Books You Need To Read To Succeed In Business

Posted by

It’s not all about Blogs and Digital Readers. Picking up a great business book will give you focus, new perspective and help you grow as a Marketer.

Did you happen to catch the Raise-a-Reader fundraising day that was run by Canwest (parent company of the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun) on Oct. 3? I was driving into Ottawa that day and noticed several volunteers on the busy streets collecting money and building awareness for this very important cause.

To date, Canwest’s Raise-a-Reader campaign has raised more than $10 million, which directly funds and supports local literacy initiatives and creates awareness of the importance of family and children’s literacy. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

So, we all pulled up our pants and did our part to make sure that the younger generation is going to appreciate (and read) books.

But, take a look around your office. How many grown-ups do you see reading books these days? What does your bookshelf look like? Can it use a dusting off?

Canadians are not heavy book readers, and with a business column like this, you would expect some kind of diatribe about how the printed book has seen its last days of glory. How – going forward – almost everything (including paper) will be digital. Maybe some techie whiz talk about the new breed of digital book readers like the one from Sony or the Amazon Kindle.

Not the case.

I’m a voracious reader of books. Beyond some weird compulsion that draws me to walk into every book store in my path (with a purchase most of the time), in order to best understand where business is (and where it’s heading), there’s nothing like a well thought-out book to supplement the knee-jerk brilliance you can pull from the best and brightest bloggers or in issues of Fast Company and Wired Magazine.

In the spirit of the Raise-a-Reader, I’ve decided to share with you my six "must-read" business books for the new economy. Let’s face it: it’s hard to raise a reader if you’re not one yourself. I’ve chosen books that are not only full of fascinating insights, but are also fun (and, sometimes, even funny).

Here they are (in alphabetical order):

1. The Cluetrain Manifesto – The End of Business as Usual, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger (Basic Books).

Published near the beginning of the Internet revolution (early 2001), it is probably best known in marketing circles for coining the phrase "Markets are conversation." The book looks at the Internet as a new medium and unique communications channel.

The reason it is still so attractive for businesspeople is that the four authors are, primarily, tech guys (educators, journalists, evangelists, etc.), so their thoughts are pure, focused and very different from business-oriented authors viewing this pending revolution. Reading the book again, you’ll wonder why the four of them didn’t write this book on a wiki (my guess is that they would have had wikis existed back then).

In the spirit of spreading the word about The Cluetrain Manifesto, you can actually read the entire book online free (that being said, I have multiple copies at both offices and at home. I urge you to pick up a physical copy.

2. Here Comes Everybody – The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, by Clay Shirky (Penguin Press).

This book is fairly new and I am only 90 pages into it, but I’ve had it for a few months. It is such a fascinating read that I am savoring each page, hoping it never ends (either that or I’m reading it so slowly that by the time it ends, Shirky will have another book out).

Shirky is an edgy and smart technology guy who breaks down the shifts and changes in publishing and media. If you liked Thomas Friedman‘s The World Is Flat and are looking for a book more focused on the Internet, do not miss Here Comes Everybody.

3. Life After the 30-Second Spot – Energize Your Brand With a Bold Mix of Alternatives to Traditional Advertising, by Joseph Jaffe (Wiley).

As a pure-play advertising book, this is a fun read with many great examples of how marketing and advertising is changing (and much change). It highlights Jaffe’s short, snappy and insightful writing style. After you check out the book, do not miss his podcast and blog, Jaffe Juice.

4. Purple Cow – Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, by Seth Godin (Portfolio).

Widely regarded as the leading marketing thinker in the world, you really won’t go wrong with picking up any of Seth Godin’s books (his newest, Tribes, is out any day). Purple Cow is short and pithy and really breaks down how certain brands grow and why most don’t. Bottom line: after reading Purple Cow, you’ll spend the rest of your days asking anybody and everybody if your business is "remarkable" enough.

5. Re-Imagine! – Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, by Tom Peters (Dorling Kindersley).

One of the best-selling business books of all time is Tom Peter’s In Search of Excellence. Re-Imagine! (in my humble opinion) is way better. It’s a big book, and a visually stunning one at that. Peters looks at everything from talent and design to leadership and trends. The book is never far out of arm’s reach and has been marked-up and post-it noted to death. You can literally hear Tom screaming in Re-Imagine! to "wake up!" and embrace the change.

