Jobs and the Future of Work

The business books to read on your next holiday

A woman with a book sits on a bench at the departure area at the Fraport airport in Frankfurt November 14, 2012. Frankfurt airport's new Mandarin-speaking personal shopper service is just one example of how leisure and travel firms in crisis-struck Europe are trying to tap into the seemingly inexhaustible spending power of Chinese tourists. Value-added tax (VAT) refund data shows that Chinese travellers, who could overtake Germans as the world's biggest spenders on foreign travel this year, top the tax free shopping leaderboard in European cities like Paris, London and Frankfurt. Picture taken November14, 2012.

These are some of the best business books around. Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Jacquelyn Smith
Careers Editor, Business Insider
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Jobs and the Future of Work?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of Work

When some people hear "business book," they're immediately turned off.

Sure, 300 pages about entrepreneurship, money, leadership, management, or success can be tough to get through. But the very best business books can change your life.

These are the books that offer valuable insights, inspire you, and give you new perspectives. They influence your life and career, and change how you approach landing a job, managing your money, starting a company, leading a team, or succeeding at work.

I recently asked my Business Insider colleagues to share the one business book that has had a significant impact on their life. Here's what 16 of them said:

'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell

"This book explains cultural phenomenons that help you understand why people are the way they are. 'Outliers' also details what it takes to become the best at something.

"The book quantified 'success' in a way that I had never thought about before. And while I believe there are a lot of contributing factors to success, the '10,000 hour rule' keeps me focused and driven." —Lauren Browning, associate editor of special projects

Amazon synopsis: "In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of 'outliers' — the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

"His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

"Brilliant and entertaining, 'Outliers' is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate."

'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This' by Kate White

"White recounts a time she was hiring to fill a position on her team. After she filled it, she heard through the grapevine that one of the existing editors was upset she hadn't been considered for the job. Kate wondered: 'How was I supposed to know she wanted it? She never told me.'

"Hearing that genuine, confused perspective had a huge effect on me, someone who has never, ever liked to ask for anything. Just keeping your head down and working hard isn't enough — if you want something at work, you have to ask for it. Otherwise, how will your boss, who might be well-meaning but definitely isn't psychic, ever know?" —Libby Kane, Strategy and Your Money editor

Amazon synopsis: "In 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This,' [White] shares her secrets to success. A witty, wise, straight-talking career guide for women, 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This' is the perfect book for the current economic climate, whether you're just starting out, re-entering the workforce after maternity leave, or simply looking for a career change; essential tips and bold strategies from a gutsy innovator who helped increase Cosmo's circulation by half a million copies per month."

'Give and Take' by Adam Grant

"Unlike many business books, using that term loosely, this one provides practical information that is also surprising. Grant convincingly illustrates how putting forth effort to create trusting, long-term professional relationships is much more advantageous than the selfish, Machiavellian approach popular culture tells us leads to success." —Rich Feloni, senior strategy reporter

Amazon synopsis: "For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

"Using his own pioneering research as Wharton's youngest tenured professor, Adam Grant shows that these styles have a surprising impact on success. Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries. Combining cutting-edge evidence with captivating stories, Grant shows how one of America's best networkers developed his connections, why the creative genius behind one of the most popular shows in television history toiled for years in anonymity, how a basketball executive responsible for multiple draft busts transformed his franchise into a winner, and how we could have anticipated Enron's demise four years before the company collapsed — without ever looking at a single number.

"'Give and Take' highlights what effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, and leadership skills have in common. This landmark book opens up an approach to success that has the power to transform not just individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities."

'Ten Faces of Innovation' by Tom Kelley

"'The Ten Faces of Innovation' really got me to think about thinking differently. It helped me identify team members' strengths (on any team, in any setting) to consider how we could best attack a problem together. It taught me that creativity can be unlocked, if you are willing to have an open mind." —Rebecca Harrington, science reporter forTech Insider

Amazon synopsis: "Drawing on nearly 20 years of experience managing IDEO, Kelley identifies ten roles people can play in an organization to foster innovation and new ideas while offering an effective counter to naysayers.

"Filled with engaging stories of how companies like Kraft, Procter and Gamble, Cargill and Samsung have incorporated IDEO's thinking to transform the customer experience, 'The Ten Faces of Innovation' is an extraordinary guide to nurturing and sustaining a culture of continuous innovation and renewal."

