There are over a million business books listed on Amazon.com and a few of them are actually worth reading! Among those few are 30 books that build the foundation for success, whether you’re working for yourself or somebody else.
Note: After much thought, I excluded the following three genres from this list:
- Biographies. Delving into the personal lives of celebrated businessfolk (e.g., Steve Jobs) is usually just gossip writ large.
- Case Studies. Books that spotlight individual companies (e.g., Jack Welch and the G.E. Way) are so specific that not much useful can be gleaned from them.
- Business Strategy. Unless you’re planning to run a Fortune 500 company by the time you’re 30, such books (e.g., Good to Great) are a waste of your time.
Regular readers of this column will see many books below that I’ve recommended in the past. That’s because I truly believe that they’re fundamental to success. So with no further ado, here are the must-reads:
The most important person in your business life is yourself. These books teach you how to manage your thoughts and emotions to create the potential for success.
Author: James Allen
Why it’s a must-read: Destroys any thoughts you might harbor about being helpless and puts you in control of your destiny.
Quick Quote: “The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers.”
Author: Tony Robbins
Why it’s a must-read: Most personal development books deal with your thoughts and emotions. This one brings in your body and its relationship with both. (BTW, this book was directly responsible for me leaving my corporate job and starting my own business.)
Quick Quote: “If you can’t, you must. If you must, you can.”
Author: Daniel H. Pink
Why it’s a must-read: Explains that motivation comes not from reward and punishment but from your own inner sense of your purpose in life.
Quick Quote: “For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation–the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing–is essential for high levels of creativity.”
Author: Susan Jeffers
Why it’s a must-read: Fear is what keeps you from taking the risks you’ll need to take in order to be successful. This book explains how to transcend your fear.
Quick Quote: “By reeducating the mind, you can accept fear as simply a fact of life rather than a barrier to success.”
Author: Dale Carnegie
Why it’s a must-read: Teaches how to treat people in a positive and enlightened manner so that they’re drawn to seek out and enjoy your presence.
Quick Quote: “The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”
Author: Stephen R. Covey
Why it’s a must-read: Provides a roadmap for making yourself not just more effective, but a better person overall.
Quick Quote: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
Your first decade in business is about discovery. These books help you figure out what you enjoy doing and then find a job that helps you enjoy it.
Author: Robert T. Kiyosaki
Why it’s a must-read: Teaches the basics of personal finance and explains why building and owning businesses is the most reliable way to gain wealth.
Quick Quote: “Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited, and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division and from the antagonism between poor and rich means abstracting oneself from fundamental facts.”
Author: Timothy Ferriss
Why it’s a must-read: Obliterates the notion that working long hours is necessary to achieve success.
Quick Quote: “Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest, and mental endurance all wax and wane. Plan accordingly.”
Author: Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
Why it’s a must-read: If you’re promoted to management, this book provides the basic skills you need. If you’re working for a manager, this book helps you understand what he or she is going through.
Quick Quote: “If you can’t tell me what you’d like to be happening, you don’t have a problem yet. You’re just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening.”
Author: Charles Conrad
Why it’s a must-read: While the writing is a trifle corny, this book explains the basics of managing your money, regardless of where and how you make it.
Quick Quote: “Budget thy expenses that thou mayest have coins to pay for thy necessities, to pay for thy enjoyments and to gratify thy worthwhile desires without spending more than nine-tenths of thy earnings.”
Author: Napoleon Hill
Why it’s a must-read: While the writing is quaint and a little bit cheesy, this book explains the thought process behind success in business and finance.
Quick Quote: “All the breaks you need in life wait within your imagination. Imagination is the workshop of your mind, capable of turning mind energy into accomplishment and wealth.”
Author: Richard N. Bolles
Why it’s a must-read: This constantly updated guide helps you understand how to find the right job for you. This book has been a classic for decades because, well, it works.
Quick Quote: “He or she who gets hired is not necessarily the one who can do that job best; but, the one who knows the most about how to get hired.”
In most cases, you’ll want to work inside somebody else’s company before you start your own. These books teach you how to survive and thrive in the workplace.
Authors: Mike Phipps and Colin Gautrey
Why it’s a must-read: Explains how to thwart bosses and co-workers trying to manipulate you into doing things contrary to your own interests. Absolutely essential reading.
Quick Quote: “Dirty tricks are more than just a career-threatening nuisance; they also form part of the political backdrop to all the great recent organizational scandals.”
Author: Geoffrey James (me)
Why it’s a must-read: Readers and reviewers have repeatedly told me that this book of “how-to” secrets is the perfect handbook for people just entering the corporate world.
Quick Quote: “Beyond your own area of expertise, all you need to both survive and thrive in the business world is a handful of secrets and shortcuts.”
Author: Darrell Huff
Why it’s a must-read: Explains how to understand and read the various metrics in the business world, as well as how they can be distorted to fit other people’s agendas. Also, it is on Bill Gates’s summer reading list.
Quick Quote: “The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify.”