6. Web Analytics – An Hour A Day, by Avinash Kaushik (Sybex).

Kaushik is the analytics evangelist for Google. He’s a friend and I’ve already told him that the title of the book really doesn’t speak to the power of the content. In a day and age where everybody is worried about the economy, Kaushik’s book is an amazing walk through the power of using the information you already have at your fingertips to be a more effective business person and marketer. If you ever wanted to be better at understanding how to optimize everything you’re doing online, take a read of Avinash’s book.

What would be your top business books?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation, that was published today. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – Books you need to read to succeed in business.

Vancouver Sun – Six business books you really should read.


  1. I agree with many of the books above, esp. Cluetrain Manifesto which has held up quite well over the years.
    Have to give a shout out to Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove.

  2. I agree with all of those too Mitch.
    I’d add “Small is the new big”, by Seth Godin, “Citizen Marketers” by Ben and Jacki, and “Brand Hijack” by Alex Wipperfurth.

  3. I would had Competing in a Flat World to your list. It explains how a traditionnal Hong Kong base trading house managed to evolve into an agile global network orcherstrator.
    It is one thing to perform on the web moving only “bits”. It is another ball game when “atoms” much reach borders.

  4. Over the past 6 years of writing my blog, I’ve added my favorite business books to my Must Read list here: .
    The lists above are highly marketing-centric, but many of my favorites are general business, leadership and management books — such as “Good to Great” and “Focus” and “E-Myth Revisited”.
    Related to marketing, some of my favorites are “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”, “Art of the Start”, “Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads”, “Blink” and “Cult Branding”.
    I’m not that impressed with many conversation marketing books lately. If you want your CEO to read a book on what it means to market in a transparent world, read “The O.P.E.N. Brand” by Kelly Mooney or “Authenticity” by Joe Pine

  5. 1. The Myth of Excellence – Why Great Companies Never Try To Be The Best At Everything by Fred Crawford & Ryan Mathews (Crown Business)
    You don’t need to be the best at everything, but you do need to be the best at one thing. Choose one of the five attributes of customer interaction: Access, Experience, Price, Product, Service and strive to be the best. Be above the market average in a second attribute and be average at the rest. It’s a formula for success.
    2. Microbranding by T. Scott Gross (Leading Authorities Press)
    You already have a brand, but you just may not know it. Gross takes you through a simple, step-by-step process of brand self-actualization. Great for building a personal or local brand.
    3. Creating Customer Evangelists by Ben McConnell & Jackie Huba (Kaplan)
    While a great deal of word of mouth takes place online, not all of it does, especially on a local level. CCE is the word of mouth tactics handbook that every small business owner should have.

  6. I’d argue that some of the best business books, or ones that people should be reading, aren’t business books at all.
    If one spends their entire day conducting business (whether that business is public relations, marketing, real estate or whatever), going home and reading business books (as great as they may be) might not give them a new perspective. Read the classics. Read science fiction. Read what you’ve always wanted to read but never had time for because you were too busy reading business books.
    Doing this will give you a different perspective on life and on your business, and it might be the kind of perspective that could give you that edge that you are looking for in business books.
    (I’m guessing that the people that wrote business books didn’t spend their spare time writing business books – they spent their spare time tracking down new experiences and doing things)

  7. How about
    Scientific Advertising by Claude C Hopkins
    Or Ogilvy on Advertising
    I did enjoy Anita Roddick’s Business As Usual – great if you’re a start up and need to get fired up.
    Years ago I also read and enjoyed Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple by John Sculley
    Libeartion Management by Tom Peters is also a superb read
    and recently, I enjoyed reading Groundswell by Charlene Li

  8. By far for me it is ‘Get Smarter: Life And Business Lessons’ by Seymour Schulich.
    Little tidbits from his successful career, real examples that are applicable to everyday life. I highly recommend it.

  9. Among the classics you mentioned In Search of Excellence. I think you’d need to add Management by Peter Drucker and Michael Porter’s books Competitive Strategy, and Competitive Advantage.
    In more current books, the previous posts have identified some good ones. I’d add Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, Kotler on Marketing by Phil Kotler, and On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis.
    As far as new releases go, I’m about to dig into The Art of Strategy by Dixit and Nalebuff. They wrote Thinking Strategically a number of years ago and it is one of my all time favorites.