'The One Thing You Need To Know' by Marcus Buckingham

"One of the clearest and best books about how to lead, how to manage, and how to have sustained career success." —Henry Blodget, CEO and editor-in-chief

Amazon synopsis: "Marcus Buckingham offers a dramatically new way to understand the art of success.

"The Cambridge-educated author is considered one of the most respected business authorities on the subject of management and leadership in the world. With 'The One Thing You Need to Know,' he gives readers an invaluable course in outstanding achievement — a guide to capturing the essence of the three most fundamental areas of professional activity.

"Great managing, leading, and career success — Buckingham draws on a wealth of applicable examples to reveal that a controlling insight lies at the heart of the three. Lose sight of this 'one thing' and even the best efforts will be diminished or compromised.

"Readers will be eager to discover the surprisingly different answers to each of these rich and complex subjects. Each could be explained endlessly to detail their many facets, but Buckingham's great gift is his ability to cut through the mass of often-conflicting agendas and zero in on what matters most, without ever oversimplifying. As he observes, success comes to those who remain mindful of the core insight, understand all of its ramifications, and orient their decisions around it. Buckingham backs his arguments with authoritative research from a wide variety of sources, including his own research data and in-depth interviews with individuals at every level of an organization, from CEO's to hotel maids and stockboys.

"In every way a groundbreaking book, 'The One Thing You Need to Know' offers crucial performance and career lessons for business people at all career stages."

'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson

"'Steve Jobs' is perhaps the best business book and best biography I've ever read. Isaacson expertly explores the many sides of the late tech innovator, taking readers inside the mind of a genius in a way no one else has before. It's a fascinating character study, history lesson, and business primer — and entertaining as much as it is educational." —Jenna Goudreau, deputy editor

Amazon synopsis: "Based on more than forty interviews with Steve Jobs conducted over two years — as well as interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues — Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. Isaacson's portrait touched millions of readers.

"At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.

"Although Jobs cooperated with the author, he asked for no control over what was written. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. He himself spoke candidly about the people he worked with and competed against.

"His friends, foes, and colleagues offer an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

"His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values."

'DisneyWar' by James Stewart

"This book was a blast to read. Who knew board room battles could be so personal and rollicking? I mimicked its style with my own book, 'Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo.'" —Nicholas Carlson, editor-in-chief of INSIDER

Amazon synopsis: "'When You Wish Upon a Star,' “'Whistle While You Work,' 'The Happiest Place on Earth' — these are lyrics indelibly linked to Disney, one of the most admired and best-known companies in the world. So when Roy Disney, chairman of Walt Disney Animation and nephew of founder Walt Disney, abruptly resigned in November 2003 and declared war on chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner, he sent shock waves through the entertainment industry, corporate boardrooms, theme parks, and living rooms around the world — everywhere Disney does business and its products are cherished.

"Drawing on unprecedented access to both Eisner and Roy Disney, current and former Disney executives and board members, as well as thousands of pages of never-before-seen letters, memos, transcripts, and other documents, James B. Stewart gets to the bottom of mysteries that have enveloped Disney for years: What really caused the rupture with studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, a man who once regarded Eisner as a father but who became his fiercest rival? How could Eisner have so misjudged Michael Ovitz, a man who was not only 'the most powerful man in Hollywood' but also his friend, whom he appointed as Disney president and immediately wanted to fire? What caused the break between Eisner and Pixar chairman Steve Jobs, and why did Pixar abruptly abandon its partnership with Disney? Why did Eisner so mistrust Roy Disney that he assigned Disney company executives to spy on him? How did Eisner control the Disney board for so long, and what really happened in the fateful board meeting in September 2004, when Eisner played his last cards?

"'DisneyWar' is an enthralling tale of one of America's most powerful media and entertainment companies, the people who control it, and those trying to overthrow them. It tells a story that — in its sudden twists, vivid, larger-than-life characters, and thrilling climax — might itself have been the subject of a Disney classic — except that it's all true."

'#Girlboss' by Sophia Amoruso

"The story of how she grew her business from an Etsy shop to a $100 million operation is incredible on its face, but the most compelling part of the book to me is how she talks about her customers. It's like she knows and cares about each of them individually and deeply — what they do for fun, what they like, what they're looking for in their clothing. I'm sure this attitude is part of what has made the company so successful." Jacqui Kenyon, strategy syndication editor

Amazon synopsis: "Sophia Amoruso spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and scrounging in dumpsters for leftover bagels. By age twenty-two she had dropped out of school, and was broke, directionless, and checking IDs in the lobby of an art school — a job she'd taken for the health insurance. It was in that lobby that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay.

