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21 Books to Help You Get Ahead in Business and Life

Tue March 27, 2018

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Successful people are readers. For one thing, people at the top of their game are typically big into self-improvement. Not only that, research has shown people who read books actually live longer. Need some ideas on what to get your hands on next? Check out these popular titles.

1. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra

"'Every day brings the promise of a new beginning, and the opportunity to transform every life challenge into a gift. One hour, one idea, one act of love can make all the difference.' This is a quote from the book that captures the powerful positive feeling you get from this book about the opportunity we all have to live in the present and to act, to create positive change in your life and the lives of others. This book reminds me of the opportunity we all have to free our minds of fear and judgment so that we may make better decisions and be more creative, with less internal friction and more in harmony with those around you. The challenges of daily life between work and family are seemingly never-ending so this book provides a good reminder for a balanced approach to more positively navigate those challenges."

--Chad Ciesel, COO of Natural Retreats, a national luxury vacation rental management company which in the past four years has made 11 acquisitions and achieved 350-plus percent growth

2. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

"This is not your typical business book. It's about the journey for survival by an explorer and his crew of 27 men after they became stranded in arctic waters. You'd be shocked (or maybe you wouldn't) by the parallels between Shackleton's journey and that of a startup. Decisive action during uncertain times is likely what saved their lives. I gift it to all of my entrepreneurial friends."

--Jasper Nathaniel, founder of the nutrition company Revere, which has raised $3.5 million in funding from Lerer Hippeau Ventures and others and has been driving five figures in monthly sales with zero paid advertising

3. Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg 

"[It] is a great management book that identifies often overlooked ideas to long-term productivity and success. The most relevant idea being that when constructing a team, you should focus on how they interact rather than who they actually are. Teams of superstars under-perform teams with good communication, trust in each other, and constant feedback."

--Nevin Shetty, co-founder and CEO of Blueprint Registry, a gifting platform which has generated over $25 million in gross sales in less than three years with no institutional capital

4. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius 

"If you're ever looking for CliffsNotes on leadership, wisdom, morality, or humility, [this book] is it. Chock full of powerful perspectives, Meditations is an exploration on how to stay true to yourself and remain unaffected by externalities. It's taught me so much about what it means to be a leader."

--Jonathan Regev, Forbes "30 Under 30" entrepreneur and co-founder and CEO of The Farmer's Dog, a direct-to-consumer healthy pet food company which has shipped over 3 million meals since its nationwide launch in July 2016

5. Good to Great by James C. Collins

"[This] is a book I read during my time at Stanford Business School. It offers great perspectives on how to think outside of the box and aim for something much bigger than conventional businesses. Many businesses are good businesses, but not great businesses. In order to build disruptive businesses, we need to be brave, have big ideas, and surround ourselves with extremely talented people. This book encouraged me to pursue something that's much bigger than myself and gave me the courage to explore entrepreneurship and create something from zero."

--Siqi Mou, founder of HelloAva, a beauty chatbot which has raised over $1.5 million in venture funding with more than 40,000 users

6. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight 

"'The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.' Phil Knight's founding of Nike is a true inspiration because he faced so many hardships and was in for the long-haul. His determination and persistence helps me put into perspective the challenges I'm facing today as a startup CEO. I'm reminded that it took a lot of courage to get stared and even more strength to keep going during the tough times. At the end, it's about savoring the experiences and surviving long enough to tell the stories. That defines victory in my mind."

--Coral Chung, co-founder and CEO of Senreve, a direct-to-consumer handbag company which has sold out of its bags five times since launching in 2016 with sales in the multi-millions

7. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

"Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and worked his entire life helping others. He was a remarkable neurologist, psychiatrist, and author. Despite facing some of the worst atrocities recorded in history, he only had love in his heart. [This book] contains so many powerful insights in overcoming adversity. Specifically, Frankl's quote: "in the space between stimulus and response we have the power to choose." As a founder, leader, and three-time cancer survivor, I have found myself in many situations that were out of my control. Being mindful of my situation and remembering that I have the freedom to choose, is what gave me the strength to persevere. My career has been defined by my choices. Choosing to fight and persevere has made all the difference."

