27 Must-Read Books for Getting Ahead in Business and Life
Whether you flip pages, tap an e-reader or listen to audio, a good book can be a perfect companion, relaxation aid or source of inspiration. Check out these quotes from more than two dozen executives who name their favorite book and explain why it’s worth your attention.
1. “Jim Henson,” by Brian Jay Jones
“I read it right after reading the Jobs bio, and the contrast these two represented has always stuck with me. I struggle with the idolization of Steve Jobs because although he was brilliant and there is no question that he single-handedly affected the course of human culture and connection, he lacked empathy and was incredibly unpleasant on a personal level. Our work and personal lives are so entwined today that the Jobs story just doesn’t sit well with me as one of ‘success.’ Henson, on the other hand, valued his colleagues and treated many of them as family and he worked with them to make a massive mark on his field while overcoming major failures and refuting naysayers. To me, his story is a huge inspiration because it serves as proof that building something totally legendary doesn’t have to come at the expense of being a kind and respectable human being, whether it be in everyday interactions or lifelong personal relationships.”
–Diana Klochkova, VP of digital strategy at Rebel Ventures.
2. “The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Steven Kotler and Peter H. Diamandis
“This is a great book for founders and anyone that’s feeling pessimistic in light of the recent U.S. elections. With all the doom and gloom in the world today, this book presents optimism, arguing that innovations in technology, sustainable energy, medicine, agriculture and entrepreneurship will result in transformative changes in the world. The chapters are filled with inspirational stories of entrepreneurs and brilliant thinkers that have disrupted conventional thinking, creating innovative solutions to some of the world’s most meaningful problems. I make a habit of reading this book every year to see the bigger picture and the interconnectedness of the problems we are trying to solve.”
–Sina Shekou, founder and CEO of PlanChat, a messaging app for planning trips.
3. “The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing… And Love” by Jaimal Yogis
“As a surfer, I’ve learned a lot of valuable business lessons in the ocean. You find yourself in critical moments where you must overcome fear with mindfulness, failure with perseverance. In [this book], Jaimal Yogis takes a deep dive into the concept of fear including evolutionary fears, such as seeing a lion, and learned fears, such as the sound of a gun. He beautifully weaves together neuroscience with life experience, and ultimately uses this knowledge to overcome his fears of surfing one of the most dangerous waves in the world–Mavericks.”
4. “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline
“This book is practically considered required reading within the virtual reality (VR) industry and rightly so. On the surface, some are tempted to dismiss it as merely enjoyable sci-fi. But the book actually instructs us in the profound changes that a sweeping new technological platform like VR can bring. The first TV shows were somewhat literal replications of stage theater productions–it took a while for creators to start taking advantage of the medium’s capabilities. Ready Player One is far more imaginative in how VR might be experienced. The whole concept of ‘location’ is different, ranging from how a ‘city’ might be laid out, to even being able to create your own ‘planet.’ The characters can transport themselves from ‘place’ to ‘place’ in many different ways, rather than just replicate our normal modes of real-life transportation. And they can interact with ‘objects’ in new ways, not just replicate the interactions that we have in our current real lives. So it is a profoundly instructional book for reimagining what becomes possible with new technologies.”
–Andrew Trickett, cofounder of Merge VR, a startup helping VR go mainstream with multiple hardware and software products, with special focus on younger users.
5. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
“Simply put, ‘War and Peace’ is the best novel ever written. You can learn more about humanity, about heart, about human interactions–and ultimately about yourself–in one reading than you might otherwise in ten years. Coming to grips with Pierre’s stumbling, his mistake after mistake, and at last embracing his long journey may help you understand–and hopefully forgive–some of your own shortcomings. And, other than serving on the front lines yourself, there may be no better way to learn about the horror and absurdity of war than by reading Tolstoy. Great leaders are remembered for their humanity not their mastery of how-to books.”
–John McNellis, author of “Making It in Real Estate: Starting Out as a Developer” and principal at McNellis Partners.
6. “Great by Choice” by Jim Collins
“I am not always a big fan of business books, but in the world where there are a lot of fads, I love this book as it drives home good old fashioned fundamentals. The lessons are timeless: Perform steadily over time (while the current fad is a quest to create the next Uber), be prepared for the unexpected (while everyone is chasing growth) and test things before you roll out (while the existing VC wisdom to roll out quickly and be the first mover). Working in a fast moving digital marketing industry, which is subject to fads, this book helps me steady the ship and focus on building an organization that can serve our clients successfully over time. [It] underlines the fact that the difference between success and failure is not that of market opportunity, it is that of leadership and actions one takes every day that will enable us to survive and thrive.”
