Knowledge is power, especially in the business world. Studying the habits of the world’s most renowned entrepreneurs, learning about the most effective techniques for managing people, and understanding the technical aspects of running a company will all help you on your journey to financial success. Even if you’re not a business major, the books covered in this guide contain useful lessons for just about anyone who plans to work in the private sector.
We designed this guide to be more personalized than similar lists you might find elsewhere — our picks for the best business books are separated into different categories based on their intended audiences, so you should be able to quickly find the material that is most useful for your specific situation.
How We Picked the Best Business Books
In order to determine which 30 business books stand out as the absolute best, we first gathered an initial list of 133 of the most well-known books regarding this subject using the New York Times’s Bestseller List, Goodreads award winners, and other publication recommendations such as “best of” lists published by The Guardian and USA Today.
We also put out a call to business leaders across the country, asking them to nominate their favorite books — we received over two hundred responses! Next, we shortened our list by individually assessing the popularity, reputation, and utility of each book. We looked for books that had a broad intended audience, easy-to-understand writing, and easy-to-apply principles. Reading any of these books should give you plenty to think about when considering a business career.
Finally, we sorted our top picks into different categories for your convenience: best books for developing essential business skills, best books for starting a business, and best motivational business books.
The 7 Best Books for Learning Business Basics and Critical Theory
If you don’t have any business experience, the following set of books is an excellent place to start learning about this subject. From the psychology of leadership to the principles of marketing, these texts cover all of the basics that any aspiring business leader should know.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale CarnegieBuy Now
With more than 30 million copies sold, How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the most popular self-help books to ever be published. It’s easy to see why this book has such broad appeal, as it addresses topics that are useful to everyone. Dale Carnegie’s classic starts with sections on fundamental techniques for handling people and how to make people like you — skills that will help you learn how to network. The last two sections are focused on how to win people to your way of thinking and change people’s behavior without arousing resentment, which is quite useful for business management.
Marc Shuman, founder of Shuman Legal in Chicago, Illinois, recommended this read. “Showing regard for the people you engage with is the key to success. This book helps you develop effective communication skills, essential skills for business leaders!”
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh KaufmanBuy Now
The average cost of getting a Master of Business Administration degree is $66,300. Instead of spending all that time and money to obtain an MBA, you could read this book to learn the same principles you would in a college classroom. The Personal MBA covers sales, marketing, negotiation, and many other fundamental business concepts. It’s a must-have book for anyone who wants to start their own company without going to business school first.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn RandBuy Now
Even though this book is a work of fiction, it still contains lessons that can be applied to the real world. Indeed, Atlas Shrugged is a great read for anyone who is still struggling to succeed as an entrepreneur — this ode to individualism may just give you the motivation you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and take your business to the next level.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck Chip Heath and Dan HeathBuy Now
Using case studies and illustrative anecdotes, Made to Stick reviews the characteristics that make an idea memorable or interesting. This book is especially useful if your business is focused on creating new products or services, but it provides helpful insights for anyone involved in marketing as well.
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth GodinBuy Now
Hundreds of thousands of new businesses are founded in the United States every single year. With all of this competition, how are you going to get noticed? Purple Cow goes over how companies such as Starbucks, Apple, and JetBlue became so successful in their respective industries. If you’re looking for ways to make your business stand out, this book is an excellent source of inspiration.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton ChristensenBuy Now
Once your business is successful, you’ll need to keep up with the latest technology in your industry to stay ahead of the competition. The Innovator’s Dilemma explains why many business leaders fail to embrace disruptive innovations that would otherwise improve their companies, and it offers advice that will help you avoid making this mistake yourself.
The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing by Benjamin GrahamBuy Now
The Intelligent Investor will introduce you to value investing, which is a concept that Warren Buffer used to become one of the richest people in the world. Although this book is best suited for those who work in the finance industry, it can also help you with other areas of business management (administering retirement funds, evaluating opportunities for mergers and acquisitions, etc.).
The 10 Best Books for Developing Essential Business Skills
The following books are best suited for those who are already familiar with how to run a business and now want to refine their skills. These books will teach you how to increase your productivity, motivate your employees, and improve your investment strategies.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. CialdiniBuy Now
From implementing new policies for your employees to closing sales with clients, managing a business often involves convincing other people to do something that you want them to do. After spending three years undercover at organizations like used car dealerships and telemarketing firms, psychologist Robert B. Cialdini was able to observe which persuasion techniques were most effective firsthand, tactics that he has detailed in this particularly helpful book.
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon SinekBuy Now
According to Start With Why, there are two ways to influence behavior: manipulation and inspiration. This book argues that inspiration is by far the more effective motivation tactic, and in following, it offers advice on how to instill a sense of purpose (the “why” of your organization) in your employees.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss and Tahl RazBuy Now
The author of this book certainly has experience with negotiations — after joining the FBI, Chris Voss worked his way up to the position of lead international kidnapping negotiator. In Never Split the Difference, Voss details nine key negotiation principles that will help you always get the best deal possible.
Blaire Brown, founder and CEO of Visionary Advantages, notes, “Hate having sales conversations and going over proposals? Get over it! This book offers some of the best negotiation tactics that you can use in your business today to achieve those numbers you’ve been aiming for.”
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class do Not! by Robert T. KiyosakiBuy Now
In Rich Dad Poor Dad, businessman Robert T. Kiyosaki uses anecdotes from his own life to dispel many of the popular myths that are associated with wealth in the United States. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country, including FUBU CEO and “Shark Tank” judge Daymond John, have named this book as one of their favorites.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal NewportBuy Now
It takes quite a lot of effort to succeed as an entrepreneur, and the presence of modern technology, such as the internet and smartphones, makes it harder to focus now than it ever was before. Nick Mueller, director of operations at HawaiianIslands.com, recommends this read. “This book provides real tips and advice to help you avoid the distraction of social media and devices. I’ve personally applied multiple tips from this book and have seen great results.”
Deep Work will help you learn how to avoid distractions and do what you need to do for your business to thrive.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim FerrissBuy Now
Although hard work is required to run your own business, this book will help you reduce the number of hours that you need to put in. By outsourcing minor responsibilities to virtual assistants and using other tips featured in The 4-Hour Workweek, you can create much more free time for yourself.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to do About It by Michael E. GerberBuy Now
In The E-Myth Revisited, small business guru Michael E. Gerber reveals the most common expectations that get in the way of entrepreneurial success, such as the assumption that technical expertise in a field means you will know how to run a company within that field. Overall, this book offers excellent advice on how to avoid mistakes while growing your business.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeownBuy Now
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the tasks involved with running a business. If you’re struggling with this, you should absolutely pick up Essentialism — this book will help you eliminate waste and focus your time on what really matters.
Money Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom by Tony RobbinsBuy Now
With the economy constantly swinging between stretches of strong growth and periods of recession, it can be very difficult to achieve financial security. Money Master the Game will show you how to invest wisely, protect your money from the effects of market crashes, and fully prepare yourself for retirement.
So Good They Can’t Ignore you: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love by Cal NewportBuy Now
Cal Newport has become such an influential thinker on topics such as productivity and time management that we had to include at least two of his books in this guide. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport argues that you should let your talent and skills, rather than your passions, determine your career path — anyone who is considering switching into a different industry should read this book before they make their next move.
The 7 Best Books for Starting a Business
In the United States, about 20% of startups fail within one year of opening their doors, and 50% fail within five years. However, with the help of the books listed below, you’ll have a much better shot at making it to the five-year mark and beyond.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake MasterBuy Now
Zero to One is based on a course on startups that Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and first outside investor in Facebook, taught at Stanford University. It’s only about 200 pages long, and you’ll find dozens of helpful insights on how to disrupt industries packed into this quick read.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are no Easy Answers by Ben HorowitzBuy Now
The author of this book co-founded Andreessen Horowitz, one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world. Horowitz became a billionaire owing to his ability to evaluate startups, and in The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he shares invaluable insights on what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. This is an especially useful book if you’re in the technology industry, as Horowitz’s background is focused primarily on Silicon Valley startups.
