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10 Indispensable Business Books

What are your favorite business books of all time — the ones you’d never throw out, no matter what? Here is one editor’s list of titles that survived her 300-book purge and why.
The 10 best business books
photo by flickr user ginnerobot

How do you amass an overabundance of business books? Spend a large part of your career writing reviews of new tomes. At least that’s what longtime Inc. editor Leigh Buchanan did. Even before that, she owned plenty of titles. “I had Porter on strategy, Bennis on leadership, Schein on culture, Senge on continuous learning, Kotter on change, Christensen on innovation, Drucker on everything,” she writes.

So when it came time for Leigh to pare down her collection, only the best books made the cut. Here are 10 of the 200-or-so titles that she kept, along with her summary of why each one is worthy.

1. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Harvard Business School professor Theresa Amibile and coauthor Steven Kramer explain that employees are happiest and most productive in environments where they can make unimpeded progress on their work every day.

2. Everything Is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us
Sociologist Duncan Watts argues that decisions and predictions often go awry because we think we understand more about the world than we actually do.

3. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
Business author Daniel Pink takes the first really fresh look at sales in ages. Everybody sells, he explains, and getting people to buy requires softer skills than we were taught.

4. Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best . . . and Learn From the Worst
Stanford professor Robert Sutton’s worthy successor to The No Asshole Rule. If only Sutton was director of human resources for the whole world.

5. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Entrepreneur Eric Ries articulates what many of his peers have long instinctively known and launches a movement in the process.

6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Business reporter Charles Duhigg explicates a seemingly mundane but potent motivator. Useful for marketers, bosses, product developers, and anyone with an unused gym membership.

7. The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything
Innovation adviser Matthew E. May became a student of minimalism during his years at Toyota in Japan. Less is more.

8. Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink: Why 40 Percent of Your Business Is Unprofitable and How to Fix It
MIT lecturer Jonathan Byrnes directs his waste-seeking spotlight into every nook and cranny of a business. This book is spinach: not a delicious read but very good for you.

9. The Wide Lens: A New Strategy for Innovation
The Tuck School’s Ron Adner reminds us that innovations (no matter how brilliant) require upstream execution from suppliers and downstream cooperation from distributors to succeed.

10. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
Once and future P&G chief A.G. Lafley and the Rotman School’s Roger L. Martin show leaders how to make the right choices and urge them to ask this excellent question: “What would have to be true for this strategy to succeed?”



What is the best business book you’ve ever read? The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently asked 13 alumni, including Joie de Vivre founder Chip Conley, Design Within Reach founder Rob Forbes and Progreso Financiero founder James Gutierrez, this question. Of the 13 books on their collective list, only one — The Lean Startup by Eric Ries — also made Buchanan’s list of 10.


  1. Good list. I’ll have to read some of these. Check out my summary of 42 books at http://www.withum.com/pdf/Partners_Network/Growing_From_Others_Experiences_apr2012.pdf

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