Suggested Reading: Business Books

Every few years, I brush up on all of the non-fiction/non-biography books that people have been talking about. I like to let the market filter the lasting hits from the passing fads. In the past year, I’ve gone through lots of titles, some good and some not so good. I thought I’d share the ones that were most worth taking the time to read.

I’m ranking these in order of quality, with “quality” meaning a good balance of readability, insight, and prescience.

The Thank You Economy
Social media isn’t a fad; it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Through technology, social platforms allow us to transition easily and often between the roles of audience, author, expert, and advocate. These communications are having an impact on our lives whether we choose to engage in them or not. This book dives into the world of social media and offers several success stories explaining how and why you should be engaging with your base.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.)
When I was in college, I suggested to some advisors that the University should offer casual, non-math, ‘principles’ classes on topics like economics and physics. That’s pretty much what this book does. The authors share statistical extrapolations through a variety of case studies in a way that’s situational and relatable. Topics range from why drug dealers usually live with their parents, why realtors get more money for their houses than they get for yours, and how people at the top of the corporate ladder are more likely to steal bagels than those at the bottom.
Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
This book should be required reading for everyone. It delves into the nexus between marketing and consumerism, outlining trick after trick that sellers use to make you pay more for products and services while thinking you’re the one getting the better end of the deal.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
The first half of this book is better than the latter, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. It dives into cognition and intuition and why some snap judgments are good and others are bad. The case studies are informative and entertaining, especially the one about the spaghetti sauce taste tests.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
I thought this book was a little over-hyped, but it’s worth reading to see if any of the strategies mentioned might be useful to increase productivity in your organization. A lot of the basic lessons in this book are covered in other books on this list. Is there a business book out there that doesn’t mention the management philosophy at
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
This is probably the most academic of the books listed here. It’s about forecasting and adapting to change, recognizing competence and incompetence, and identifying what makes some change agents succeed where others fail. The section that compares Walgreens to Eckerd should be passed around the executive offices throughout the entertainment industry. Talk about leaders who are failing to adapt… There’s a companion out there that translates the book’s principles to the nonprofit sector.
Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today’s Cluttered Marketplace
This book is hit-and-miss. Some of the stories are useful, but others are about catching lightning in a bottle – a feat that’s barely manageable, much less plotted. It’s about establishing authenticity and protecting the brand. If your organization targets young influencers, then it’s worth checking out.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
There are some pretty good time management tips in this book, and it does help you think about how you measure success in your life. I should add that it makes for a terrible audio book, so you need to pick up a paper copy, lest you be forced to listen to an actor read through tables of HTML links and lists of reader resources.
World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories
This was the first widely-read book to trumpet the indicators that The Thank You Economy recently went on to document with such success. It’s a bit dated now (it was only published in 2009!), as most people are more than familiar with the technological platforms and social ecosystems that were emerging at the time. Still, the marketing concepts are broad enough to be relevant for years to come.
Integration Marketing: How Small Businesses Become Big Businesses and Big Businesses Become Empires
This is probably the least readable of the books on this list, or at least it was for me. I get bored easily with books. It’s about the art of the upsell and it includes some pretty good examples of companies that have used simple calls-to-action to generate growth with minimal added cost.
The Leader In You
I listened to this on the way to and from Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a funeral, which just so happened to be the day that the tornado hit. The actor reading it sounds like Phil Hartman when he did the Troy McClure voice on The Simpsons. If you can get past that, and the hokiness of the presentation, it’s actually a great series of case studies highlighting effective management practices and motivational strategy.


Three older books that I think everyone should read, regardless of their industry, are:

  1. How To Win Friends And Influence People
  2. Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life
  3. The Art Of War

By the way, I got almost all of these books/audiobooks at my local library.  For free. If you still envision bun-wearing old ladies and dusty card catalogs when you think of your library, then maybe it’s time you took another look. I check out whole seasons of TV shows on DVD from time to time.

Suggested Reading: Business Books
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