FounderScholar

An entrepreneur studies the business literature

118 most recommended business books

Man reading on a bench.

When you meet interesting, successful people in the startup community—the serial entrepreneur redefining yet another industry or the marketing exec tossing out incisive insights as if she were seeding her lawn—have you noticed they frequently reference favorite concepts from business books?

Take note the next time you have the opportunity. You’ll notice they discuss their own experiences and ideas in terms of the language they have garnered from those books.

Books expand awareness of both language and higher-level concepts, literally making readers more intelligent. And, successful people read at least an order of magnitude more than the average American.1

Why bother reading business books?

Successful entrepreneurs, executives, and investors read to

  • expand their vocabularies (collecting both words and abstract concepts they’ll use in “chunking”),2
  • understand business history, which gives context to why things are as they are today,
  • follow the intellectual conversations in their fields of endeavor, and
  • collect stories they’ll later use to communicate difficult topics or concepts (for instance, to rally their teams to achieve a stretch goal or explain to a potential investor how their business will indeed make money some day).

Though you’ll learn something worthwhile from nearly every book you read, if you’re like me, you are on a continual hunt for the next must-read.

Must-read business books are hard to identify

I took a look at the number of business books published in the U.S. to get some perspective. There were 16,604 new business titles published in 2014.3

That’s 45 new business books every day! Too many even for Warren Buffett to keep up with.4

So, like me, you need a source of recommendations to sift through elusive must-reads. As I thought about writing up my own recommendations (I have many), I decided instead to take a bit of an empirical approach to coming up with a list.

In other words, I asked Google to give me its list of the most important business books.

Why not? The top results on Google are significant. They represent pages that other sites (through backlinks) vouch as relevant. This shows at least some indication the lists (and the books on them) have merit.

Methodology

We’ll get to the 118 most recommended business books in short order. First, though, let’s take a quick look at the steps I used to build the list:

  1. I queried Google using the search string “most important business books.” The first 10 pages returned were: Business Insider; Business InsiderEventual Millionaire; ForbesInc.; Inc.LifehackThe Business Journals; Time; and USA Today.5
  2. All the books mentioned on the above pages were collated.
  3. I collected both the titles of the books and also the total number of times each book appeared on the 10 lists.
  4. Any book with at least two recommendations earned its way onto my “21 most important business books” list shown below.
  5. All the remaining books (those receiving a single recommendation) earned a spot on my “97 honorable mentions” list appearing at the very end of the post.

21 most recommended business books

I’ve read several books on this list. But, some I had never heard of (much less read) before doing this mini-project. I’m glad I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the list and I encourage you to do the same.

Why not take the approach of Mark Zuckerberg and commit to reading one book every other week—you’ll have read this whole list within a year.

5 RECOMMENDATIONS

How to Win Friends & Influence People

By: Dale Carnegie
Publisher: Pocket Books, 1998 (original work published in 1936.)
Read recommendations: Inc., Inc.Lifehack, Time, USA Today

4 RECOMMENDATIONS

Good to GreatGood to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t

By: Jim Collins
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2001
Read recommendations: Business Insider, Eventual Millionaire, ForbesTime

Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution

By: Michael Hammer, James Champy
Publisher: Collins Business Essentials, 2006 (original work published in 1993.)
Read recommendations: Inc., Inc., Time, Forbes

3 RECOMMENDATIONS

The Innovator's DilemmaThe Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

By: Clayton M. Christensen
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016 (original work published in 1997.)
Read recommendations: ForbesTime, USA Today

The Lean StartupThe Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

By: Eric Ries
Publisher: Crown Business, 2011
Read recommendations: Business Insider, Eventual Millionaire, Lifehack

The One Minute ManagerThe One Minute Manager

By: Kenneth Blanchard, Spencer Johnson
Publisher: William Morrow, 2003 (original work published in 1982.)
Read recommendations: Inc., LifehackTime

2 RECOMMENDATIONS

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

By: Stephen R. Covey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2013 (original work published in 1989.)
Read recommendations: ForbesTime

