I've never really been a big reader.
Once I started traveling though, I started to have a lot more free time. Time spent in planes, trains, and automobiles. Time spent at hostels. Eventually I decided to fill this gap with reading.
But first I had to decide what to read. I was way behind on everything. Eventually, thanks to my practical nature, I decided to give business books a chance - and I'm really glad I did.
I’m not sure there is anything I can credit more with inspiring new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new habits I developed than picking up a few of these books and reading through them.
I generally go through a book a month, or maybe every three weeks depending on our schedule. The thing about business and entrepreneurship is it’s a fine line between reading about the success of others and actually taking action to create your own successes. I think it’s easy to get caught up in reading too many books or blog posts and falsely believe you are making more progress than you are based solely off of the amount of information you are taking in. As a result, I always try to space out my books in 2-3 week intervals to make sure there are periods of time when I am not reading anything but focusing on putting in place the principles of the last book I have just read. When I start to feel a bit of a lull in my schedule, I pick up another book and begin reading.
For the record, I also do some pleasure reading, but for the most part I reserve that for audio books that I can listen to when I am on a bus, train, or plane or at the gym. If you are looking for a good source of audio books, I have always found Librivox to be a great resource.
My Top Picks From Last Year
Never Eat Alone– Hands down I might rank this one of the most significant books I’ve read in the last year. This is about networking from a man who literally has made a career out of it. It’s inspired me to reach out to old friends and acquaintances and work to connect and build my own network. Aside from practical business applications it simply teaches you how to live a more fulfilling life by surrounding yourself with people who make you happy. The more I travel and the more I see and do other things the more I realize that the most important thing a person can have in their life is a sense of community. Make this book a part of your life and practice what he teaches.
The 4-Hour Workweek by Time Ferriss – I don’t know an entrepreneur who hasn’t read this book and loved it. Although since reading it I’ve come across other books that I enjoyed more, this one really started it all for me. It was basically my introduction into the genre of business books and was where I discovered what virtual assistants were, something that has dramatically improved my life and business. It's true that it's a bit all over the place at times and maybe, just maybe the message isn't 100% clear (or perhaps just that different people will have different take aways), but I think it's a classic nonetheless.
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki – If the 4 Hour Work Week got me started learning more about business, Rich Dad Poor Dad got be started learning about finance. Robert Kiyosaki is a bit of a controversial figure but I love the principles in this book and the perspective from which it is told. Whether or not it is true (that he had these two “fathers” - mentors really), I think more important is what the book means to you and what you get out of it. For me it has really galvanized an interest in finance which has gotten me to seriously look at investing and my financial future.
The $100 Start Up by Chris Guillebeau - In preparing to write this book, Chris identified 1,500 individuals who have built businesses earning $50,000 or more from a modest investment (in many cases, $100 or less), and from that group he’s chosen to focus on the 50 most intriguing case studies. I love the case study approach since it really brings home the principles that many other books just talk about. Seeing people achieve great things is motivating. We don't hear enough about these stories - the so called ordinary people who are now making full time equivalent salaries from the fruits of their own labor. It is possible, and this book is proof.
My Life In Advertising by Claude Hopkins – I’m really trying to read more biographical/autobiographical books since I think the direct perspective from a real person’s life is incredibly interesting. At the same time, well, they often tend to not be as exciting as other genres. I tried reading biographies on Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Carnegie but just couldn’t get into them. Finally, I found the best of both worlds in this book. Claude Hopkins is literally one of the founders of modern advertising. It’s awesome to look at some of the techniques that he was pioneering a hundred years ago and thinking about how widespread they are today. At the same time, you get a lot of insight into the man's life - his trials and tribulations and what he thinks of it all in his old age.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg– Developing good habits is paramount to living a successful life and this book gets into the science behind it, even proposing methods for developing new habits and breaking old ones. In addition it also includes some great case studies on how several fortune 500 companies have worked this into their marketing strategy. I love behavior being broken down into a science. We forget how so much of what we do is scripted, and how, with a bit of effort, we can rewrite those scripts to create a better story.
Rework by Jason Fried – This book is all about turning traditional business maxims upside down and showing you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business from people who have done it before. In the 21st century it’s time to explore other ways of doing the same thing. This is a quick and straightforward read and packs a lot of great principles into one book.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely –Psychology is deeply rooted in business because business is so heavily linked to human behavior. It’s not for nothing that you see psych studies constantly referenced in business books. This is one of my favorites as it looks at the irrational things we all do and perhaps why that should change our view of economics. I strongly believe that if you want to be successful in business you have to understand people - this book will help.
Outliers by Malcom Gladwell – I enjoyed this book for its radical perspective on what leads people to be successful. How much of it is our own doing, and how much of it is the result of our environment and other exogenous factors of which we have no control? It’s both eye opening and humbling at the same time. It also helps that Gladwell is a captivating writer and implements a lot of unique case studies to prove his point.
How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie– Talk about a book that has stood the test of time! This was written over 60 years ago and the principles still hold true today, perhaps now more than ever. Communicating with people is fundamental to life and business and this book nails it. Yes some of the points are obvious but sometimes it’s the most obvious things that we overlook in our day to day lives. Go through this book chapter by chapter and really, really try to make changes in how you communicate with people. You will begin to notice that you can get a lot farther by adopting a few, very simple tactics.
Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Caldini - I'm really just getting into this book but I can already tell it's going to be solid. Caldini has gone underground in various sales and marketing roles to see how the best in the business make sales. The ability to sell is no doubt a skill/art and those who master it will go a lot farther in business and life. There aren't too many business that don't require some sort of salesmanship. Combining this with human tendencies is a fantastic recipe to get ahead.
Started But Didn't Finish
The following books are ones that I started but for one reason or another decided to put down in pursuit of other things. I know some people never leave a book unfinished, even if they don’t like it, but I really don’t care for that strategy. I give a book a few chapters and if I’m not really into it I put it down. I’m not saying I’m never going to pick it up again but I have a limited amount of time set aside for reading and I want to make sure I spend it with books that excite me. All the same these books come very highly recommended - they just weren't for me at this point in time.
Work The System by Sam Carpenter – My first thoughts on this one had me pretty interested but then I just got lost in the process side of things.
The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman – This actually looked like a great book for anyone wanting to learn business in a more textbook style manner, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill – I’m just not a big fan of those books that aren’t very tactical. I want case studies. I want data. I want a process. This book was just too out there for me.
The Magic Of Thinking Big by Dr. David Schwartz – Similar to think and grow rich, it just didn't have that actionable quality that I like.
Founder At Work by Jessica Livingston – I was excited about this one but once I got into it I found it too technical for my liking. For example the interview with paypal founder is way too much about the technical side of things and not about the business side (marketing, strategy, etc).
The Art Of War by Sun Tzu – I know that everyone raves about this book and the principles but maybe I just completely missed it? I think I listened to most of it on audio but didn’t leave with a lot of takeaways.
The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco– If this had been the first business book I’ve read I probably would have thought more highly of it. As it stands I found most of what was written rehashed content that I’ve seen elsewhere. Still I think there is some value in it.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries– I think I would have gotten more out of this book if I had a business I was interested in trimming the fat on.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey– I think there is some merit in learning about the different ways different groups of people look at things. Inevitably I was more interested in other books at the time.
In the event that you’ve already ploughed through most of the above suggestions, I’ve compiled a short list of articles on the best business books. These will probably be making their wait into my reading list in the coming years....