Anyone who wants to expand their knowledge and develop Mental Models has to be an avid reader. No matter what kind of business you’re in—finance, technology, or anything else—developing Mental Models for ideas and decision making is essential. Charlie Munger says it best:

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren [Buffett] reads—at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.

First, here’s a list of books I’ve read multiple times or regularly refer back to (in no particular order):

And below is a list of some of my favorite books categorized by subject:

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 + Solution, Clayton Christensen — every businessperson or investor needs to read these classics. “Solution” has better explanations and examples (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

  • Zero To One, Peter Thiel — Thiel’s treatise on startups; must-read for entrepreneurs


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 — a master capital allocator in the world of tech

  • Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance — a bio on one of the greatest innovators of the 21st century

Design & Engineering

  • The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman — 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. His book Emotional Design is a good compliment.

  • Notes on the Synthesis of Form, Christopher Alexander

  • A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander — a prerequisite for all designers, especially if you’re designing spaces.

  • Universal Principles of Design, Lidell + Holden + Butler — lots of great mental models on design and psychology

  • Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte — My favorite of the Tufte collection, the “bible” of data visualization. After you read this you will realize most infographics on the web suck

  • The Pragmatic Programmer, Andrew Hunt & David Thomas — a must read for programmers, but also has many interest mental models for non-programmers


Other Mental Models