Blue Ocean StrategyBlue Ocean Strategy

By: W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2015 (original work published in 2005.)
Read recommendations: Business Insider, Eventual Millionaire

Built to LastBuilt to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

By: Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2004 (original work published in 1994.)
Read recommendations: ForbesTime

Competing for the FutureCompeting for the Future

By: Gary Hamel, C. K. Prahalad
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 1996 (original work published in 1994.)
Read recommendations: ForbesTime

Competitive StrategyCompetitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors

By: Michael E. Porter
Publisher: Free Press, 1998 (original work published in 1980.)
Read recommendations: Business InsiderTime

First, Break All the RulesFirst, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently

By: Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman
Publisher: Gallup Press
Read recommendations: The Business JournalsTime

Guerrilla MarketingGuerrilla Marketing

By: Jay Conrad Levinson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2007 (original work published in 1983.)
Read recommendations: Inc.Time

InfluenceInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By: Robert B. Cialdini
Publisher: Harper Business, 2006 (original work published in 1984.)
Read recommendations: The Business JournalsUSA Today

Purple CowPurple Cow

By: Seth Godin
Publisher: Portfolio, 2009 (original work published in 2003.)
Read recommendations: LifehackUSA Today

4-hour WorkweekThe 4-Hour Work Week

By: Timothy Ferriss
Publisher: Harmony, 2009 (original work published in 2007.)
Read recommendations: Eventual Millionaire, Lifehack

EMyth RevisitedThe E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

By: Michael E. Gerber
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2004 (original work published in 1986.)
Read recommendations: Eventual MillionaireTime

Essential DruckerThe Essential Drucker

By: Peter F. Drucker
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2008 (original work published in 2000.)
Read recommendations: ForbesTime

Six Sigma WayThe Six Sigma Way: How GE, Motorola, and Other Top Companies are Honing Their Performance

By: Peter S. Pande, Robert P. Neuman, Roland R. Cavanagh
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education, 2000
Read recommendations: ForbesTime

Wealth of NationsThe Wealth of Nations

By: Adam Smith
Publisher: Bantam Classics, 2003 (original work published in 1776.)
Read recommendations: Inc., Inc.

Think and Grow RichThink and Grow Rich

By: Napoleon Hill, Ben Holden-Crowther
Publisher: Sound Wisdom, 2016 (original work published in 1937.)
Read recommendations: Eventual Millionaire, Lifehack


97 honorable mentions

Unlike the books above, the following books appeared on only one recommendation list (see Methodology section above). They are (largely) amazing books, a mix of both well-known and more esoteric titles.

12 Years a Slave

By: Solomon Northup
Publisher: Graymalkin Media, 2014 (original work published in 1853.)

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader

By: Herminia Ibarra
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2015

Atlas Shrugged

By: Ayn Rand
Publisher: Signet, 1996 (original work published in 1957.)

Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!

By: Tony Robbins
Publisher: Free Press, 1992 (original work published in 1991.)

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

By: Bryan Burrough, John Helyar
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2009 (original work published in 1989.)

Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company

By: Jim Collins
Publisher: Prentice Hall Press, 1995 (original work published in 1992.)

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers

By: Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons, 2010

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

By: Thomas Piketty
Publisher: Belknap Press, 2014 (original work published in 2013.)

China Shakes the World: A Titan’s Rise and Troubled Future — and the Challenge for America

By: James Kynge
Publisher: Mariner Books, 2007

Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream

By: James Altucher
Publisher: CreateSpace, 2013

Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

By: Linda Hill
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014

Competition Demystified

By: Bruce Greenwald, Judd Kahn
Publisher: Portfolio, 2007 (original work published in 2005.)

Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance

By: Michael E. Porter
Publisher: Free Press, 1998 (original work published in 1985.)

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

By: Geoffrey A. Moore
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2014 (original work published in 1991.)

Den of Thieves

By: James B. Stewart
Publisher: Touchstone, 1992

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By: Daniel H. Pink
Publisher: Riverhead Books, 2011 (original work published in 2009.)

Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes

By: Tom Rath
Publisher: Missionday, 2013

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

By: Daniel Goleman
Publisher: Bantam Books, 2005 (original work published in 1995.)

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds

By: Charles MacKay
Publisher: CreateSpace, 2013 (original work published in 1841.)

Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success

By: John C. Maxwell
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2007 (original work published in 2000.)

Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy

By: Raghuram G. Rajan
Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2010

Focal Point: A Proven System to Simplify Your Life, Double Your Productivity, and Achieve All Your Goals

By: Brian Tracy
Publisher: AMACOM, 2004 (original work published in 2001.)

Future Shock

By: Alvin Toffler
Publisher: Bantam, 1984 (original work published in 1970.)

Geeks and Geezers

By: Warren G. Bennis, Robert J. Thomas
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2002

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

By: Adam Grant
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2014

How Will You Measure Your Life

By: Clayton M. Christensen
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2012

In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies

By: Thomas J. Peters, Robert H. Waterman, Jr.
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2006 (original work published in 1982.)

Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs

By: Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah, David Meerman Scott
Publisher: Wiley, 2009

Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality

By: Henry Cloud
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2009

Jack: Straight from the Gut

By: Jack Welch, John A. Byrne
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 2003 (original work published in 2001.)

Japan Inc.

By: Shotaro Ishinomori
Publisher: University of California, 1988

Leading Change

By: John P. Kotter
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012 (original work published in 1988.)

Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street (25th Anniversary Edition.)

By: Michael Lewis
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014 (original work published in 1989.)

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

By: Seth Godin
Publisher: Portfolio, 2011 (original work published in 2010.)

Lords of Finance

By: Liaquat Ahamed
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2009

Magic of Thinking Big

By: David Schwartz
Publisher: Fireside, 1987 (original work published in 1959.)

Man’s Search for Meaning

By: Viktor E. Frankel
Publisher: Beacon Press, 2006 (original work published in 1946.)

Maslow on Management

By: Abraham Maslow
Publisher: Wiley, 1998 (original work published in 1965.)

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

By: Verne Harnish
Publisher: Gazelles, Inc, 2002

Maxwell Leadership Bible

By: John C. Maxwell
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2007 (original work published in 2002.)

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

By: Liz Wiseman
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2010

My Years with General Motors

By: Alfred P. Sloan Jr.
Publisher: Crown Business, 1990 (original work published in 1963.)

On Becoming a Leader

By: Warren Bennis
Publisher: Basic Books, 2009 (original work published in 1989.)

On the Origin of Species

By: Charles Darwin
Publisher: Bantam Classics, 1999 (original work published in 1859.)

Out of the Crisis

By: W. Edwards Deming
Publisher: The MIT Press, 2000 (original work published in 1986.)

Outliers: The Story of Success

By: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2011 (original work published in 2008.)

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

By: A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

By: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo
Publisher: PublicAffairs, 2012 (original work published in 2001.)

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

By: Howard Schultz, Dori Jones Yang
Publisher: Hachette Books, 1999 (original work published in 1997.)

Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t

By: Jeffrey Pfeffer
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2010

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

By: Amy Cuddy
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2015

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

By: Steve Coll
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2013 (original work published in 2012.)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

By: Susan Cain
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2013 (original work published in 2012.)

Rembrandts in the Attic: Unlocking the Hidden Value of Patents

By: Kevin G. Rivette, David Kline
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 1999

Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere

By: Indra Nooyi, Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012

Rework

By: Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
Publisher: Crown Business, 2010

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!

By: Robert T. Kiyosaki
Publisher: Plata Publishing, 2011 (original work published in 1997.)

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

By: Martin Ford
Publisher: Basic Books, 2016 (original work published in 2015.)

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing

By: Harry Beckwith
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 2012 (original work published in 1997.)

Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets

By: Michael T. Bosworth
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education, 1994

The Age of Unreason

By: Charles Handy
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 1991 (original work published in 1980.)

The Art of War

By: Sun Tzu
Publisher: Filiquarian, 2007 (original work published in the 5th century BC.)

The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the World’s Greatest Investor

By: Robert G. Hagstrom
Publisher: Wiley, 1997 (original work published in 1994.)

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit

By: Seth Godin
Publisher: Portfolio, 2007

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

By: Peter F. Drucker
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2006 (original work published in 1967.)

The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business

By: Rita Gunther McGrath
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013

The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, Fourth Edition

By: Warren Buffett, Lawrence A. Cunningham
Publisher: The Cunningham Group & Carolina Academic Press, 2015 (original work published in 1997.)

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

By: Brad Stone
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2014 (original work published in 2013.)

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization

By: Peter Senge
Publisher: Doubleday, 2006 (original work published in 1990.)

The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable

By: Patrick Lencioni
Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2008 (original work published in 1998.)

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

By: Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox
Publisher: North River Press, 2014 (original work published in 1984.)

The Greatest Salesman in the World

By: Og Mandino
Publisher: Bantam, 1983 (original work published in 1968.)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

By: Ben Horowitz
Publisher: HarperBusiness, 2014

The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance

By: Ron Chernow
Publisher: Grove Press, 2010 (original work published in 1990.)

The Human Side of Enterprise

By: Douglas McGregor
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education, 2006 (original work published in 1960.)

The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.

By: William D. Cohan
Publisher: Anchor, 2008 (original work published in 2007.)

The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living

By: Randy Komisar
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2001 (original work published in 2000.)

The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

By: Michael Lewis
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014 (original work published in 1999.)

The Power of Positive Thinking

By: Norman Vincent Peale
Publisher: Touchstone, 2003 (original work published in 1952.)

The Prince

By: Niccolò Machiavelli
Publisher: CreateSpace, 2017 (original work published in 1532.)

The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life

By: Richard Florida
Publisher: Basic Books, 2003 (original work published in 2002.)

The Soul of a New Machine

By: Tracy Kidder
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2000 (original work published in 1981.)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

By: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Back Bay Books, 2002 (original work published in 2000.)

The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth

By: Fred Reichheld
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, 2006

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

By: Thomas L. Friedman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005

Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life

By: Stewart D. Friedman
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014 (original work published in 2008.)

Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production

By: Taiichi Ohno, Norman Bodek
Publisher: Productivity Press, 1988

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be

By: Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter
Publisher: Crown Business, 2015

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

By: L. David Marquet
Publisher: Portfolio, 2013 (original work published in 2012.)

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

By: Marshall McLuhan
Publisher: The MIT Press, 1994 (original work published in 1964.)

Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want (Strategyzer.)

By: Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Alan Smith, Gregory Bernarda, Trish Papadakos, Greg Bernarda
Publisher: Wiley, 2014

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

By: Steven Pressfield
Publisher: Black Irish Entertainment, 2012 (original work published in 2002.)

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

By: Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter
Publisher: Hachette Books, 2007

When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change

By: Mohamed El-Erian
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education, 2008

Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life

By: Spencer Johnson
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998

Who: The A Method for Hiring

By: Geoff Smart, Randy Street
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2008

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

By: Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
Publisher: Crown Business, 2014


A long list! What books are missing?

If you’ve made it this far, please take a minute to share your favorite business book in the comments below.

  1. Steve Siebold interviewed over 1,200 wealthy people and found reading a common trait among them.
  2. Chunking is a psychological concept where the brain takes smaller, more elementary pieces of related information and tries to group them into a more general, coherent group that is easier to retrieve and comprehend.
  3. See Publishers Weekly.
  4. Warren Buffett spends up to 80% of his day reading.
  5. I discarded Top 50 Best Selling Management Books of All Time because I was looking for the best book recommendations, not necessarily best-sellers. I replaced it with the list from Eventual Millionaire, which was number eleven in Google’s search results.

Sign up to explore the intersection of rigorous research and the school of hard knocks.

Feature Box

Several times a month you’ll receive an article with practical insight and guidance on launching and growing your business. In addition, you’ll be exposed to interesting, influential or useful research, framed for those in the startup community.

Leave a Reply