An Entrepreneur’s Reading List

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suggested reading


Like it or not, following several basic principles of design will largely dictate the success of your small business. If you are not well versed in the contents of these books, the chances are high that you will critically mis-communicate with everyone.

  • The Design of Everyday Things – Brief summary of basic design principles and why good design is important. A great text for a smart person with no background in formal design training. This book was originally title, “The Psychology of Everyday Things.”
  • Principles of Design – Broken down into succinct 2-page summaries involving little text but rich in pictures and visual examples, this book explains and illustrates 100 design concepts essential to making everything work, look, and communicate more effectively.  A great reference for newbs and people who don’t like to read.


Entrepreneurs who follow their dreams form a tiny percentage of the general population. As a result, you likely haven’t had the chance to chat with many real entrepreneurs, piecing together the common challenges and joys of owning a small business. Learning from others’ successes, failures, and hearing their advice can be sped up by reading these books.

  • The Book of Entrepreneurs’ Wisdom (ed. Peter Krass) – Comprised of short essays or stories by over 50 entrepreneurs, this book covers the basics: The Start Up, The Maverick Element, Going Public, Risk, Inventions, Branding, Management, and Personal Stories. Contributors include giants like Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Henry Ford, Ross Perot, J.C.Penny, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Carnegie & many more.

Synthesis / Personal Finances

Regardless of how well your business does, business revenue and personal finances are completed independent. Learning how to grow and protect your nest-egg over the long haul is one of the most important skills to acquire.

  • Automatic Wealth (Michael Masterson) – Well written and to the point, these six steps offer a blue print for finding financial independence in 7 years and beyond. Offering non-sensationalized, non-flakey plans, this book can help you take advantage of seemingly obvious strategies that most entrepreneurs don’t catch or leverage until years later. If you want to “retire” as quickly as possible, this book has realistic lessons and advice.

Geography and Culture

If you haven’t realized it yet, successful business ideas work by addressing the real needs of real people in the real world. The more you know about the world we live in, the better-equipped you become to build a lasting and valuable business. These books will change the way to view business strategy and risk by challenging your assumptions about humanity and our future.

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond) – A summary of human history that explains more about our culture and the world than you’d think possible. Essential reading for those concerned with or impacted by international supply/demand.
  • Collapse (Jared Diamond) – A continuation of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse examines cultural lessons from the past and several current civilizations on the brink of dramatic decline. This is essential reading for understanding risk and how to position a business with a chance of survival into the future.

Statistics and Risk

Almost every aspect of life and business depend on decisions which relate to risk. In short, how to understand risk, leverage statistics, and outsmart the curve. Or, how to make decisions in an uncertain environment. These books may save your skin more often than you can imagine.

  • The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) – Required reading for anyone dealing with uncertainty and/or certainty in their everyday lives. In other words, everyone. By challenging common assumptions about stability, assumptions, and how humans think, this book will change the way you play with risk and, most importantly, “avoid becoming a sucker.”

Time/Life Management

Without a guide, system, philosophy, or externally-enforced routine (a boss or middle-manager telling you what to do each day), most people end up spending their lives working with horrific efficiency and unbalanced priorities. The following two books will accelerate your progress dramatically.

  • The 80/20 Principle (Richard Koch) – Even if you’ve heard of this principle (80% of the input creates 20% of the value), reading the book will take you in mental directions you wouldn’t have predicted. Worth re-reading at least twice a decade.
  • The 4-Hour Workweek (Timothy Ferriss) – Easy to read, this guide provides inspiration, a conceptual framework, and specific tools to dramatically reduce time spent working while increasing overall productivity.

Brainstorming & Idea Generation

If you’re coming up with ideas, you may as well come up with good ones. Reading these two books will help enormously.

  • Purple Cow (Seth Godin) – Easy to read, this pages will help you transform your small business idea into a remarkable idea with a realistic chance of success.
  • The Dip (Seth Godin) – Learn when to abandon a small business idea by asking yourself a few simple questions. At least 50% of being a successful business owner is knowing what to quit; a skill this book will help you develop.

Books and Ideas to Drop at Cocktail Parties

A lot of good business relationships can be formed by sharing an interesting conversation about bees, Sri Lanka, quantum mechanics, or some other specialized topic. That’s because a lot of the best business contacts you can make happen to be smart people with niche interests. By becoming able to converse on a broad range of topics, you increase your networking potential (and your potential for the benefit of having powerful friends) by a large margin.

  • The Lonely Planet’s Guide to … [pick any place in the world] – Everyone likes to talk about travel. Gain specific knowledge of locations around the world. Or, even better, visit them yourself. This topic of conversation works on 99% of important potential business contacts.
  • The Field (Lynne McTaggart) – Introduction to quantum science and overview of numerous scientific disciplines. 90% of people you talk to about this will think you’re weird, but the other 10% will be your new best friend.
  • Any three books by any “literary master” – Even if you don’t like reading, its handy having two or three author’s names to drop before quickly changing the subject to something you actually care about. Like it or not, you look dumb if you don’t read. To quickly solve this problem, choose any book (preferably short) by a “canonized” author (an author that appears in University English classes), form one opinion about each book (or find one on the internet), and you’re set.
    • For ease of reference, each of the following books is short, easy to read, and counts as “literature”:
      • Earnest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea
      • John Steinbeck – The Pearl
      • John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men
      • William Golding – Lord of the Flies
      • Henry James – Daisy Miller
      • Salmon Rushdie – Haroun and the Sea of Stories
      • George Orwell – Animal Farm