At this time of year, there’s nothing I’d love more than to be lying by a pool, with an iced coffee in one hand and a book I’ve been longing to read in the other. Nowadays, my reading time is whatever I’m able to grab, on the train to a meeting, while supper is cooking or when the kids are in bed. But I read religiously every day, and always have done, as it’s my source of escape from the daily grind, and the place where I go to learn more.
There is much documented evidence to show that a common trait shared by mainly highly successful businessmen is their love of reading. When American business tycoon Warren Buffett, considered to be one of the most successful business investors in the world, was asked about the key to his success, he pointed to a pile of books nearby and said: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” Now in his 80’s, he still dedicates around 80% of each day to reading.
There’s no doubt that famous business people are highly selective and well informed about what they read. There’s much we can learn from their reading lists, and so we’ve had fun putting together a roundup of some of the books that well-known individuals swear by…
1. Warren Buffet: ‘Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street’ by John Brooks
Back in 1991, Bill Gates asked Buffett what his favourite book was, and in response, Buffet sent the Microsoft founder a personal copy of this book.
Speaking to the New York Times’ T magazine, Gates said: “Warren Buffett gave me this fantastic collection of articles that Brooks wrote for The New Yorker. Although Brooks was writing in the 1960s, his insights are timeless and a reminder that the rules for running a great company don’t change. I read it more than two decades ago, and it’s still my pick for the best business book ever.”
2. Bill Gates: ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ by Steven Pinker
Bill Gates is said to read 50 books a year, which averages around one book a week.
Gates says Pinker’s book is one of the most important books he’s ever read. As the title suggests, the book paints a remarkable picture of how the world has evolved to become less violent.
“Pinker presents a tremendous amount of evidence that humans have gradually become much less violent and much more humane,” Gates explains, in a trend that started thousands of years ago and continued until this day.
Amid the growing levels of violence we’re hearing about in the news at present, this could be a timely book to read. “Many people are surprised to hear that we live in a far less violent time, because you see and read about tons of violence in the news. But Pinker argues convincingly that it’s our awareness and sensitivity to violence that have increased, not violence itself, which is way down,” says Gates.
3. Sheryl Sandberg: ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’ by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the highly acclaimed business book ‘Lean In’. She cites ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’ as one of her favourite business books and claims it “has been instrumental in how we think about developing talent at Facebook”.
Sandberg explains: “Marcus and his colleagues surveyed employees for 25 years to figure out what factors predict extraordinary performance. They found that the most important predictor of the success of a company or division was how many people answered yes to the question “Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” And this makes sense.”
4. Richard Branson: Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
In his book ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It’, Branson cites Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ as a major inspiration, and the title frequently pops up in articles relating to his all-time favourite reads. Mandela’s autobiography needs little introduction, and his story has the bootstraps appeal of his rise from the stepson of a tribal chieftain to an attorney, a long sentence as a political prisoner, through to becoming the first black president of his country. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust for several years, and I really must get it down to read!
If you’re interested in further reading recommendations by Richard Branson, he has published on his blog his top 65 books to read in a lifetime, which contains an eclectic mix of recommendations.
5. Steve Jobs: ‘Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail’ by Clayton Christensen
Although no longer with us, Jobs was an avid reader, and famously once said that “people don’t read anymore”.
His favourite book, which he claimed “deeply influenced” him, was Christensen’s business classic which focuses on the topic of disruptive innovation. It is frequently referred to as one of the most influential business books of all time, and cited as a favourite of many well known business leaders. Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices. ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’ gives readers a set of rules for capitalising on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
6. Ta-Nehisi Coates: ‘The Fire Next Time’ by James Baldwin
Ta-Nehisi Coates is national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of ‘Between the World and Me’ and ‘The Beautiful Struggle’. He cites James Baldwin’s essay, ‘The Fire Next Time’, as the finest piece of writing he’s ever read. Coates’ recommendation caught my eye as Baldwin is one of my most loved writers, and while I’ve read a lot by him, I’ve never read this essay. Baldwin’s writing is a thing of beauty, tackling complex social and psychological pressures in mid-20th-century America, which still hold much relevance today.
Coates says:“Baldwin refused to hold anyone’s hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.”
7. Tim Cook: ‘Competing Against Time’ by George Stalk
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, is a big fan of ‘Competing Against Time’, so much so that he’s known for giving out copies of the book to colleagues. Focused on the subject of time as a strategic weapon, the authors of the book argue that the ways leading companies manage time in production, in new product development, and in sales and distribution, represent the most powerful new sources of competitive advantage. Looking at industry after industry, they illustrate the processes involved in becoming a time-based competitor and the ways managers can open and sustain a significant advantage over the competition.
8. Jack Dorsey: ‘The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right’ by AtulGawande
Twitter and Square founder, Jack Dorsey, hands a copy of Gawande’s book to new hires on their arrival, and he is also said to frequently quote from it.
‘The Checklist Manifesto‘ was written by Atul Gawande, a doctor and writer for the New Yorker. It offers a simple checklist which can help people manage complex situations. Gawande uses a number of examples across a variety of industries, from medicine, technology and even disaster relief to illustrate his point.
I defy to you finish this article without placing an Amazon order or two! I haven’t been able to resist. Do you have an all-time favourite, inspirational read to add to our list? If so, we’d love to hear below…