Author: Scott Adams
Why it’s a must-read: Looks into the very soul of the business world and captures the bloated absurdity of much that takes place there. Also contains lots of funny cartoons.
Quick Quote: “We’re a planet of nearly 6 billion ninnies living in a civilization that was created by a few thousand amazingly smart deviants.”
Authors: William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Why it’s a must-read: Teaches you how to be a better writer, regardless of whether you’re writing documents, emails, texts, or tweets.
Quick Quote: “A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, diminishes the whole, and a carefree superlative has the power to destroy, for the reader, the object of the writer’s enthusiasm.”
Author: Spencer Johnson
Why it’s a must-read: Explains how to cope with the endless series of disruptive innovations that periodically shake up the corporate world.
Quick Quote: “What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”
Since you’re reading this on Inc.com, you’re probably thinking of starting your own business. These books will help you launch a successful one.
Author: Jay Conrad Levinson
Why it’s a must-read: The basics of marketing rolled up into a single, easily readable book. This is the practical approach that you won’t and can’t learn in business school.
Quick Quote: “Every little thing you do and show and say–not only your advertising and your Web site–is going to affect people’s perceptions of you.”
Author: Robert B. Cialdini
Why it’s a must-read: Explains the psychology of how to get people to follow your lead without forcing them to do so. This book is a little like nuclear energy, though, in the sense it can be both used and abused.
Quick Quote: “There is a group of people who know very well where the weapons of automatic influence lie and employ them regularly and expertly to get what they want. They go from social encounter to social encounter requesting others to comply with their wishes; their frequency of success is dazzling.”
Author: Seth Godin
Why it’s a must-read: Explains how to create products (and marketing messages) that draw consumers into your story, rather than the usual approach, which is to scream until you get the consumer’s irritated attention.
Quick Quote: “Every day, you’re exposed to more than four hours of media. Most of it is optimized to interrupt what you’re doing. And it’s getting increasingly harder and harder to find a little peace and quiet. The ironic thing is that marketers have responded to this problem with the single worst cure possible. To deal with the clutter and diminished effect of Interruption Marketing, they’re interrupting us even more!”
Author: Eric Tyson and Jim Schell
Why it’s a must-read: If you watch enough episodes of Shark Tank, you start thinking that being an entrepreneur means winning a reality show lottery. This book shows you that starting your own business isn’t a high-risk play; it’s simply how you create a better life for yourself.
Quick Quote: “The vast majority of small-business owners we know provide products or services quite similar to what’s already in the marketplace and make reasonable but not extraordinary sums of money–and, thanks largely to the independence that small-business ownership offers, are perfectly happy doing so!”
Author: Og Mandino
Why it’s a must-read: It’s impossible to be successful in business without selling yourself, your services, your ideas, and your products. This book helps you reach the point where you can sell naturally, positively, and without any feelings of guilt.
Quick Quote: “I will live this day as if it is my last. This day is all I have and these hours are now my eternity. I greet this sunrise with cries of joy as a prisoner who is reprieved from death. I lift mine arms with thanks for this priceless gift of a new day.”
Author: Guy Kawasaki
Why it’s a must-read: The ultimate in step-by-step, actionable advice for every stage of building your business. If you read only one book in your career as an entrepreneur, this should be it.
Quick Quote: “Remember, few things are right or wrong in entrepreneurship–there’s only what works and what doesn’t work.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Finding your place in the world also means understanding the world itself. While some these aren’t traditionally thought of as business books, they all put your work and life into proper perspective.
Author: Richard Carlson
Why it’s a must-read: You can’t possibly understand the big picture if you’re focused on the day-to-day hassles of life. This book lets you take command of the little things so that you think bigger.
Quick Quote: “Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.”
Author: Russell Brand
Why it’s a must-read: If were born after 1985, this book will explain why the world is so screwed up and what you might do to change it.
Quick Quote: “A bus with the 85 richest people in the world on it would contain more wealth than the collective assets of half the earth’s population–that’s three and a half billion people.”
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Why it’s a must-read: This brief history of humankind debunks the myth of endless progress by putting our civilization into the context of our evolutionary development. It’s the ultimate “big picture” book.
Quick Quote: “Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.”
28. The Last Lecture
Author: Randy Pausch
Why it’s a must-read: After Pausch was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he gave this lecture, which was entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The YouTube video of the lecture has been viewed 17 million times. This book deepens the experience.
Quick Quote: “Time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think.”
Author: Richard Dawkins
Why it’s a must-read: Probably the biggest big picture question of all time is “how do we know what’s true.” This book answers that question without resorting to superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Also, it is on Bill Gates’s summer reading list.
Quick Quote: “We should always be open-minded, but the only good reason to believe that something exists is if there is real evidence that it does.”
Author: Michael Shermer
Why it’s a must-read: The internet has generated an exponential increase in the amount of mental horse manure floating around in people’s brains. This book vaccinates you against it.
Quick Quote: “There is a popular notion that skeptics are closed-minded. Some even call us cynics. In principle, skeptics are not closed-minded or cynical. A skeptic is one who questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove it.”