"Flash forward ten years to today, and she's the founder and executive chairman of Nasty Gal, a $250-million-plus fashion retailer with more than four hundred employees. Sophia was never a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she's written '#GIRLBOSS' for other girls like her: outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is windy as all hell and lined with naysayers.

"'#GIRLBOSS' proves that being successful isn't about where you went to college or how popular you were in high school. It's about trusting your instincts and following your gut; knowing which rules to follow and which to break; when to button up and when to let your freak flag fly."

'Once an Eagle' by Anton Myrer

"This is the greatest management book ever written — and it's a novel about two men in the Army who together experience the wars of the 20th century. Straight-shooting Sam Damon rises through the ranks while slithery Courtney Massengale cunningly maneuvers his way to the top.

"A lengthy character study of organizational opposites that compels you to realize that you have to be able to spot both types in your career and grasp their strengths and weaknesses. Sam is idealistic to a fault; Massengale is ruthless. Effectively managing people means that you have to transition between these extremes and avoid becoming too much of one or the other. The book is still required reading for career officers in the US military." Matthew DeBord, transportation editor

Amazon synopsis: "'Once An Eagle' is the story of one special man, a soldier named Sam Damon, and his adversary over a lifetime, fellow officer Courtney Massengale. Damon is a professional who puts duty, honor, and the men he commands above self interest. Massengale, however, brilliantly advances by making the right connections behind the lines and in Washington's corridors of power.

"Beginning in the French countryside during the Great War, the conflict between these adversaries solidifies in the isolated garrison life marking peacetime, intensifies in the deadly Pacific jungles of World War 11, and reaches its treacherous conclusion in the last major battleground of the Cold War — Vietnam.

"A study in character and values, courage, nobility, honesty, and selflessness, here is an unforgettable story about a man who embodies the best in our nation — and in us all."

'Stumbling on Happiness' by Daniel Gilbert

"Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist who studies 'affective forecasting,' or our ability to predict how we'll feel in the future. In the book, he makes a compelling case for the idea that we have no clue what will make us happy in our personal and professional lives just a few years from now. Plus he shows readers how to start overcoming that cluelessness." Shana Lebowitz, strategy reporter

Amazon synopsis: "Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink? Why will sighted people pay more to avoid going blind than blind people will pay to regain their sight? Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they really want? Why do pigeons seem to have such excellent aim; why can’t we remember one song while listening to another; and why does the line at the grocery store always slow down the moment we join it?

"In this brilliant, witty, and accessible book, renowned Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions.

"Vividly bringing to life the latest scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. With penetrating insight and sparkling prose, Gilbert explains why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become."

'The Big Short' by Michael Lewis

"This book not only helped me understand the economic collapse and aspects of the esoteric world of high finance, but compelled me to dig deeper and endeavor to tell important business stories. It's a showcase of what financial journalism is capable of at its best." —Alex Morrell, lists and rankings editor

Amazon synopsis: "The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn't shine and the SEC doesn't dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower — and middle — class Americans who can't pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren't talking.

"Michael Lewis creates a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his No. 1 bestseller 'Liar's Poker.' Out of a handful of unlikely — really unlikely — heroes, Lewis fashions a story as compelling and unusual as any of his earlier bestsellers, proving yet again that he is the finest and funniest chronicler of our time."

'Welcome to the Real World' by Lauren Berger

"I read this book as a careers intern at Business Insider, straight out of college, for a story about ways millennials can shine at their first jobs. It had a lot of good advice, but one thing has stuck with me. In one part, Berger talks about how sometimes you just have to 'figure it out.' Yes, asking for help is a good thing, but there are times when no one is going to hold your hand and you have to learn to be a self-starter. That kind of initiative goes a long way." Emmie Martin, lists and features reporter

Amazon synopsis: "The essential book every workplace novice needs — a smart, practical, and fun guide to help them navigate the minefield of personalities, learn to work with their boss, identify priorities, and ultimately kick butt at their first job.

"It's a challenging time to be young and new in the workplace. Your parents can't help — the rules have all changed, and faster than guide books can keep up. In 'Welcome to the Real World,' career expert and entrepreneur Lauren Berger arms a new generation of workers like you with the tools you need to succeed. She feels your pain. She's been in your shoes. Just a few years ago, she was you.