–Sastry Rachakonda, CEO of iQuanti, a data-driven digital marketing company.
7. “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris
“An amazing biography on one of the most impressive presidents–and people–in American history. In their words ‘It is, in effect, the biography of seven men–a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician–who merged at age forty-two to become the youngest President in our history. Rarely has any public figure exercised such a charismatic hold on the popular imagination.’ As a founder, it is beyond inspiring to read about someone who is both so passionate and personable. If that doesn’t get you excited to go out and build something, I don’t know what will.”
–Joel Milton, CEO of Baker, a customer engagement platform for cannabis dispensaries.
8. “The Success Principles” (revised version) by Jack Canfield
“This New York Times bestseller had me from the foreword. Besides the fact that Jack’s book has been around for a while–a good sign that it had a purpose to be written in the first place–I found the 67 principles, individually penned by some of the most successful people in the world… priceless. Unlike some success books I have read, this one actually helped me ‘see’ the invisible line to follow in order to get to where I desired to be, from the place I was at the moment. Practical, yet captivating, [it] is a must-read for anyone wishing to maximize their potential, and reach for the stars.”
–Michael Tyrrell, author, composer and producer of Wholetones, a healing frequency music project aiming to help people improve their health, sleep, creativity, productivity at work and wellbeing.
9. “The Assault on Reason” by Al Gore
“[It] gave me a deeper understanding (and interest) in the inner-workings of the human brain as it relates to fear…and the why (and how) we are led to make impulsive and often irrational decisions…oftentimes not in our best interest. In the early chapters, Gore uses science to walk us through the biology of the brain and how the human experience (over the course of time) has been hard-wired to elicit anxiety over uncertainty, scarcity and fear. Gore’s discussion then turns to the ways in which the media (and marketers) use these hard wired response mechanisms to manipulate our decision making through strategic image placement, colors, sounds and more. Reading this laid much of the groundwork for my strong interest in marketing, which helped shape me as a business owner. Some of the basic principles outlined by Gore have had a direct influence in my decisions about product development, UI/UX design and the overall messaging used by our company to market our business.”
–Bill Jula, cofounder of Opportunity, a platform for professional networking, employment and lead generation.
10. “Confidence: How Winning and Losing Streaks Begin and End” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter
“She studied companies, individuals and sports teams that had winning and losing streaks. And what she found was pretty simple. Those that hit a winning streak did so because they didn’t give up. They had the confidence to keep on trying, and trying, and trying until they won. As an entrepreneur, you lose more than you win. Having confidence in the face of a devastating loss will give you the strength to try again. And if you keep trying, you will eventually succeed.”
–AlexAnndra Ontra, cofounder of Shufflrr, a presentation management platform.
11. “Working” by Studs Terkel
“Studs Terkel conducted a series of personal interviews with working people from all walks of life. Although the book is a bit dated–originally published in 1974–these stories still provide a profound sense of the impact work has on people’s lives. It shows that work can be a source of happiness and pride or a burden. And the difference in how people feel about work is often not due to the work itself but the relationships workers have with their managers, coworkers, and customers. Its ultimate message is that work is about people. We should never lose sight that every employee in every job is a unique and important person with their own hopes, burdens, families and dreams.”
–Dr. Steve Hunt, SVP of human capital management research at SAP SuccessFactors.
12. “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
“[It] combines proven principles of supply chain, agile software development, design thinking and customer development to shift the way we think about Innovation and building software. I found the approach completely relevant to IT and how we source, build and deploy new capabilities. The focus on a minimum viable product (MVP) and the commitment to the ‘build, measure, learn’ cycle frees us from traditional massive IT projects that take too long, cost too much and often end up not delivering the value intended. Building the hypothesis together with business customers who think they know what they want before they talk to IT is a great way to introduce joint accountability for the outcome and commit to jointly learn and adjust along the way.”
–Graeme Thompson, SVP and CIO of enterprise data integration company Informatica.
13. “Power Play Book” by La La Anthony
“[It] really helped me understand that in my business–or any business, for that matter–you have to trust your instincts and yourself because you ultimately are the person that truly knows what you want and what you are looking for.”
–Latasha McRae, CEO and owner of Peeks Cosmetics.
14. “The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy” by Jon Gordon
“Trying to get a new business off the ground while working hard at your present career takes a lot of energy. [This book] kept me focused and positive while working through the learning process of developing an idea into a business.”
–Kelly Josberger, co-owner and founder of Stumpy’s Hatchet House.
15. “Winning” by Jack Welch
“The CEO of GE lead the company to year-after-year success around the globe, in multiple markets, against a tremendous amount of competition. This book is [an] honest story of how to be the best, with a great deal of focus on his people, teamwork, and–of course–profits.”
