My favorite books on business, management, investing and design

Out of the many books I’ve read in different subjects, below is a list of some of my favorites with some brief commentary for some of them. There are a few other “Mental Model” categories (psychology, history, economics, ecology, etc.) that I left out — hopefull they’ll be the subject of another post.

Business theory

  • The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses, Amar Bhide — extensive study of startups of all kinds, how they grow, what makes them successful (this is not a “help” book it is mainly observational)
  • Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Peter Drucker — how companies should systematically innovate — lots of good startup/innovation strategies (it’s not random)
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen — every businessperson or investor needs to read this (and the one below) — every industry’s value chain is disrupted at some point
  • The Innovator’s Solution, Clayton Christensen — expands on “Dilemma” with better explanations and examples — I think the “jobs to be done” concept is one of the most important in business
  • Competition Demystified, Greenwald + Kahn — how businesses capture value by building a moat, and what strategies to use if you have or don’t have one
  • The Halo Effect, Phil Rosonzweig — the anti-business-book — but still has great insights on how businesses work and how best to run them
  • Built to Last, Jim Collins — read this with The Halo Effect in mind — lots of good advice & stories (I like this much better than “Good to Great”)
  • The Strategy Paradox, Michael Raynor — dense at times but a great theory on why strategy is so hard
  • Hidden Champions, Hermann Simon


Business history

  • They Made America, Harold Evans — fantastic history book with each chapter telling the detailed story of a businessperson or inventor in U.S. history
  • In Their Time, Mayo & Nohria — similar to above
  • The Visible Hand, Alfred Chandler — great business history book on the “invention” of management in 1800s — a little dry but if you like business history you will love this
  • Andrew Carnegie, David Nasaw — great book; Carnegie was a lot more of an investor than an industrialist (steel was to him as insurance is to Buffett)
  • Titan (John D. Rockefeller), Ron Chernow
  • Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, Roger Lowenstein — the book that got me into value investing
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Issacson
  • Call Me Ted, Ted Turner — I wish Ted Turner was still running a public company
  • Pour Your Heart Into It (Starbucks), Howard Shultz
  • Googled, Ken Auletta — “In the Plex” was good also but I liked Auletta’s better
  • Made in America (Wal-Mart), Sam Walton — from the best merchandiser ever
  • Grinding it Out (McDonalds), Ray Kroc — I wrote about this here
  • Get Big Fast (Amazon), Robert Spector  — good early history of Amazon
  • Distant Force (Henry Singleton), George Roberts


  • The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman — this is the Bible of design — read it to know why you like using Apple products so much and why everyday frustrations are probably not your fault
  • Universal Principles of Design, Lidell + Holden + Butler — lots of great mental models on design and psychology
  • Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte — I have been using this book heavily in designing Atlastory; will have a post about it soon. After you read this you will realize most data visualizations on the web suck


  • Why We Buy, Paco Underhill — the best book on the nitty-gritty details of retailing, merchandising, and buying psychology
  • Buyology, Martin Lindstrom
  • Winning at Retail, Ander & Stern
  • Bare Essentials (Aldi), Dieter Brandes — history/principles of European retailer Aldi; they own Trader Joe’s and use many of the same principles


I would be interested to hear any recommendations based on the list above.

This will also be posted in the “Books” section of the blog. Each of these links to the Amazon product that I receive a small commission for. (Despite the potentially misaligned incentives, take comfort in the fact that I don’t know how much I receive if you buy a book, and the amount is probably very small. Ignorance is bliss!)

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