The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric RiesBuy Now
After experiencing a series of failures at the beginning of his career, entrepreneur Eric Ries realized what the problem was — instead of building a company around a particular product or technology, it makes more sense to work backward from the business results you want to achieve (gaining more customers, earning more profit, etc.). In other words, you should be continuously improving your products based on customer feedback. The ideas introduced in The Lean Startup have been adopted by some of the top companies in the country, including General Electric and Dropbox.
Jennifer Spinelli, founder and CEO of Watson Buys based in Denver, Colorado, says, “This book is concise and highly readable. A must-have for anyone looking to start their own business.”
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim CollinsBuy Now
If you want to learn how to build a great company, there’s no better way than to examine how today’s biggest brands got to where they are. This book takes a good look at businesses that were able to establish themselves at the top of their respective industries and compares them to businesses that had a similar opportunity but failed to illustrate what they did differently.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir EyalBuy Now
Nir Eyal’s four-step process for creating products that encourage customers to keep coming back again and again is based on years of research, consulting, and firsthand experience in the video game and advertising industries. Hooked is especially useful for product designers and marketers.
Traction: How any Startup can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin MaresBuy Now
Traction is full of practical advice, covering nineteen channels that you can use to build a customer base as well as a three-step framework that will help you determine which channels make the most sense for your business. If you’re struggling to find new customers, you must pick up this book.
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. MooreBuy Now
Crossing the Chasm is geared toward a particular audience: those who plan to introduce cutting-edge technology to the general public. The right strategy for your product will depend on how familiar people are with it, and this book breaks down which marketing tactics are most effective at each stage of the technology adoption life cycle.
The 6 Best Motivational Business Books
Running your own business can be an exceptionally difficult way to earn a living, and you’ll likely need to endure many failures before you finally find success. This last section of our guide is focused on books that will help you learn from your mistakes and sustain your motivation as you work toward achieving your goals.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon HillBuy Now
In this 1937 classic, Napoleon Hill details 13 rules that you should follow to achieve success — all of which are based on how the richest people in the world amassed their fortunes. Although the book is mainly concerned with financial success, many of these principles can be applied to any area of your business that you would like to improve.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl SandbergBuy Now
Women have long been underrepresented in leadership positions. Former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In offers plenty of useful advice that can help female professionals overcome prejudice in the workplace and advance their careers.
Rework: Change the Way you Work Forever by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier HanssonBuy Now
This book was written by two co-founders of the web development company 37signals, which has produced popular software products like Ruby on Rails and Basecamp. Rework argues that, with modern technology, it no longer takes long hours and a small fortune to start a business.
Leslie Radka, the founder and hiring manager of GreatPeopleSearch has this to say about this title: “Rework is an amazing book written by two expert entrepreneurs. Perfect for straightforward and concrete suggestions for someone ready to start their own business.” Anyone who dreams of quitting their day job to become their own boss should absolutely pick up a copy of Rework.
Grinding it out: The Making of McDonald’s by Ray KrocBuy Now
After purchasing McDonald’s in 1961, Ray Kroc turned what was then a small regional chain into the global fast food empire that it is today. In addition to being a gifted businessman, Kroc was an excellent storyteller — this memoir is endlessly entertaining and contains valuable lessons on how to grow a business.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil KnightBuy Now
Shoe Dog tracks Nike founder Phil Knight’s journey from selling imported Japanese shoes out of the trunk of his car to building one of the biggest companies in the world. This is another book that can provide motivation to aspiring entrepreneurs, as during Nike’s first few years, Knight still had to work full time as an accountant in order to make ends meet.
Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonBuy Now
Steve Jobs was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time — and anyone can certainly learn a lot from his story. This book is based on over 40 interviews that the author conducted with Jobs (as well as hundreds of other interviews with his friends, family, and colleagues), and it’s must-read material for anyone who hopes to make it in the business world.