--Jill Johnson, founder and creative director of AWE, a New York City-based jewelry line with ambassadors including a three-time Olympian, a NYT best-selling author, a professional wakeboarder, a YouTube star who gave a TED Talk three days after reconstructive surgery, and other survivors

8. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

"We're all in desperate need of positivity at this point in time. As a working mother, I worry for the future of my children, of schools, and of business. This book helps put my mind at ease and renews my faith in humankind and my hope for the future."

--Sara Snow, CMO of Bambino, a membership babysitting app recently featured by Gwyneth Paltrow on her lifestyle website Goop, as well as an Emmy-award winning TV producer, news anchor and TV host, public speaker, and media contributor

9. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

"Our first value at Culture Amp is 'Have the courage to be vulnerable.' I wrote it before being aware of Brené Brown but she says it so much more eloquently than I can. I owe my wife the introduction to her work--that vulnerability is not weakness, it is strength, and it is the foundation of trust. Embracing vulnerability is probably the most effective thing I have done as a CEO."

--Didier Elzinga, CEO of Culture Amp, an employee feedback platform used by companies like Airbnb, Nike, Lyft, Estée Lauder, and McDonald's, with over 65 million survey questions answered by 1.8 million employees

10. High Output Management by Andy Grove

"When I started Zapier, I saw it as a way to have more autonomy in the workplace and focus on my own interests, but I still needed to know how to manage people, especially as the business grew. This book shows what great management looks like and lays the groundwork for new managers to start down the path of building healthy and successful teams."

--Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, a workflow automation tool with more than 2 million users which hit $35 million ARR in 2018 with more than 140 employees, all while being completely remote

11. The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

"'What's the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?' The entire book revolves around the surprisingly difficult question. Steps to not only answer the question, but more importantly, master the process for success in achieving your 'one thing' are covered. I appreciate this book because my own style is to always have multiple projects, multiple opportunities, and multiple demands of my energy--all at once. I have always believed by doing so I would innovate more, succeed faster, and impact deeper. I was wrong. With greater focus, everything is possible. Additionally, a nice byproduct of this read is that the approach will lead to results in both your professional and your personal lives. I truly liked this book. I gave a copy to each member of my senior leadership team."

--Frank Talarico, Jr., president and CEO of Goodwill of Orange County, which in the last five years has more than doubled the number of adults and children it serves annually and in 2017 served more than 27,000 people and will likely serve more than 30,000 this year for the first time in its more than 90-year history

12. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

"This book pushes you to really focus on what's truly important. I think it addresses a lot of questions and issues that people experience in their personal and professional lives that don't get talked about a lot. Often times, people are weighed down by trivial things that can be distracting. However, this book teaches strategies and mentalities to get out of your head and focus on what truly motivates you and makes you happy. It's about being able to turn whatever life throws at you and dealing with it in a way that is productive and healthy. Ultimately, it encourages people to be confident with who they are and what they want to do."

--Pieterjan Bouten, CEO of Showpad, a sales and marketing success platform which recently received $25 million in funding, opened a new office in Chicago to accelerate its global growth, and was named to the Inc. 5000 list of top 10 fastest-growing software companies in Europe in 2017

13. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

"Kathryn Shulz flips the idea of being right on its head and shows us how being wrong can be a great adventure. For me, it means thinking about unique ways to help solve some of society's biggest problems, with the courage to not always have the right answer the first time. Being from Chicago, this book reminds me of Michael Jordan's famous quote, 'I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.'"

--Aaron Meder, CFA, FSA, and CEO for Legal and General Investment Management America (LGIMA), which has more than 145 employees and has managed over $174.8 billion in assets

14. The Martian by Andy Weir

"This science thriller is a great story of creativity and resourcefulness with the inspirational 'never give up' theme. Interesting note that Weir's debut novel was originally self-published as a 99-cent e-book, so you can't help but enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit."

--Barry L. Star, CEO of Wall Street Horizon, a provider of corporate event intelligence, and recipient of a U.S. patent for "Systems and Methods for Integrating Financial Transactions"