“I always have a stack of books I’m looking forward to reading.”
It’s fall again. But this fall is different. We usually think of autumn as a time for students to return to campus and resume their education after a fun summer. Not so much this year. Many of us will continue to have our kids at home, taking classes through remote learning. But all of us can keep reading!
My learning goal each year is to read at least 40 business-related non-fiction books. So here is my eighth annual compilation of the books I’ve read in the past year from September 2019 through August 2020. The stay-at-home situation has allowed me to read more than ever, in fact.
First, it’s a presidential election year, so I thought I would share books I enjoyed about two of our best:
- A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln. This biography was written by Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary, John G. Nicolay. It takes us through Lincoln’s earliest years to the presidential elections and the great Civil War struggle to end slavery. A must-read for those who want to know what leadership greatness is. (And if you like to listen, here is a free audio download.)
- The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt. In his own words, Theodore Roosevelt shares his triumphs and tribulations as, among other things, a political reformer, corruption buster, conservationist and inveterate leader. There’s no mistake about having him on Mount Rushmore with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. (Here’s a free audio download.)
- Here’s one just for financial advisors: The Happy Advisor. If you’re feeling stuck and need inspiration right now, read this book by veteran advisor Bill Smith. One chapter is entitled “You Are Called to Duty for Such a Time as This.”
- The Bezos Letters: 14 Principles to Grow Your Business Like Amazon. This is like the CliffsNotes of Jeff Bezos’ annual shareowners letters, distilling down the ideas that have made Amazon such a game-changing success. Among them are ideas that can apply to any business, even yours. (Think you could learn something from the world’s richest man?)
Edison. Glad you can turn on lights anytime of the day or night? Love listening to music? Can’t wait to see the latest motion pictures? These are just three of the stunning 1,093 (!!!) patented items that Thomas Alva Edison, the greatest inventor in history, brought to life. (This one could also go under Leadership and Inspiration—he was one prolific human being.)
- My Life and Work. In his own words, Henry Ford shares his business philosophy about how to put quality first—profits will follow. This is an in-depth look into the mind of a man who literally shaped not just the auto industry but all of American manufacturing. (Here is a free audio download.)
- Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform. Tech visionary Marc Benioff shares how his company Salesforce lives by its four core values: Trust, Customer Success, Innovation and Equality. Especially interesting is their “1‑1‑1 Philanthropic Model”—leveraging its technology, people and resources to improve communities throughout the world.
- Go-Givers Sell More. With the way the world is at the moment, I decided to revisit this smart little book. It reminded me that we’d all do well to give more right now.
- Wise Guy: Lessons From a Life. Is Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Evangelist, a wise guy, or just a wiseguy? Read this, then you can decide.
- Tireless: Key Principles That Drive Success Beyond Business School. Let entrepreneur and philanthropist Kim Lorenz give you a real education on what it takes to build a successful enterprise.
- Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Israel has the most startups per capita of any country in the world. This book explains how it has accomplished this in such a short time.
- It’s How We Play the Game Build a Business. Take a Stand. Make a Difference. Need ideas on how to win the game of business? Read this book by Ed Stack, Chairman and CEO of DICK’S Sporting Goods.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. This book makes a strong argument for not focusing too early on a specific career path. It validates my long, strange trip to becoming a coach.
- Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons From the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons. Learn how super-wealthy business moguls don’t follow the same rules the rest of us do.
- The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. In the morning I check my email on my Apple iMac, Google the news, then check what my friends are up to on Facebook. If I’m looking to buy something I go to Amazon reviews first, even if I eventually go to a store to get it. So I’m hooked on these four—how ’bout you?
- How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases and Transform Industries. Got a loony idea? Don’t be so quick to trash it—it may be the next breakthrough idea like ones that sprung from the founders of industry giants.
More From Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens Next. You’ll be surprised to learn that the convergence of technology, capitalism, good governance and public awareness has significantly reduced the use of planetary resources since the first Earth Day in 1970.
- The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. Here’s the story of Andrew Carnegie in his own words about how he immigrated from Scotland with barely a pot to pee in, and went on to become the wealthiest industrialist of his time. He became highly philanthropic in later years, also established the public library system—we’re grateful to him for that.
- The Greatest Salesman in the World. This classic by Og Mandino will help you be successful in both sales and life.
- The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg. While he has his detractors, there’s no denying that Michael Bloomberg is a self-made American success story. What he lacks in charisma he makes up for in capability to get things done.
- Queens of the Resistance: Nancy Pelosi. As the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, in her 30+ years on the Hill, has proven to be the predominant female force in American politics. She’s an inspiration for all those who want to break through seemingly immovable barriers.
