The Founder’s Bookshelf: The 29 Best Business Books for Entrepreneurs
by Evan Ferguson Entrepreneurship Dec 10, 2021 20 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Reading is fundamental. It’s one of the first skills we’re taught in school, and yet, few of us realize how important it is after we’ve graduated.
Reading regularly in adulthood helps us develop analytical skills, makes us better communicators, stimulates the creative centers of our brains, and strengthens our ability to recall information. Books can cheer us up when we’re feeling sad, motivate us to make improvements, and teach us new skills that can help better ourselves.
Skills like these can benefit just about everyone, but for entrepreneurs, the ability to analyze a situation, apply lessons learned, and come up with innovative solutions is crucial.
If you’re looking to put together an entrepreneurial reading list, here are the best business books to include:
The Entrepreneur’s Bookshelf: 29 of the best business books
1. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
In Good to Great, business management consultant Jim Collins describes how good companies make the transition into great ones, using case studies (both good and bad) of businesses that have succeeded in and failed to make the transition.
Collins’ book is perfect for entrepreneurs looking to understand what gives successful businesses an inside edge. The insight offered by Good to Great has been praised by a number of CEOs, with several members of The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council citing it as the best management book they’ve read.
Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.
2. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
Peter Theil is a billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund. Zero to One is based on a series of essays taken from notes of a lecture Theil gave on startups in 2012.
Zero to One is a primer on innovation that explores how entrepreneurs develop new ideas by learning to think outside the box, making it a great book for business people looking to carve out a profitable niche. Atlantic writer Derek Thompson cited Zero to One as maybe the best business book he’s ever read.
The founding moment of a company, however, really does happen just once: only at the very start do you have the opportunity to set the rules that will align people toward the creation of value in the future.
3. The Ten-Day MBA: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering the Skills Taught In America’s Top Business Schools by Steven A. Silbiger
In The Ten-Day MBA, MBA and marketing director Steven A. Silbiger gives readers a crash course in everything he’s learned in his years teaching business, covering theoretical concepts along-side practical skills like accounting, finance, marketing strategy, quantitative analysis, operations, economics, organizational behavior, and ethics.
Silbiger’s internationally acclaimed comprehensive guide compiles lessons from business schools across the world, based on the notes of MBA students attending programs at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, and the University of Virginia.
Marketing is a special blend of art and science. There is a great deal to be learned in marketing classes, but no amount of schooling can teach you the experience, the intuition, and the creativity to be a truly gifted marketer. That’s why those with the gift are so highly paid.
4. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
Michael E. Gerber is the founder of Michael E. Gerber Companies, a business skills training company based in California. In The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber explores why 80% of small businesses fail, and offers insight into how to make sure your business isn’t among them.
Gerber’s thesis is that people mistakenly believe that technical knowledge will translate into business success, which isn’t usually the case. Gerber instructs readers on how to break out of this mindset and set-up a business that relies on “systems” rather than the skills of individuals.
The E-Myth Revisited is a must-read for tech entrepreneurs, exploring how companies with an innovative product can self-sabotage by not considering how that innovation translates into business success.
Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.
5. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Rework comes from Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, and David Heinemeier Hansson, the programmer who invented the Ruby on Rails web development framework.
Fried and Hanson are both entrepreneurs with tech backgrounds who offer great advice for any business owner who might be an expert in their field but a beginner to the world of entrepreneurship. Rework tosses aside conventional business jargon and instead offers advice that’s concrete and straightforward.
In this New York Times bestseller, Fried and Hanson present their readers with a variety of low-cost ways to grow their business, with lessons on increasing productivity, not getting bogged down by too much planning, and ways of getting exposure for your business without spending too much startup cash.
When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.
6. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
Benjamin Graham is an economist, professor, and investor, widely known in the business world as the “father of value investing.”
Written in 1949, The Intelligent Investor offers advice on investing in the stock market that’s still relevant today. Graham focuses on investments that minimize economic risks and instructs the reader on how to find longer-term, risk-averse investments based on research rather than speculation.
The Intelligent Investor is a must-read for anyone looking for more guidance on value investing and wanting to learn how to make sound, financial decisions.
The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists.
7. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
Chris Voss is a business professor, CEO of the Black Swan Group, and a former FBI hostage negotiator—widely considered to be an expert in the psychology of persuasion.
In Never Split the Difference, Voss reveals the strategies he’s used in his own career for approaching high-stakes negotiation. Voss explores how to build trust, overcome emotional obstacles, use empathy as a tool rather than a hindrance, and the language to use to communicate clearly.
First-time entrepreneurs will need to enter into negotiations with their business partners, investors, employees, contractors, and all sorts of other stakeholders. Never Split the Difference offers tools and techniques for juggling all of the factors of negotiation.
If you approach a negotiation thinking the other guy thinks like you, you are wrong. That’s not empathy, that’s a projection.
8. The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin
Joshua Waitzkin is an international chess master, competitive martial artist, and author who rose to fame as a chess prodigy after defeating chess master Edward Frumkin in a game when he was only 10 years old.
In The Art of Learning, Waitzkin gives insight into how he’s cultivated an entrepreneurial mindset and shares his strategy for always learning and adapting. To Waitzkin, failure is an opportunity for more growth. In his book, he teaches readers how to accept failure, learn from it, and use it to grow and understand where your weaknesses are so you can improve.
Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.
9. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
Eric Reiss is an entrepreneur known for his work in the field of information architecture, usability, and service design. In The Lean Startup, Ries explores why most startups fail and gives insight into how to avoid failure in the early days of your business.
Ries touches on how the most successful startups leverage human creativity while keeping costs low, with a focus on rapid experimentation, effectively measuring success by eliminating superfluous vanity metrics, and adapting to customer needs.
Reis’s book offers a way for companies to test their vision continuously, and describes how to use innovative techniques to adapt to change. The Lean Startup is a must-read for anyone looking to avoid the pitfalls of startups that failed.
We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.
10. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Don Norman is a researcher, professor and business consultant, renowned as one of the foremost experts in the field of usability engineering. In The Design of Everyday Things, he offers advice on how to design a good product, based on what he’s learned in his long career.
Norman starts by exploring some of the most timeless product designs—such as doorknobs, light switches, and oven burners—asking us to consider why the most timeless designs tend to be the simplest.
The answer has to do with how human brains process information. So many designers make the mistake of ignoring human cognitive psychology in an effort to create a product that does everything, rather than a product that does one thing very well.
Norman’s book is the perfect primer for anyone in the process of designing a new product.
Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.
11. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth by Clayton Christensen and Michael E. Raynor
Business consultant and academic Clayton Christensen is world-renowned for developing the theory of “disruptive innovation,” which is an innovation that creates an entirely new market, displacing established products.
In The Innovator’s Solution, he and business consultant Michael E. Raynor expand on the idea of disruptive innovation, arguing that companies can and should become disruptive to their own industries, especially in the modern, hyper-accelerated digital world.
Touching on real-world examples, Christensen and Raynor explore companies that have successfully (and unsuccessfully) disrupted their industries, and provide a framework for creating the right conditions and identifying the right time for disruption.
Research suggests that in over 90 percent of all successful new businesses, historically, the strategy that the founders had deliberately decided to pursue was not the strategy that ultimately led to the business’s success.
12. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a former business executive and a bestselling author who has been cited by Business Insider as one of the most influential thinkers in business.
In Linchpin, Godin explores the concept of “linchpin” employees: innovative thinkers who are willing to break the rules and re-invent ways of getting things done. Godin argues that linchpins are indispensable, and vital to any company that hopes to grow and thrive.
Whether you’re a creator looking to understand what makes you a valuable asset or a business owner trying to figure out how to find valuable new hires, Linchpin offers crucial insight into understanding this phenomenon.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.
13. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Distraction is an issue so many people struggle with, but it’s especially detrimental in the world of business, where success hinges on the ability to adapt quickly.
In Deep Work, Professor of Computer Science Cal Newport shares his insight on how to focus deeply on cognitively demanding tasks in a world filled with distractions. Newport argues that the ability to focus without distraction isn’t something people are born with—it’s a skill that must be learned, practiced, and mastered.
Deep Work offers readers Newport’s personal training regimen, which consists of four rules for practicing deep focus and building good habits. By reframing distraction as an opportunity rather than a burden, Newport offers critical advice to anyone looking to be more motivated.
To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.
14. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki
In Rich Dad Poor Dad, entrepreneur and founder of Rich Global LLC Robert T. Kiyosaki talks about two men who helped shape his thoughts on money and investing: his father (the titular poor dad), and his best friend’s father (the rich dad).
Kiyosaki argues that the amount of money you make matters less than the amount of money you keep. He argues that while the poor and middle class work to make more money, the rich have their money work for them.
Kiyosaki’s lessons on the importance of financial literacy is a great read for anyone that’s ever felt like they don’t have enough money. It’s especially important for entrepreneurs in the early stages of starting a business, who might need to make their cash extend further.
Remember what I said before: A job is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
15. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
In Atomic Habits, author, entrepreneur, and photographer James Clear offers his own personal strategy for rapid self-improvement to anyone looking to change their bad habits. Clear’s expert analysis of habit formation lifts the veil on why bad habits persist, and offers a plan of action for stopping them.
He argues that bad habits are not the result of an unwillingness to change but of a poor strategy for changing them. Atomic Habits offers a framework for understanding why our bad habits exist, and executing effective, practical strategies for changing them.
Clear’s guide covers inspiring stories along the way, from people who’ve used his strategies to build good habits, including Olympic gold medalists, business leaders, and stand-up comedians. Atomic Habits provides entrepreneurs with great inspiration, as well as practical guides to overcoming their bad habits.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.
16. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss is an acclaimed entrepreneur, investor, author, podcaster, and lifestyle guru. His book The 4-Hour Workweek (the first in a series of 4-Hour books) spent more than four years on the New York Times Best Seller list and is considered one of the best books ever written on productivity.
In The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferris argues that the idea that success comes from hours and hours of grueling hard work without rest is flawed. Instead, he instructs readers on how to redesign their lifestyle and focus on freeing up time through a number of strategies, like prioritizing important things, learning how to automate income streams, and dropping unproductive tasks.
What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.
17. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller (with Jay Papasan)
In The ONE Thing, real estate entrepreneur and bestselling author Gary Keller discusses his strategy for success by narrowing his workload to focus on more important tasks without getting bogged down by less important ones.
Keller argues that while we tend to apply importance to everything, not everything matters equally. Keller’s approach to achieving success involves narrowing your focus to the one thing that matters most. He says that multi-tasking tends to lead to a breakdown in the quality of work performed on each task, and labels the idea of multitasking a lie.
Keller’s wisdom can be used by anyone, but it’s especially important for entrepreneurs looking for an effective way to evaluate their biggest priorities and effectively manage their time.
Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.
18. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
On his acclaimed business podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, Ferris interviews all kinds of guests, including famous actors, legendary athletes, accomplished scientists, artists, and business leaders. In Tools of Titans, he summarizes and distills the habits, tactics, and routines of the wide-range of guests he’s had on his program.
Ferriss skips over vague platitudes about effort and attitude and instead focuses on real-world actionable techniques that he’s come across from guests on his show. In Tools of Titans, Ferriss paints a vivid picture of how the lifestyles habits of the most-successful people have contributed to their success.
Tools of Titans is inspirational, but it also offers practical solutions to readers, and a behind-the-scenes look at how the most successful people have grown to operate.
Creativity is an infinite resource. The more you spend, the more you have.
19. The End of Procrastination: How to Stop Postponing and Live a Fulfilled Life by Petr Ludwig and Adela Schicker
We live in a high-tech world with endless distractions: overflowing inboxes, endless app notifications, and never-ending social media feeds. It’s never been easier to fall into the trap of procrastination.
In The End of Procrastination, co-founders of Procrastination.com Petr Ludwig and Adela Schicker put forth a practical strategy for overcoming unwanted procrastination and argue that procrastination is not just a waste of time, but detrimental to leading a happy and fulfilled life.
Ludwig and Schicker explore how the brain responds to motivation and self-discipline, outlining eight easy-to-use tools for anyone looking to overcome their procrastination tendencies.
The amount of opportunities that today’s world offers is staggering. Imagine the extent of these opportunities as if it was the space in between an open pair of scissors. The more opportunities you have, the wider this imaginary pair of scissors—the scissors of potential—opens. Today, they are open wider than they have ever been in history.
20. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie was a writer and educator who, over the course of his long career, developed training courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, public speaking, and other interpersonal skills.
Written in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People is considered a classic of the self-help genre and, with over 30 million copies sold, is one of the bestselling books of all time. Carnegie’s book was compiled with knowledge he’d gained in the decades he spent teaching business education courses.
In it, Carnegie explores practical tips for relating to people, both in professional and personal life. He gives practical advice on making people like you, provides tips on persuading people to your way of thinking, and discusses how to gain respect as a leader without arousing resentment.
It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.
21. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Robert B. Cialdini is a professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University. In Influence, he explores the psychology behind persuasion and offers a practical framework for influencing people in the world of business and marketing.
Cialdini argues that in a world filled with distractions, people rely on generalizations and assumptions to make decisions, rather than relying purely on evidence. Cialdini uses empirical studies conducted in the fields of psychology, marketing, economics, anthropology, and social science to make his arguments.
Influence identifies six principles that guide human decision making, and gives real-world examples of how these principles can guide your decision making when trying to persuade others. The practical tools provided in Cialdini’s book make it one of the most useful marketing books, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs without a lot of business experience.
The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.
22. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist and Nobel Prize–winning economist renowned for his expertise in the psychology of judgment and decision making. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he explores how two systems—intuition and slow thinking—work together to shape our judgment and help us make decisions.
An expert in the field of behavioral economics, Kahneman uses his insight to offer readers an explanation for how decision making can be affected by stress and explores how confirmation bias can make us jump to conclusions.
Kahneman’s insight is great not only for merchants looking to improve their own decision-making skills, but also for marketers looking for insight into how consumers make decisions.
Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.
23. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
In Blink, journalist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell draws on his knowledge in the fields of neuroscience and psychology to explore how we think without thinking. Decisions that are made in the blink of an eye aren’t as simple as they seem.
Though decisions can be made quickly, they’re driven by complex cognitive processes. In Blink, Gladwell interviews a host of unique experts in decision-making—from a tennis coach who’s able to predict a fault before a player’s racket hits the ball to antique experts able to spot a “fake” within a second.
Gladwell argues that the best decision makers aren’t the people who give the most consideration to the decision, but those who have mastered the art of “thin-slicing”: a process where the few factors that matter are filtered out from an overwhelming number of variables instantly.
In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates very ‘gifted’ improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill. Good improvisers develop action.
24. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz is an entrepreneur, investor, author, and co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he draws on his own experience starting a business to offer advice to anyone looking to become a successful entrepreneur.
Horowitz doesn’t shy away from talking about challenges that few business writers want to talk about. He explores the hard things about running a business: dealing with failure, conflicts among employees, layoffs, persevering through tough times, and making big, tough decisions that impact the livelihoods of stakeholders in the business.
The essential advice and practical tips that Horowitz offers in his book provide entrepreneurs with crucial advice for taking action in the face of tough choices and leading a successful business into the modern world.
Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, ‘I didn’t quit.’
25. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
In Start with Why, author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek examines the lives of great leaders, from Martin Luther King to Steve Jobs, and attempts to develop a common thread in the reason for their success, despite having very different goals and aspirations.
