A list of the best business books

There are so many great ideas and thinkers out there that if you are running a business, charity or enterprise of any kind and you haven’t dug into the wealth of books available, your are missing a trick. Here is a list of the books that I have found most helpful.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey

There are a few books on this list that count as classics and this is one of them. First published in 1989 it has been republished countless times. It’s not really a business book in that it takes a fundamentally holistic approach seeing business as just one part of life that is most effectively approached by developing a deep understanding of the principles that drive you as a human being. It is then packed with practical tips on how to let those principles drive everything you do.

Being pretty old, there are lots of cheap second hand copies floating around (check out http://abebooks.com). Or if you want to find this or any of the other books on Amazon just click the images.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Even more of a classic, this one was first published in 1936 and it’s crazy how relevant it still is. You many assume from the title that the book is in some way about manipulating other people to get what you want. In reality , this short book simply explores a range of common human characteristics and draws from them lessons about how to get the best out of other people by understanding how they think and act.

This one is available free as an ebook.

The Undercover Economist, Tim Harford

This book is a brilliant introduction to a range of basic principles of economics. The book unearths the many ways that these principles are at work in the world around us, shaping our purchasing decisions or the way our neighborhoods operate.

The Essential Drucker, Peter Drucker

A collection of writings from this massively influential management educator who died in 2005, this book is a great introduction to his thoughts on a range of topics. I find Drucker particularly compelling where he explores the underlying philosophy of business and management. I have not head anyone else make such a strong and compelling case for business being inherently about contributing positively to society.

Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This is the most weighty tome on my list and it’s not for the faint hearted. However, rewards await those who dare. Taleb explores a concept that he suggests is missing from most languages. We understand ‘fragility’ – things that suffer from disorder – but we wrongly see its antonym as ‘robustness’. Robustness, he argues, describes things that remain stable in the face of disorder. The concept we miss is ‘antifragility’: things that gain from disorder.

Taleb has an alternative and engaging style and while conceptual in parts, his thoughts are widely applicable and will undoubtedly get you thinking about business. This book provides a great conceptual underpinning to the Lean Startup, below, which is a much more applied and technical read.

How to Double Your Business, Lee Duncan

This is the least well known of the books on this list (and, I think, the only one written by a Brit). It is a very practical diagnostic tool for your business. I was scribbling down ideas all the way through and have read it twice cover to cover!

The E-myth Revisited, Michael Gerber

This book definitely wins the ‘most cringe worthy’ award for its grandfather fire-side chat interludes. It’s one to read quickly, but nonetheless I found the core premise helpful. Essentially Gerber advocates running any business like a franchise. There is a lot of merit to this notion and I’m sure it will provoke some helpful thoughts about the potential scalability of your current enterprise.

The 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss

I read this book many years ago when I was still working as a solicitor, tied to my desk and recording my day in 6 minute chunks. I devoured the book in one lunch break standing in Waterstones (cheap, I know) but it influenced me hugely. Many people are sold a lie about the way workplaces should operate and the way we should engage with work. Ferriss highlights clearly and succinctly just how skewed these incentive structures are. I have never looked at the 9-5 institution the same since!

The Lean Startup, Eric Reis

This book is more specific than many of the others on this list as it is aimed directly at ‘startups’, which he defines as organisations wanting to discover some big new idea and are therefore operating in conditions of extreme uncertainty. However, if this world interests you then this is a must read. There are also obvious applications to other areas, most obviously that of international development where after decades of intervention there is still huge disagreement about what actually ‘works’.

Getting Things Done, David Allen

Whatever you do, you should read this book. The name pretty much captures it. I save hours of time every week through practices that were directly informed by this book. Being a practical book, there is no point reading it unless you have a go at implementing the recommendations it contains. But if you do, I very much doubt you will ever go back!


I’d love to hear other books people have found useful so please leave a comment below!