I am frequently asked: “what is the best book you have ever read?” After I make a silly joke about “The Illustrated History of Professional Wrestling,” I usually answer with either The Grapes of Wrath, or Man’’s Search for Meaning.
And, sometimes, the question is: “what is the best business book you’ve ever read?” And my answer to that is one reason for writing this post. My answer goes something like this:
There is no one best business book. I need a category: the best book on management, or the best book on time management, or the best book on… I can give some answers to some of those questions.
But, even for a couple of categories, I cannot give “one” answer. For example, what is the best book I have ever read on leadership? Impossible to answer! There are many; and the books reinforce, and build upon, each other.
But, let’s say you asked: Randy, could you give me a reading list, to help set me up for more success in my business and in my life, in 2021, and beyond? I think I might be able to help.
So, here is my essential baker’s dozen. Thirteen books that might make a positive difference.
And, yes, I realize that 13 books is a bunch of books for some; especially for non-book readers. So, set an easy pace. Just over one book a month. Think about it: about a book a month for a year. And then, at the end of the year, you will know more, and likely accomplish more.
This post will come close to just listing the books, with only a comment or two. But, I have written blog posts on most of these, and presented synopses of each of them So, at the bottom of the post, I will provide ways for you to access those more comprehensive posts on each book, and a way to purchase my even more thorough synopses.
Here they are: The Essential Baker’s Dozen of books to read.
#1 – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Viktor Frankl survived the death camps, and wrote this masterpiece in short order. Countless numbers of people call this the best, most important book they have ever read.
I read this as a college student, but re-read it carefully just a few years ago, and presented my synopsis of the book. It is truly a masterpiece. Read this book first.
#2 – Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.
There is ancient wisdom that says that you build a successful life one habit at a time. Who am I to argue against ancient wisdom? This book has been an especially popular best-seller during the pandemic. It is practical, and will help you build good, effective, productive habits (and, get rid of a few bad ones). Worth reading!
#3 – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. This is the bible of time management. When I follow its teachings, I do in fact get more done. Much more. I actually re-read my synopsis handout for this book at the beginning of each year, because… I need to.
Category: Leadership; and Management.
This is a tough category. There are so many really good books. But, if you read these that I have listed, it will help you build a solid foundation of leadership understanding and leadership skills. Remember: a leader’s job is to help get the very best out of the men and women he or she leads.
#4 — Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
These former SEALs have become well known, and sought after, for their leadership principles. This is their first book, and it is still a best-seller. The massage is simple: the leader owns the outcome. Extreme Ownership; that’s the idea.
#5 — The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo.
This is the practical book on managing others. It says: do this, and then do this, to get the best out of the people you manage. It is worth reading especially carefully, so that you get the instructions down well.
#6 — Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.
This is one of the many “don’t beat around the bush, have those essential, to-the-point conversations” books. I think it is a really, really good book. Her formula is: “Care Personally, then Challenge Directly.” It is a compliment to those books like: Crucial Conversations, and Fierce Leadership, and Fierce Conversations, and others. Radical Candor is an essential leadership book for this era.
#7 – Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown.
Brené Brown is something of a force of nature. This book shows the critical need for leaders with exceptional soft skills. And, it demonstrates that soft skills are not all that soft.
Category: Get Your Business Done
There are a few books I could recommend, but the one I will suggest here is:
#8 — Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr.
“OKRs: Objectives, Key Results.” People have to know what they are expected to get accomplished. The more people are clear about this, the more they will get accomplished. This is another one to read carefully; so that you can learn the steps to follow and implement.
Category: Get Ready for the Coming Future
The world IS changing. Even more rapidly during the pandemic. So, we need to think about how to get ready for the next changes, and then the next. Here are two of many good books that can help you.
#9 — Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman.
Mr. Friedman is especially famous for his book The World is Flat, but he has continued to write important books. This is his latest, and very much worth reading.
#10 — Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction by Thomas M. Siebel.
Mr. Siebel, of Siebel Systems, has provided a clear description of why everything that possibly can be digital will be digital. An essential book!
#11 — Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril by Margaret Heffernan.
There is a long list of companies that have allowed their ethics, if they had any, to be cast aside. Shame on such companies! This book is a very thorough warning to all. It is a warning worth reading, and heeding.
Category: Prepare for the Next Crisis, In Advance
#12 — Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath.
This is the book we should have read, and heeded, before March of 2020. Actually, well before March of 2020. This book tells us simply: the next crisis is coming. Identify it early; prepare for it early; and solve it early.
Category: Success Overview
Since this is a baker’s dozen list of books, I throw in this 13th selection. It is kind of a “big picture, do all this” book.
#13 — Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. This remarkable book, by the very good writer Charles Duhigg, will introduce you to psychological safety, successful team practices, and plenty of other concepts worth learning and putting into practice.
Well, that’s my baker’s dozen list. Since it is actually 13, you’ll have to squeeze in slightly more than one book a month. I make this promise: if you read these thirteen books, you will know more than you did before you read them. And, if you are diligent about putting what you learn into practice, you will be more successful, in your work life, and in your life overall.
I’ve written posts on this blog on most of these books. Type this in the search box on the blog: TITLE OF BOOK plus lessons and takeaways. Usually, that will pull up my most important post on the book.
And, you can purchase my synopses of all these books. Go to the buy synopses tab at the top of this page, and then use the search by title box to search. Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentations. These presentations are recorded at the First Friday Book Synopsis gatherings, our monthly sessions in Dallas. — Click here for our newest additions.
(Now available: In December, I presented my synopsis of Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria).