by Art Piccio . August 6th, 2014
The stereotype of the entrepreneur wannabe with walls upon walls of reference books and magazines is not undeserved. We all seem to know someone who seems to do little but talk about the latest management or marketing fad, but is utterly incapable of relating it to their business or other real world situations.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t read business books. But we should realize that straight business books and magazines aren’t the only source of knowledge for the aspiring entrepreneur – nor are they all that helpful for those who don’t plan to get their feet wet. Chances are, conventional business books they won’t even be the best choice for a lot of people.
by Ayn Rand
Not the most surprising entry on a list like this. While I’m far from being the biggest Ayn Rand fan, her ideas on the roles of individuals and industry in society have had a lasting influence on policy makers and business leaders the world over.
The points Rand makes in Atlas Shrugged can inspire or disgust – sometimes all at once. If you have something that can do that, then it’s probably worth having.
Read it here!
by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover
There can be no business without relationships. What better way to earn those than to have something people will want to buy repeatedly? Hooked is written for product designers, marketers, startup founders, and anyone interested in how behavioral science plays a role in creating experiences people keep coming back for.
A must not just for entreps, but anyone interested in social engineering techniques.
Buy it here!
by Niccolò Machiavelli
No book save for the Bible had as much influence in the early days of the printing press in Europe than Machiavelli’s classic work. There are at least two ways to approach this classic work – as a satire, which it very likely partly is – or as an actual guide to leadership. Either way, it’s extremely riveting and thought-provoking for something written almost 500 years ago.
Give it a read, and you’ll find that perhaps things haven’t changed much at all.
by W. Edwards Deming
American W. Edwards Deming might not be the best known business theorist in his home country, but he has been venerated in Japan, his adopted country, for the last 60 years. Deming’s ideas on statistics and how to use data to build and improve systems would play a huge part in Japan’s radical postwar economic miracle. His theories and papers on quality management and marketing in particular, continue to influence business leaders the world over.
by Stephan Schiffman
While introverts might cringe at the very thought of needing to do cold calls, the fact remains cold calling over the phone and other similar techniques over social media are critical for almost every enterprise. Schiffman provides a simple, straight-to-the point guide to cold calls that anyone can learn from.
by Clayton M. Christensen
Christensen’s classic is a cautionary piece that makes one question the costs of innovation, and how one should balance future demands with current customer needs. If you think you’re safe (We’re looking at you Comcast), think again.
by Timothy Ferriss
Timothy Ferriss made a huge splash when he came out with the now classic book on time management. While chances are slim to none that you will ever get to a 4-hour workweek, you’re sure to be left with questions about whether the way we do things makes sense.
If you’re interested in systems and task automation and a more balanced lifestyle, this book is for you.
Buy it here!
by Sun Tzu
While probably not the best gift for those who don’t understand analogies and metaphors too well, Sun Tzu’s ideas on how to conduct warfare continue to be relevant not just in military academies (where this book is required reading worldwide) but in the personal and professional spheres as well. Surprisingly modern and consistently re-readable, this book isn’t about war so much as it is about life and leadership.
by Chris Guillebeau
If you’re not yet ready to take a head-on plunge into the world of entrepreneurship, The $100 Startup is perfect for those who need to dip their toes in before swimming. It’s also a must-read for social entrepreneurs, or really just anyone who wants to venture into something not because they want to make money, but because they want to do what they love.
by Dr. Seuss
What price, progress? There are few books that lay it out as well as this Dr. Seuss classic. If you still haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy. Do not watch the movie.
by Robert Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein’s 1947 novel Rocket Ship Galileo is one of many sci-fi books he wrote for teens from the beginning through the height of the Soviet-American Space Race. A book about landing on the Moon written two decades before the fact, it was rejected by several publishers for being too unrealistic. While very obviously written for 14 year olds, it remains as inspirational now as it was for the young men and women who would eventually land human beings on the Moon – for real.
An interesting look at futurism, engineering, and project management principles.
Buy it here!
by Robert M. Pirsig
An iconic piece of American literature, it deals with… well… ZAMM is a work of philosophical fiction that’s got nothing on Zen nor motorcycle maintenance and nothing about entrepreneurship nor business either. Yet simultaneously, it’s far more relevant to those concepts than many of the other books here.
ZAMM was originally rejected by 121 publishers — more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records. After reading the first few parts, it’s easy to see why it happened. But it’s also easy to understand why it continues to be popular. Whether you love or hate it, it’s sure to leave you thinking about where you are and where you want to be.
by James Clavell
While James Clavell is far better known for Shogun, Taipan, and Noble House, all of which are cited as perhaps the most enduring historical fiction novels ever, I’d argue that his first book King Rat, is not only his best work, but also his most universal – despite being his shortest.
A partly autobiographical piece on Clavell’s experience as a POW in Changi Prison Camp during WW2. It details the protagonist’s brush with the complex moral implications of entrepreneurship, personified by an unnamed American corporal who manages to live well through his wit and canny business sense – while many others suffer. My absolute favorite book out of all of the ones in this list.
by Jodi R. R. Smith
Etiquette and good manners seems to be a dying art – which is awesome news for those who still practice it. Knowing how to act appropriately in different situations gives any entrep the upper hand – and not just because everyone likes good manners. Knowing when to tactically breach etiquette as opposed to doing it unintentionally can also make for a much better-rounded leader and negotiator.
The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide To Modern Manners is also a better choice over some of the better known etiquette guides as it fully accounts for social media and internet developments traditional guides have yet to adequately cover.
by Napoleon Hill
There’s a reason why Think and Grow Rich continues to hold its own with modern business and entrepreneurship books, despite having been written way back in 1937. It stands on its own as good piece of literature but also offers many time-tested insights on life, business, and people that are as true today as they ever were.
While peppered at times with pseudoscience and parts that are clearly from a different time, Napoleon Hill’s masterpiece will in all likelihood probably still be read generations from now. Plus, the fact Bruce Lee was a huge fan doesn’t hurt.
by Mike Piper
There is absolutely no excuse for any entrepreneur to be unfamiliar with basic accounting concepts. While there are thousands of accounting books out there, few are accessible enough for laymen to understand easily without much fussing about. Accounting Made Simple only has about 100 pages, and could be read in a few hours – all while being easy for nearly anyone to absorb.
by Roger Lowenstein
What’s surprising is how the book foreshadowed the 2007 financial crisis about a decade before it happened. While a textbook on the risk and disproportionate rewards of hedge funds, it reads more like a crime novel and wouldn’t be out-of-place in the Crime/Thriller section of a bookstore.
by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
by Jim Collins
The core message of this book is a simple one: Strength is not how big you are now or how many assets you have – but how well you are able to rebound from setbacks and adapt to changing times.
Businesses can look strong from the outside, and yet be riddled with all kinds of systemic faults that bring them down from within. A must for anyone who wants to avoid this.
by Michael Crichton
Of course, it’s a damned fine commercial novel in itself, and a stellar work of science fiction. If you loved the movie, you might find the book substantially different, but also more insightful about the dark side of tech entrepreneurship.
Nearly all these books will be much more useful to you if you already started building an enterprise. Take the first step, and get your hands dirty before buying any of these.
Let’s not pretend it isn’t fashionable in plenty of circles to jerk about books we’ve read – or pretended to. But the truth is, nearly all business books will be useless to entreps with zero experience.
You will learn stuff, true. But without real world experience to tie things to, you won’t have a frame of reference and what you read will not be “as real” to you. Sure, you might feel smarter – but it won’t actually matter until you are able to understand how to apply it firsthand.
If you do not take the first crucial steps towards your entrepreneurial goal, then all this reading will be nothing more than a dangerous, self-feeding cycle of reassurance.
Another thing. Don’t believe everything you read. Even on this site. Books, magazines, and blog posts are often best seen as rough guides for inspiration – not as manuals to be followed to the letter. Be your own self, and forge your own path. That is exactly what entrepreneurship is all about.
More: Why Self-help Articles Can Be Bad For Entrepreneurs
Image Credits: Book covers are properties of their respective copyright owners. Headers credited to: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via photopin cc, Ozyman via photopin cc
Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.