"In a world defined by uncertainty, she argues you need to be bold, take risks, and understand your value. She shows you how to think of your job as a link that will eventually connect you to the opportunity of your dreams. It's time to get comfortable getting uncomfortable, she advises. Her essential handbook tells you everything you should know to make the most of your first on-the-job experience."

'Think and Grow Rich' by Napoleon Hill

"Napoleon Hill's 1939 classic taught me that success is more about mindset than anything else. It's a book about getting rich, but not once does it mention stocks or investing — and he barely mentions wealth or money! Hill teaches you how to think like the world class. And he distills the myth that extraordinary wealth and success are only meant for a select few. Your level of success is entirely in your control. It's entirely up to you, and that realization has changed the way I approach my life and career." —Kathleen Elkins, personal finance reporter

Amazon synopsis: "'Think and Grow Rich' is the most important financial book ever written. Napoleon Hill researched more than forty millionaires to find out what made them the men that they were. In this book he imparts that knowledge to you. Once you've read this book you will understand what gives certain people an edge over everyone else. By following the advice laid out clearly in this book you'll be the one with an edge. It's time to stop wondering what it's like to be rich and start knowing. This book has changed countless lives and it can change yours."

'The Defining Decade' by Meg Jay

"While technically a psychology book, 'The Defining Decade' is loaded with business and career advice for post grads — from the incredible value of 'weak ties' with acquaintances, friends, or former colleagues, to the sobering realization that (almost) nothing trumps experience in the workplace. This book is the holy grail for working millennials." —Tanza Loudenback, lists reporter

Amazon synopsis: "Our 'thirty-is-the-new-twenty' culture tells us the twenty-something years don't matter. Some say they are a second adolescence. Others call them an emerging adulthood. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, argues that twenty-somethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most defining decade of adulthood.

"Drawing from a decade of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, 'The Defining Decade' weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with behind-closed-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to make the most of your twenties, and shows us how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood-ifwe use the time wisely.

"'The Defining Decade' is a smart, compassionate and constructive book about the years we cannot afford to miss."

'No One Understands You And What To Do About It' by Heidi Grant Halvorson

"While the books that most solidified my love for journalism fall more into the realm of literary nonfiction — Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and Gay Talese offer some great examples — there is one book that has helped steer me through the more practical side of talking to people for a living: 'No One Understands You And What To Do About It.'

"Both as a journalist and merely a working person, it's important to understand what's going on behind the scenes when we interact with others — why intention and perception are often misaligned. This book uses real research to explain just that, and it offers tons of valuable insight into what we can do about it." —Rachel Gillett, careers reporter

Amazon synopsis: "Have you ever felt you're not getting through to the person you're talking to, or not coming across the way you intend? You're not alone.

"Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist and bestselling author, explains why we're often misunderstood and how we can fix that.

"Most of us assume that other people see us as we see ourselves, and that they see us as we truly are. But neither is true. Our everyday interactions are colored by subtle biases that distort how others see us — and also shape our perceptions of them. You can learn to clarify the message you're sending once you understand the lenses that shape perception (trust, power, and ego).

"Based on decades of research in psychology and social science, Halvorson explains how these lenses affect our interactions — and how to manage them. Once you understand the science of perception, you'll communicate more clearly, send the messages you intend to send, and improve your personal relationships. You'll also become a fairer and more accurate judge of others.

"This book is not about making a good impression, although it will certainly help you do that. It's about coming across as you intend. It's about the authenticity we all strive for."

'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg

"'Lean In' left me with new perspectives on a lot of workplace-related issues, and taught me a handful of valuable lessons — but, perhaps more importantly, it inspired me to go after what I want in my career. Shortly after reading this book, I began speaking up more in meetings at work; volunteered to take on additional responsibilities; and decided to ask for my first (significant) pay raise (and I got it!)." —Jacquelyn Smith, careers editor

Amazon synopsis: "In 'Lean In,' Sheryl Sandberg examines why women's progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

"Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to 'sit at the table,' seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

"In 'Lean In,' Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of 'having it all.' She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home.

"Written with both humor and wisdom, Sandberg's book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. 'Lean In' is destined to change the conversation from what women can't do to what they can."

More from Business Insider:

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Jobs and the Future of WorkLeadership
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How young workers can thrive with AI when they have the right skills

Peter Brown, Kathy Parker and Harriet Newlyn

July 15, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum