6 Must-Read Books Recommended by Top Leaders
Reading is the process wherein someone else’s experiences, lessons learned, and ideas transfer themselves into your mind.
The benefits of reading–even just six minutes of it–have been statistically proven repeatedly over the last century alone. Reading increases the likelihood of a stronger brain as you age, helps build empathy, improves social relationships in work and personal life, leads to overall health benefits for both body and mind, and much more.
Whatever problems, struggles, or circumstances you find yourself in, odds are somebody, somewhere, has written about it–or something close to it. So whether you’re struggling to motivate yourself or your team, trying to find ways to turn your passions into a profession, or wondering what it takes to make your ideas a reality, picking up the right book could be just what you need.
To do what those who have come before you have done–to accomplish what Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Meg Whitman have done–read what they read.
How Not to Be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg
Bill Gates has recommended a lot of books over the years as part of his blog–including his self-proclaimed favorite book, The Catcher in the Rye. Yet one book that stands out among his collections is Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong. In the book, Eilenberg delves into the world around us from behind the lens of mathematics. If that sounds daunting, consider the book’s description on Amazon:
The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how terribly limiting this view is: Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do–the whole world is shot through with it.
Twelve Against the Gods, by William Bolitho
Elon Musk famously caused a mass rush to find this 1929 book when he told reporters it was his current reading focus. If you can find a copy of the now out-of-print book (Amazon currently lists it at nearly $600), Twelve Against the Godscovers the lives of 12 individuals from history who developed a remarkable amount of success in their lifetimes: from Napoleon, Casanova, and Woodrow Wilson to Charles XII and Isadora Duncan. “It’s really quite good,” Musk declared.
The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
Steve Jobs was a voracious reader, and one book he kept on his shelf was The Innovator’s Dilemma, which helped Jobs understand the importance of innovation within an organization. Too many companies–and individuals–rely on whatever first brings them success. Thanks to Christensen’s book, Jobs knew that the success of the iPod would have to be leapfrogged if Apple was to truly succeed; Jobs knew it was merely a stepping stone. Which, as we now know, led to the success of the iPhone and iPad.
Playing to Win, by A.G. Lafley
When HP CEO Meg Whitman encouraged all 300,000 or so employees of the company to read Lafley’s Playing to Win, she did so for good reason. The book covers what tradeoffs must be considered in order to “play to win” in a connected and highly competitive world. In an earnings call, Whitman explained why the book was so valuable to her and her teams:
There are many ways to deploy strategy in companies. This is one I found to be particularly helpful because organizations have a lot of trouble making decisions, particularly at our scale…. This notion of where to play, what countries, what market segments, what products, and where not to play because we can’t do it profitably, has been a very good discipline.
The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch
In 2015, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a goal to read a new book every other week. For the last book in his experiment, Zuckerberg chose Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, a book which, according to Amazon’s description, “argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe–and that improving them is the basic regulating principle of all successful human endeavor.”
Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
Cisco executive chairman and former CEO John Chambers was so inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In that he gave a copy of the book to each member of his senior leadership team. In a company email, Chambers explained:
After reading Lean In and listening to Sheryl, I realize that, while I believe I am relatively enlightened, I have not consistently walked the talk. I think each of you, on reflection, will identify opportunities to operate at a new level with your women employees, leaders, customers, partners, and peers.