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The Books You Need to Succeed

Posted by: Diane Brady on October 18, 2007

We spend a lot of time on this blog, looking at the merits of new books and studies that come our way every week. This time, I want to talk about the books that I think are a must-read for anyone who aspires to lead in business. I welcome your thoughts, too.

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Sure, this 1936 book can come off as a little hokey. But you know what? I read it at the age of 13 and the lessons still come back to me again and again: Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Let the other person save face. And remember people’s names.

2. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Many people, at this point, know that it takes mavens, connectors and salesmen (ahem, and saleswomen) to turn an idea or behavior into a phenomenon. But that’s no substitute for reading the book.

3. The Way of the World by David Fromkin. It helps to give the subtitle here: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century. I’m a sucker for great thinkers who can take you on a compelling ride through history. The Ascent of Man, a BBC series narrated by Jacob Bronowski, had a similar effect on me as a child. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel is worth a read, too. But Fromkin is fast and fascinating. What’s history got to do with business? Everything, in my view. There’s no better template for leadership than learning about the lives of others.

4. American Caesar by William Manchester. George David of United Technologies Corp. gave me this book about the life of Douglas MacArthur. Having grown up outside the U.S., I have to confess I didn’t care or know much about the American commander before picking up this book. At the end, I did. And I felt I had some valuable insights into how a leader manages through crisis—again and again.

5. Getting Things Done by David Allen. I lost this book a few years ago, and I still remember why I love it. Allen has now built a business around his productivity-enhancing tips. Don’t fret if you can’t have an audience with the man. Just buy the book.

Yes, there are other staples like Jim Collins’ Good to Great, On Becoming A Leader (by Warren Bennis) and Bryan Burrough’s tome, Barbarians at the Gate. Those books are fine, but they didn’t linger in my mind like the above five. Any other suggestions?

Reader Comments

Brandon W

October 18, 2007 12:04 PM

"Alexander the Great" by Paul Cartledge - This particular book is both interesting and the best study of his life; the movie is no substitute and is historically inaccurate. Alexander the Great shows the importance of "leading the charge" - literally and figuratively - as well as the need to use symbolism and story to capture the imagination of followers and instill a message.

"The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli - Let's face it... business ain't always pretty.


October 19, 2007 11:50 AM

Someone else added The Bible. Interesting choice.

Gajanan Netravali

October 20, 2007 11:55 AM

Hey you guys consistently forget Mahatma Gandhi. Take a look at his achievements given the scarce resources at his command - its simply breathtaking. A truly great leader and revolutionary.

Gajanan Netravali


October 20, 2007 2:26 PM

"Advancing Time" by Bruce Wilds - This book puts into perspective the quickening pace of change and is a commentary on how all aspects of life in our daily society have been changing at a ever increasing pace. It targets our current environmental concerns and issues of social conscience in a very thoughtful and insightful manner.


October 20, 2007 9:13 PM

Philosophers/leaders are a whole different category. I would put Gandhi near the top of the list on that one. Cheers, Diane

Lance Olsen

October 21, 2007 12:38 PM

Dorner, Dietrich. The Logic of Failure. Perseus Books. 1996.

Nobody plans to fail. But it happens.

Why? Cognitive psychologist Dietrich Dorner set up a variety of ingenious experiments to help answer that question. And he found that "the usual battery of psychological tests" was "useless" in predicting who would and wouldn't fail. His book, based on what he learned, won strong reviews in Nature, The New Scientist, Library Journal, and Business Week.

Business Week quoted Dorner: "Anybody who thinks play is nothing but play and dead earnest is dead earnest hasn't understood either one." Nature described Dorner's book as "Lucid, well-supported and instructive.


October 21, 2007 8:06 PM

Hands down Sun Tzu's "The Art of War". Others include:

1) "Leaders" by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus

2) "Art of Worldly Wisdom" by Baltasar Gracian

3) "Good to Great" by Jim Collins

4) "Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi

5) "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey


Murali Bhat

October 21, 2007 9:22 PM

by Mark H. McCormack - its all about street smartness.

Wally Bock

October 23, 2007 3:25 PM

If we're talking "must-reads" then I've got to add Peter Drucker's two-books-you-can-take-as-one, The Effective Executive and Managing for Results. I think that if you read Good to Great, you should also read Built to Last, the two go together.

Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a classic on an important topic that's not covered well anywhere else. For learning from history, Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals about Lincoln and his cabinet, the best book on building effective teams with diverse individuals that I've seen.

I'd suggest two possible substitutions for The Art of War and the Book of Five Rings. I think either B. H. Liddell Hart's Strategy or the US Marine Corps' Warfighting are both excellent and much more accessible for Westerners.

John A. Byrne

October 23, 2007 8:34 PM

At, we're now engaged in an exciting exercise to determine the best 50 business books of all time. Peter Drucker must have several entries on this list. Tom Peters and Bob Waterman's "In Search of Excellence" still has a place on my bookshelf. I like Warren Bennis' "Leaders" and both of Jim Collins' big bestsellers. What else demands a place on a top 50 list?

Brandon W

October 24, 2007 9:01 AM

If you haven't already included it, "Guerrilla Marketing" by Jay Conrad Levinson ought to be on that list. While originally intended to show the small business on a shoestring budget how to market inexpensively, I believe it has had a wider impact on the grass-roots marketing efforts of companies of all sizes.

Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" deserves mention for the impact it has had on the minds of business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs.

I would also consider a relative newcomer in "Guiding Growth: How Vision Keeps Companies on Course" by Mark Lipton. Lipton does an excellent job of breaking down the ethereal concept of "vision" and provides a practical and usable model that a company can implement.


October 24, 2007 1:23 PM

For Women,

"Nice girls don't get corner office" by Dr.Lois


October 25, 2007 3:05 PM

Diane and John,

Just curious, what are your criteria for selecting the top 50 books? Do you have a formal selection process? Thanks!

John A. Byrne

October 26, 2007 12:08 AM

We're looking for books that in our collective opinion have had a profound impact on leadership, management, or strategic thinking. In some cases, the book introduced a major new idea that won acceptance or changed the way we lead or managed. In other cases, the book provided invaluable insight. By the very nature of this, it's entirely subjective. But we're keeping an open mind. That's why we're inviting our readers to weigh in.

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