  10. I agree with all of these, but honestly, I would challenge anyone to admit they’ve read a business book from front to back. They all sound the same after a while.
    I read blogs like this one to get relevant information that is current and contextual…sad to say but I think most others do as well…

  11. I’ll add Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim and Mauborgne, and give an honourable mention to Andrew Keen’s The Cult Of The Amateur for those in the online world.

  12. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
    Written by Robert Ciadini, it provides a lot of great insight into why people do the things they do. It’s a “must read” for anyone in the marketing field.

  13. I posit a book should only be included here if you’ve actually applied its teachings/messages — I’ve seen many buzzword-laden and overlapping texts which seemed “greatly refreshing”, but otherwise weren’t all that *useful*. Too many books out there right now jumping on the “social media” bandwidthwagon. :p
    Some of my faves are above; I really like Personality Not Included by Rohit Bhargava, and my reasons why are @

  14. I’ve just knocked out Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Not earth shattering but very valuable for business leaders looking to understand the social media movement.

  15. Ted Rogers new book, Relentless. A fascinating look at one of the greatest Canadian entrepreneurs writes about his life and development of the Roger media business – now a 10billion dollar empire. Didn’t start that way, and lots of ups and downs to learn from.

  16. Selling The Invisible, by Harry Beckwith. Written before internet marketing was in full swing, but the principles are transcendent and the insights foundational.

  17. Great List!
    Here comes Everybody is an incredible book and Shirky someone we need to listen closelly.
    I would add to that a few books that have changed my life:
    Jim Collins – Good to Great,
    Peter Drucker – Management,
    Thomas Davenport – Competing on Analytics
    Michael Porter – On Competition
    Undestand those principles and you don´t need MBAs

  18. All those books are really great reads. One that was not mentioned and is a very easy read is: Brand Warfare – David F. D’Alessandro. Its another of those rules books but much of it makes a lot of sense.

  19. I would like to second the motion for “Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads”, one of the first marketing books I actually enjoyed reading. Add to that “No Rules: 21 Giant Lies About Success” by Dan Kennedy which I read every time I find myself “following the herd” a bit too much.

  20. Wow there are so many great business books and I think I own half of them.
    Collins’ Built to Last and Good to Great are modern classics.
    Anything by Charles Handy and Peter Drucker.
    Currently reading Seth Godin’s Triiibes and Kevin Eikenberry’s Remarkable Leadership.
    Finally for our leadership development work, nothing beats the great stories by Herman Melville and Joseph Konrad.
    All business book worms should have in their Google Reader.
    Of course, Foreward Thinking better be in your iPod too!
    Fair Winds,
    Peter A. Mello
    twitter: petermello

  21. Hi Mitch:
    Great question, and am enjoying reading the responses (and updating my own book wish lists 🙂 Here is my current list (in no particular order)
    “Think and Grow Rich” Napoleon Hill
    “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Napoleon Hill
    “The e-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber
    “Ready, Fire, Aim” by Michael Masterson
    “The Purple Cow” by Seth Godin
    “Selling to Big Companies” by Jill Kornath
    “The Four Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss
    “Executive Briefing: The Power of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini.
    Best regards,

  22. Great list, Mitch, and more great ones in the comments too.
    I have to add one that is one of the most overlooked: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.
    It’s more of a self-mastery book rather than business book, but the skills are required for business success.
    @Corbin Links: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is by Dale Carnegie, not Napoleon Hill

  23. I really enjoyed reading ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell. This book is the reason I decided to study marketing in college.
    I’m currently reading (and enjoying) ‘Wikinomics’ by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

  24. I am just loving the additions that are flowing in. There were many that made me whack my forehead with that ole, “why didn’t I think of that?!?”
    I went back to my books and made a list of ten more business books that really made a difference in my life (that were not already mentioned here), but instead of posting them here, I am going to do it for a follow-up post in the next little while.
    Thanks for the inspiration and let’s keep this list growing.

  25. A lot of good suggestions but I also think that some books on the field that you are in should be read as well. For example if you make a lot of presentations then Garr’s book and Nancy Duarte’s books are a must.

  26. My top 4
    Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
    The Magic of Thinking Big – David Schwartz
    The E Myth and the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
    and throw in anything by A.L.Williams – one of the greatest successes in real life

Comments are closed.