–Gavin Keilly, CEO and founder of GBK Productions.
16. “The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything” by Fredrik Eklund
“This is my go-to book for constant inspiration. I keep it by my nightstand and read and re-read certain passages almost every other day. I have followed Fredrik’s career for a while now and I admire his work ethic. That book is both witty and fun with a human touch but also serious and straightforward at the same time. Fredrik wants others to succeed and I appreciate his advice.”
–Joy Fennell, co-owner of soy candle company, The 125 Collection.
17. and 18. “Life’s Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz and “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne
“Both have changed the way I view life and have helped me to be stronger, independent and to always look at the glass half full. Incorporating the lessons that both books have taught me have changed who I am personally and professionally.”
19. “From Dust to Diamonds: How Small Entrepreneurs Can Grow and Prosper in any Economy” by David Oreck
“For quite a few decades, David Oreck has been successfully marketing products to Americans and has mastered the art. He has taken startup companies and turned them into a well-known and trusted brands. This book inspired me to keep pushing even when things get tough, running a business of your own can be extremely difficult and challenging, so it never hurts to hear people such as David Oreck had to overcome challenges, as well… Oreck stresses [that] customers don’t want to be sold, they want value.”
–Layna Friedman, owner of jewelry company Alan Friedman Company.
20. “Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer” by Margot Morrell
“As a leader myself, I am more than inspired by the adversity Shackleton and his team faced and overcame. This book taught me that in order to achieve what you want in life you must trust your instinct, overcome obstacles, and prevail.”
–Chris Suarez, CEO of LifeCell Skincare.
21. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein
“[It] was one of the first books I ever received. Like the Princess Cupcake Jones books I write, it has a rhythmic tone. While I didn’t know it at the time, this book set the foundation for my writing style later in life.”
–Ylleya Fields, author and creator of Princess Cupcake Jones.
22. “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“It’s the story of the rise and fall of a town called Macondo, and of a family that lived there for many generations. There are incredibly rich characters and storylines, more than a few tragedies and ultimately a page-turning dramatic ending. It inspired me because it’s similar to the technology business: Full of rich chapters and plot twists that seem to rise and fall every 100 weeks.”
–Al Campa, CMO of mobile app insights and analytics provider App Annie.
23. “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell
“[I]t taught me the power of ingenuity and innovation. Gladwell makes an incredibly powerful case that entrepreneurs and startups will only beat the incumbents–Goliaths–by completely reframing the competitive landscape to one’s advantage via innovation.”
–Sergio Monsalve, partner at Norwest Venture Partners.
24. “Fight Club: A Novel” by Chuck Palahniuk
“Although hard to follow the stream-of-consciousness and, often times, difficult to discern an endgame in all of the chaos, there is an undercurrent of questioning rules and order. The best innovations have been created from translating chaos into an impactful solution.”
–Zach Holmquist, CTO and cofounder of meeting room management and analytics solution Teem.
25. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
“This 63-year-old sci-fi story was a window into technology development. The world he described is amazingly alive today. We are mesmerized by screens with our ‘friends’ numbering in the thousands. We talk to them, read their posts, view their vacation photos and even know what they had for dinner. They are distant, yet provide intimacy at the same time. Google has already created the mechanical hound. Today, many of these gadgets have been created by and they are owned by today’s most valuable companies. This book makes me excited and frightened at the same time.”
–James Ontra, CEO of Shufflrr, a presentation management platform.
26. “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” by Clayton Christensen
“This book was fundamental in my success, as it provided me with a template to create innovative companies that would disrupt large, established players in the space, leaving them with only the choice to compete with me or acquire me.”
— Dr. David Albert, founder and chief medical officer of mobile electrocardiogram technology company AliveCor.
27. “Lee Kuan Yew, the Man and His Ideas” By Han Fook Kwang, Warren Fernandez and Sumiko Tan
“A resolute pragmatist, Lee Kuan Yew’s strategic foresight and instinct for survival helped shape Singapore into a vibrant first world metropolis. His insights in this book have been an inspirational guide for me, but one quote in the chapter ‘What’s wrong with the Singapore worker’ truly stands out for me: ‘Unconsciously, we have entered into the free-spending consumer society of the West…. All the time their expectation goes up and up, believing that it is always going to be up the escalator.’ In a nutshell, it describes modern day Singapore, but also teaches one about organization, the world and life in general.”
–Deepak Ohri, CEO of lebua Hotels & Resorts, an international luxury brand that operates several five-star hotels, restaurants and bars across Europe and Asia.