His conclusion: the greatest leaders ask why. Why do customers buy from certain brands? Why are people loyal to some leaders and not others? Why do companies fail? Great leaders want to understand why things happen and do everything in their power to find the answer.
Sinek draws on a range of real-life experiences, weaving together a clear vision of what it takes to lead and inspire others. His book is a great read for anyone looking to understand what it means to lead with confidence.
Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.
26. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Originally published in 1937 during the Great Depression, Think and Grow Rich is a classic of the self-help and personal development genre. In writing it, Napoleon Hill researched the lives of more than 40 millionaires to discover what common thread ran through them.
He concluded that the starting point of achievement is the desire for something better, and that failure, even when it’s frequent, is a necessary obstacle to achieving success.
Hill offers practical knowledge about tackling goals by focusing on a single, defined one—arguing that the biggest successes often follow the biggest failures.
The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.
27. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
In Steve Jobs, journalist and former CEO of the Aspen Institute Walter Isaacson explores the life of one of the tech world’s biggest titans. Isaacson, who was managing editor of Time magazine from 1996 to 2001, is no stranger to stories of influential figures, having also written biographies of Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Henry Kissinger.
For Steve Jobs, Isaacson conducted more than 40 interviews with the Apple co-founder over the course of two years, and more than 100 additional interviews with friends, family, colleagues, and adversaries.
In doing so, Isaacson paints an intimate portrait of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating figures and looks at how his views on business and innovation shaped his life, Apple, and the world around him. Jobs’ story is inspirational for any upcoming entrepreneur, and Isaacson’s biography is the best, most intimate re-telling of that story.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Read more: 101 Entrepreneur Quotes from the Most Successful Business Owners
28. Business @ the Speed of Thought: Succeeding in the Digital Economy by Bill Gates
In Business @ the Speed of Thought, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates offers his insight into how technology has transformed business and how it will continue to transform it in the years to come.
Gates is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time, and his pivotal role in the rise of Silicon Valley and the tech industry gives him a unique insight into how business has changed, and how it will continue to change in the future.
In Business @ the Speed of Thought, Gates argues that new technology is not a burden, but a crucial asset. Gates uses real-world examples, from his own life and the lives of his colleagues, to impart advice to up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs.
The successful companies of the next decade will be the ones that use digital tools to reinvent the way they work. To make digital information flow an intrinsic part of your company.
29. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
Elon Musk is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the contemporary era, and Ashlee Vance’s biography of him traces the roots of that success, giving a detailed look inside the mind of one of today’s most influential entrepreneurs.
Elon Musk starts by exploring the entrepreneur’s childhood, then his time at Zip2 and PayPal, right up to the founding of SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. Vance interviewed Musk regularly to complete the book, along with those closest to him—both friends and enemies—at the most important moments in his life.
In doing so, Vance paints a portrait of a business leader with a unique personality and insatiable drive and tells the story how those traits helped him to build some of the world’s most successful businesses.
Once you figure out the question, then the answer is relatively easy. I came to the conclusion that really we should aspire to increase the scope and scale of human consciousness in order to better understand what questions to ask.
The 32 Best Entrepreneur Books of All TimeWhat to Read in 2022: 23 Books for Entrepreneurs, Written by Women
Remember, reading is fundamental.
Perhaps because it’s also a leisure activity, it can be hard to think of reading a book as part of your business journey. In a fast-paced, digital world, a leisurely activity like reading can seem like a waste of time—but this just isn’t true.
Reading is exercise for your mind. We’d never think of jogging or lifting weights as being a “waste of time” for an athlete, and reading shouldn’t be viewed as a waste of time for entrepreneurs.
Reading is learning: it helps us destress, while also nurturing skills in communication, problem solving, and creative thinking that are absolutely necessary in being a better entrepreneur.
About the author
Evan Ferguson is a writer, digital artist, and content creator at Shopify. He is best-known for once being retweeted by Ice T.