I’ve been surprised by the staying power of the story in the New York Times on CEO libraries. Since the story appeared on Saturday, it’s been one of the Times’ most emailed articles, not just from the business section, but from the entire newspaper’s site. I have to admit I found the article somewhat disappointing—Ogilvy’s Shelly Lazarus and Steve Jobs were the only sitting CEOs of major companies mentioned, and the only clue we get to Jobs’ reading list is that he likes William Blake—and wondered what the author would have found on the bookshelves of less creative or entrepreneurial leaders.
Even given the article’s peculiar sample—which also featured venture capitalist Michael Moritz, a medical school accreditation nonprofit CEO, Nike founder Phil Knight and entrepreneurs Dee Hock (who retired from Visa back in 1984) and Sidney Harman—it was interesting to see how little of their reading pertained to business. From the Persian poem “Rubaiyat” to Galileo, Aristotle, and Camus, the reading list was impressively highbrow.
I found Shelly Lazarus’s list most interesting, which included Jerome Groopman’s “How Doctors Think” (it’s been recommended to me by leadership expert Noel Tichy) and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” which recounts Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style. While I haven’t had CEOs tell me they turn to Shakespeare or Steinbeck for leadership lessons, I do find that many love biographies, history, and the current wave of economic and social science books that help to explain our world (witness the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and “Freakonomics”). One book that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately from business types is “The Black Swan,” written by trader-turned-scientist Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Check out my colleague Susan Berfield’s interview with him here.
What non-business books have you recently found helpful for business?
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