- From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America. Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, has not just improved the coffee drinking experience globally. Among other things, his company has created thousands of jobs for military veterans and young people while providing health care benefits for part-time workers. Schultz has shown what a difference a humanistic corporate leader can make.
- Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Call them lies, call them myths—either way, this will challenge your assumptions about what makes people engaged at their workplace.
- The New One Minute Manager. This updated parable classic from Ken Blanchard is as simple as can be: one minute goals, one minute praising and one minute redirects are all you need to manage others effectively.
- The Qualities of Leadership: Personal and Professional Transformation. Learn about what it takes mentally to be a leader from Art Mortell, an expert in sales training and leadership development in the financial services field.
- Psycho-Cybernetics: Updated and Expanded. Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon by training but became convinced that many of his patients needed to upgrade their self-image rather than their physical appearance. This book is loaded with practical tips to help you improve yours.
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Not only was Benjamin Franklin a founding father of our country, he created a self-improvement program he called his 13 virtues. In that regard, he was also a founding father of personal development. (Here’s a free audio download.)
Character Building. First published in 1902, this series of short speeches by Booker T. Washington was given to the students and staff of Tuskegee University, an historically black college. I found it highly illuminating on how to live a quality life even today, no matter what your race is, and recommend it to any young person who wants to get ahead. Here’s a free audio download. (Note: The reader on the audio happens to be Australian. I would have preferred James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman but the positive messages remain intact.)
- Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Move over IQ—there’s a new sheriff in town. Your self-awareness, empathy and social skills are worth more to you in your career than just your raw brain power.
- Perfectly Confident: How to Calibrate Your Decisions Wisely. If life is a confidence game, it makes sense to learn how to navigate between under- and over-confidence in your approach to important decisions.
- Unlocking Greatness: The Unexpected Journey From the Life You Have to the Life You Want. This one may help you answer the question, “What do you want?”
- Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader: Lessons From Google and a Zen Monastery Kitchen. These practices will help you transform your leadership by transforming yourself.
- QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life. A quick read that lets you know the buck stops with the person you see in the mirror.
- The Algebra of Happiness Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love and Meaning. Serial entrepreneur and NYU Marketing Professor Scott Galloway shares his life advice—sometimes sweet, sometimes snarky, sometimes even profound: “Serendipity is a function of courage.”
How to Be an Epicurean The Ancient Art of Living Well. There’s a difference between seeking pleasure/avoiding pain and hedonism/gluttony—this book explains it.
- Think and Grow Rich. I re-read this personal achievement classic every December before I set my goals for the coming year. It reminds me about fundamental principles for success, even if one needs to take the words from author Napoleon Hill (who had many professional and personal failings) with a grain of salt.
- Open Your Mind to Prosperity. This classic Catherine Ponder book encourages you to study and then apply mental prosperity principles.
- Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth. If you’re not as successful (or happy) as you’d like to be, author T. Harv Eker would suggest this has to do with your faulty mental programming.
- Scatterbrain: How the Mind’s Mistakes Make Humans Creative, Innovative and Successful. You know how your mind tends to have a mind of its own at times, so to speak? This may not be a bad thing after all.
- As a Man Thinketh. This short but sweet volume by James Allen clearly lays out the “Mental Law of Cause and Effect:” Your positive thoughts produce positive results; your negative thoughts produce negative results. Which will you choose? (Here’s a free audio download.)
- The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence and Calmness. This simple guidebook on Stoicism is designed to help you navigate the choppy waters of life with skill so—guess what? You can be happy. (Thanks Mr. BIG!)
- The Story of My Life. I was amazed to learn how much Helen Keller was able to accomplish with only two senses—touch and taste—than most everyone else (including me) accomplishes with all five. (Here’s a free audio download.)
- Emerson Essays, First Series. Here’s your opportunity to read/listen to the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, including essays on self-reliance and compensation. (Here’s a free audio download.)
Twelve Years a Slave. You may have seen the movie—I didn’t. But listening to the reading of Solomon Northup’s ordeal made me cringe at times over his inhumane treatment as well as his courage in persisting to regain his freedom. (Here’s a free audio download.)
- The Life of Honorable William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill The Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide. This is an autobiographical account of Bufflao Bill Cody’s practically unbelievable (yet true) adventures from back when “the wild west” (Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado) was truly wild. (Here’s a free audio download.)
- Maddie’s Miracles: A Book of Life. Seeking inspiration? Here’s the courageous Maddie Kramer cancer battle as told with love from her father Scott’s daily journal. Keep the Kleenex handy.
- Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). This is an easy-to-follow meditation guide developed from Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s earliest engineers. The Search Inside Yourself program he developed is now offered worldwide to help people benefit from a daily mindfulness practice. If it’s good enough for Google folks, do you think you might give it a try?
Stillness Is the Key. Author Ryan Holiday suggests that all philosophical and religious traditions over the past 2,500 years recommend the benefits of stillness in various forms. Do you think this might actually be good for you? (Answer: Duh!)
- Educated: A Memoir. An incredible story from Tara Westover, who refused to succumb to her family’s extreme religious pressure (and reputed physical abuse), going on to establish her own successful life.
- Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race. This is the inspiring and heretofore unknown story of Lata Brandisová, the only woman to win the Velká pardubická, a famous cross-country steeplechase horse race in Paradubice, Czech Republic. The course is so tough that it has been given the nickname “The Devil’s Race”—since its inception in 1874 there has never been a year in which every competitor crossed the finish line. All the more amazing that Lata, despite extreme male-chauvinist opposition and political turmoil, was able to prevail in 1937.
- North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail. I once ran a half marathon, and I felt like I had been mugged when I finished. So imagine how ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek felt covering 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 46 days. It’s the equivalent of covering almost 50 miles each day on foot over a variety of terrain—made my joints ache just reading about that! (Thanks Brian S.)
- A Coach and a Miracle: Life Lessons From a Man Who Believed in an Autistic Boy. Here’s the inspiring story of how Coach Jim Johnson worked with his autistic team manager Jason McElwain (“JMac”) to fulfill his dream of playing in a high school basketball game. In case you’ve never seen the video that made the national news, check it out here—and prepare to be amazed!
The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope With Bears, Traffic and the Rest of Life’s Stressors. Feeling stressed? This book is a CliffsNotes for handling it.
- Democracy in America. This is a classic insightful description of America in the 1830s from Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville. This book expounds upon both the good—general equality, majority rule, freedom of the press, economic opportunity—as well as the bad and ugly: slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans. Here is a free audio download.
- Mark Twain: Chapters From My Autobiography. The wit, warmth and wisdom of Mark Twain kept me captivated with story after story of his many life capers. At some points I burst out loud in laughter at his punchlines. If you ever wondered why he’s an American literary treasure, this one’s for you.
- Tough Luck Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL. Back in the early 1940s, the Chicago Bears introduced the T formation with Sid Luckman at the QB position. They became the dominant team in the NFL, winning four championships while enhancing the league’s growing popularity. Da Bears haven’t had a consistently great quarterback since Luckman—we sure could use him today! A must-read for all fans of the Monsters of the Midway.
- The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ’n’ Roll. What’s better than Star Wars? Guitar Wars! Whether you’re a Gibson fan or a Strat man, here’s the story of the battle for guitar-making dominance that changed music forever.
- World Class: One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children. This memoir by comparative education expert Teru Clavel will clearly show why schoolkids in Hong Kong, China and Japan are kicking our ass in academics. (Caution: This book may cause depression in those who have school-aged children here.)
Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever. Here’s the story of the early Saturday Night Live alumni who went on to make classic comedy hits: Animal House, Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Groundhog Day, etc. Might make you want to watch ’em again.
- The City Game: Triumph, Scandal and a Legendary Basketball Team. The intriguing story of the 1949-50 City College of New York basketball champions who later were disgraced for being a part of a massive gambling scandal that went to the very top of New York City politics. (Thanks JL!)
- Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World. Opium addiction goes back centuries. Recent epidemic levels of abuse in the U.S. calls for new ways of addressing it besides incarceration, interdiction and just saying no.
- Myths and Legends of All Nations. Stories that have lived on over the course of centuries. Some you’ve heard of, others obscure—all have moral lessons. (Here’s a free audio download.)
- The History of Julius Caesar. This is an interesting biography of the best known Roman emperor that touches upon many areas, including ambition, leadership, war and political intrigue. (Here is a free audio download.)
My hope is that some of these titles will inspire your own reading habit. I’m not a super-speedy reader but I willingly plowed through these books because absorbing their ideas is a critical part of my coaching job. The good news is you don’t even have to spend a dime if you have a library card. There’s no shelf room left for more books at my place so each one listed here was borrowed from my local library. And having a two-week due date makes it likely that I’ll finish them on time—I hate paying overdue fines!
Why wait? If it seems daunting to begin your own reading habit, know that the journey of a thousand books starts with the first page. A good place to begin is to read one book a month, which you can accomplish by getting through just 10 pages a day—that wouldn’t be too hard, would it?
Whatever reading goal you choose, go back to school today so you can get to the top of your field.
P.S. Please let me know what books have helped you learn and grow in the past year.