Over the past 20 years I’ve read hundreds of business books. Some for fun, others for their application to my career, and earlier ones related to courses and MBA classes.
It is a tough challenge to come up with a proverbial “Top 10” list. In fact, it would be easier to suggest 100 of them, but it just is not very marketable, and would make for a long post.
So here I present my all-time best… the top 10 Business Books of All Time.
1. The Essential Drucker
by Peter F. Drucker
The founder of modern management. Drucker not only invented the genre, but took it further in the 21st century than any other writer. B-schools around the world are thankful that his ideas inspire new thinking and fill up classrooms. Businesses are thankful that it really works. This dream compendium is a must have. Starting a library? This is your foundation. Highly recommended.
2. Competitive Strategy
by Michael E. Porter
This pioneering strategy study propelled Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter to academic stardom. The first of a series in the 1980’s. Followed by Competitive Advantage and Competitive Advantage of Nations, the research layed an analytical foundation for analyzing competition with the introduction of the “three generic strategies”—lowest cost, differentiation, and focus. More recently critiqued and countered (see Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant), but remains the de facto.
3. The Art of War
by Sun Tzu
Ok let’s talk turkey. Business isn’t always pretty. It’s sometimes nasty, brutish and short. And as much as we would like to deny human nature, it’s in us all. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is classic military theory told in an efficient unapologetic manner. The same principles and strategies he describes for the battlefield often apply well to business, sales, and management. Microsoft executives must have it on their nightstands: “Lure them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion”. Don’t expect typical set-ups, summaries and clarity. Dig deep, re-read, and ponder. It’s worth the effort.
4. The Prince
by Niccolo Machiavelli
Politics, business, and 16th-century principality. Often quoted (i.e. “Machiavellian”), but not always understood, The Prince is a glorious collection of essays on power, character, and politics. A classic in every sense of the world. From the color of a political landscape 500 years old to the candor and disturbing insights into power and motivations of people. Note that the translation is important, and this particular version is known as an excellent adaptation.
5. The Wealth of Nations
by Adam Smith
A classics list would not be complete without including this masterpiece on modern economic thought. From the famous “invisible hand” to “private interests and passions”, it is the authority on capitalism. Published coincidently in 1776, this master tombe also provides interesting glimpses into 18th century economic life.
6. How to Win Friends & Influence People
by Dale Carnegie
People matter. You may have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t convey it and inspire others to act then you will not reach your potential. Often considered a milestone in human relations study, it’s another one of those books that warrants a yearly read. If you can overlook some outdated passages (charm), on each read you’ll find another gem of wisdom.
7. Crossing the Chasm
by Geoffrey A. Moore
In hi-tech it would be hard to chose a more-referenced book than Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm”. In less than fourteen years this book has become a staple of pragmatic marketing strategy. Famous for its adoption lifecycle and analysis of market segments. Sprinkled with liberal examples that demonstrate failure to cross the chasm contrasted with companies that have successfully reached mainstream customers.
8. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
by Al Ries, Jack Trout
Marketing is as important as ever—think Apple Nano, Mini Cooper, and JetBlue. And this is the classic on that topic. Easy to read. With clear examples. Possibly more important: it stood the test of time. Like a fine red Napa, this one is aging beautifuly. Whether you are just starting out at Apple, or are a seasoned brand executive at P&G, this is your blueprint.
9. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
by Roger Fisher, et al
A nice follow-up to my #8 marketing pick is this classic on negotiation. It’s hard to imagine a life without negotiation. From buying a house, shopping for a car, or just plain trying to get someone to agree on a contract, negotiation is essential. In business, shrewd negotiators can make a name for themselves, advancing careers, and striking “win-win” deals for all involved.
10. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
by Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras
Yes, I know, it’s a recent entry so how can I already label it a “classic”? It makes my top 10 for two reasons. First, it’s based on over 6 years of research—roll-up your sleeves type work that involved interviews with companies such as Disney, Ford, HP, Merck and 3M. Sure, lots of authors have done research and interviews before, and that’s where my second (and real) reason for this one comes in: the research is translated into 12 commonly held myths that the research refutes. And some may well surprise you.