like said billionaires, "Think and Grow Rich" is more about encouraging people towards their own perspective goals.
"Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" by Sheryl Sandberg
"Lean In" continues [the conversation around women in the workplace], combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to change the conversation from what women can't do to what they can.
"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey
One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of Presidents and CEOs, educators and parents — in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations.
"Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown
Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Brené Brown PhD, LMSW, dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage. "Daring Greatly" presents a transformative new vision for the way we lead, love, work, parent, and educate that teaches us the power of vulnerability.
"The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries
Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable. "The Lean Startup" is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.
"Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't" by Jim Collins
The findings of the "Good to Great" study will surprise many readers and shed light on virtually every area of management strategy and practice. "Some of the key concepts discerned in the study," comments Jim Collins, "fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people."
"Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder" by Arianna Huffington
In this deeply personal book, Arianna Huffington talks candidly about her own challenges with managing time and prioritizing the demands of a career and raising two daughters — of juggling business deadlines and family crises, a harried dance that led to her collapse and to her "aha moment." Drawing on the latest groundbreaking research and scientific findings in the fields of psychology, sports, sleep, and physiology that show the profound and transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging, and giving, Arianna shows us the way to a revolution in our culture, our thinking, our workplace, and our lives.
"The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences. In this groundbreaking and prophetic book, Taleb shows in a playful way that Black Swan events explain almost everything about our world, and yet we — especially the experts — are blind to them.
"Too Big to Fail" by Andrew Ross Sorkin
In one of the most gripping financial narratives in decades, Andrew Ross Sorkin-a New York Times columnist and one of the country's most respected financial reporters-delivers the first definitive blow-by-blow account of the epochal economic crisis that brought the world to the brink.
Note: Winner of the Gerald Loeb Award for Best Business Book.
"The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith
["The Wealth of Nations"] describes what builds nations' wealth and is today a fundamental work in classical economics and touches upon such broad topics as the division of labor, productivity, and free markets.
"Barbarians at the Gate" by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
A #1 New York Times bestseller and arguably the best business narrative ever written, "Barbarians at the Gate" is the classic account of the fall of RJR Nabisco. An enduring masterpiece of investigative journalism by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, it includes a new afterword by the authors that brings this remarkable story of greed and double-dealings up to date twenty years after the famed deal.
"The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron" by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
The Enron scandal brought down one of the most admired companies of the 1990s. Countless books and articles were written about it, but only "The Smartest Guys in the Room" holds up a decade later as the definitive narrative.
"When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management" by Roger Lowenstein
Roger Lowenstein captures the gripping roller-coaster ride of Long-Term Capital Management. Drawing on confidential internal memos and interviews with dozens of key players, Lowenstein explains not just how the fund made and lost its money but also how the personalities of Long-Term's partners, the arrogance of their mathematical certainties, and the culture of Wall Street itself contributed to both their rise and their fall.
"Guerrilla Marketing" by Jay Conrad Levinson
When "Guerrilla Marketing" was first published in 1983, Jay Levinson revolutionized marketing strategies for the small-business owner with his take-no-prisoners approach to finding clients. Based on hundreds of solid ideas that really work, Levinson's philosophy has given birth to a new way of learning about market share and how to gain it.
"In search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies" by Thomas Peters and Robert H. Waterman
Based on a study of forty-three of America's best-run companies from a diverse array of business sectors, "In Search of Excellence" describes eight basic principles of management —action-stimulating, people-oriented, profit-maximizing practices — that made these organizations successful.
"Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies" by Jim Collins and Jerry I Porras
Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors.
"Den of Thieves" by James B. Stewart
"Den of Thieves" tells the full story of the insider-trading scandal that nearly destroyed Wall Street, the men who pulled it off, and the chase that finally brought them to justice.
"Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution" by Michael Hammer and James A. Champy
Building on their firsthand experiences, Hammer and Champy show how some of the world's premier corporations use the principles of reengineering to save hundreds of millions of dollars a year, to achieve unprecedented levels of customer satisfaction, and to speed up and make more flexible all aspects of their operations. The key to reengineering is abandoning the most basic notions on which the modern organization is founded.
"The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Fourth Edition" edited by Lawrence A. Cunningham
[This book's] popularity and longevity attest to the widespread appetite for this unique compilation of Buffett's thoughts that is at once comprehensive, non-repetitive, and digestible.
Note: Warren Buffett says this is the book he autographs most.
"First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently" by Jim Harter
Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its revolutionary study of more than 80,000 managers in "First, Break All the Rules", revealing what the world's greatest managers do differently. With vital performance and career lessons and ideas for how to apply them, it is a must-read for managers at every level.