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13 Books These High Achievers Say Helped Them Get Ahead

These titles foster creativity, self-improvement, and open-mindedness.


Read when you’ve got time to spare.


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Reading is good for you in many ways. It fosters creativity, self-improvement and open-mindedness. Researchers even have determined it can help you live longer. Here are popular titles suggested by more than a dozen successful executives.

1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

"Too many business autobiographers go to great lengths to portray themselves as all-knowing and unwavering on their path to success. What I love about Phil Knight's memoir is that the founder of Nike offers a more honest account of just how terrifying starting a business can be. Just like the rest of us, Knight had moments of self-doubt and constant flirtations with disaster as he launched and grew his company. When push came to shove, however, he had what it takes ... the courage to bet everything on an idea he believed in, and the drive to out-hustle his competition at every turn."

—Chris Mackey, CEO of MackeyRMS, a research management platform for investment professionals that has taken no outside capital/funding with clients on its platform managing over $1 trillion in assets

2. Drive by Daniel Pink

"According to the author, if you pay someone enough to take the issue of money off of the table, the things that truly motivate them are Master, Autonomy and Purpose. I add Connectedness to that list. Setting up a company and culture that allows people to do what they do best (Mastery), in the way that they think will bring about the best results (Autonomy) focused on something that is meaningful (Purpose) as part of group aligned in values (Connectedness) is what drives a great and powerful culture."

—Art Saxby, CEO of Chief Outsiders, a strategic marketing consulting firm that has worked on the management teams of more than 600 companies across more than 60 industries

3. Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

"[It] inspired me to see how everyone is able to go down the path of entrepreneurship. As a Ph.D. student at the time, I was no exception."

—Zouhair Belkoura, co-founder and CEO of Keepsafe, a photo vault company used by 65 million people

4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

"As an entrepreneur, people will always question what it is you're doing. Why are you leaving your job? Do you really think this or that will work? It's hard to not let that get to your head. This read helps you powerfully stand in who you are and what you care about. It inspires you to authentically and unapologetically do your thing and be your fullest self. Entrepreneurs who are vulnerable to haters and critics are more likely to throw in the towel when the going gets tough. Beat your own drum and inspire the world! To be honest, this is the kind of book I wish I read years ago."

—David Yarus, global ambassador at Jdate, a Jewish dating site that globally has facilitated more than one million matches with more than five million messages sent each month

5. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

"As a first-time, young female founder who quickly grew from three people on a couch to a team of ten, we love how this book clearly outlines so many tactical approaches to communication, being a good leader, and building trust on the team."

—Rachel Renock, co-founder of Wethos, a platform that has connected over 1,500 freelancers with 300-plus nonprofits

6. Going for It! How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur by Victor Kiam

"For people of a certain age, Victor Kiam was a bit of a celebrity thanks to him fronting his company's TV ads. I first read his book when I was young. It was the first business book I read and it introduced me to the idea of being an entrepreneur. Kiam was the one who originally inspired me (and no doubt countless others) to be a successful business person and to this day it's still one of the best books I have come across on entrepreneurship."

—Richard Moross, founder and CEO of print business MOO, which has more than $100 million in revenue and has expanded to six locations since launching in 2006

7. The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax

"This book talks a lot about paradox of our world of hyper digital convenience that doesn't necessarily translate to a seemingly logical replacement of physical things. Our screen-driven existence actually makes our love of real things, i.e. vinyl records, paper, and film photography even more important, refined and focused as a human society. After reading, it perfectly articulated my playbook for VNYL and why using music on vinyl to solve the problem with music discovery works so well."

—Nick Alt, founder and CEO of VNYL, a subscription company that launched as a successful Kickstarter project and, with its three-year growth, now curates 500,000 new vinyl records annually to its members

8. Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography by Richard Branson

"The way Richard Branson focuses on enjoying life and helping make the world a better place is something that resonates with what's important to us. This book reflects on Branson's life successes but also his failures. One great takeaway for any successful entrepreneur is that in business (and sometimes in one's personal life) something has to give if one wants to pursue what's important and learning to identify them and then letting go is important. In addition, [I'm] inspired by the way Branson is not afraid to cause a stir to fight for what he believes in. Another great takeaway is learning how to play on your strengths and build a great team (even if they are better than you are): a tough thing to do but crucial for any successful business."

—Mohini Boparai Guleria, co-founder of rOcean, a smart appliance company working to eliminate single-use plastic waste with convenient beverage solutions for the home that recently raised over $166,000 and surpassed its $30,000 goal on Indiegogo

9. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

"This is the only entrepreneurship book I have come across that talks honestly about the incredible challenges that entrepreneurs face when running a business, and not just about facing the difficult decisions, but about the way running a company affects you mentally. Things like handling the roller coaster of emotions, from incredible excitement, to waking up in the middle of the night in a state of panic, and how an entrepreneur can learn to deal with those emotions. I also found the stories around team building—from recruiting, organizing and motivating teams, to having to let people go—very enlightening. One of the main lessons I learned from this book that I apply at Sensel is the importance of culture fit when hiring, and also looking for individuals that are not necessarily the best at everything but have at least one area where they are superstars. In other words, hiring for strengths rather than absence of weaknesses."

—Ilya Rosenberg, co-founder and CEO of touch technology company Sensel, which has raised more than $10 million in funding and raised over $500,000 for its crowdfunding campaign last year

10. The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference by Theodore Rockwell

"Admiral Rickover accomplished a seemingly impossible task—creating the first nuclear reactor and doing it in the hardest possible applications, a submarine—from start to finish in under five years, doing so by bringing an unconventional leadership style that was well ahead of its time. This book is packed with incredible management insights that all entrepreneurs can benefit from."

—David Rusenko, co-founder and CEO of Weebly, a website building platform working with 50 million entrepreneurs worldwide

11. The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey

"This book helped me understand that doing your best work and being your most focused takes practice and training—and not necessarily the kind of practice you might imagine. Getting out of your head (and into your body) allows you to perform at your highest degree and some of the tips and tools shared in this book changed the way I think about focus and getting my head right for that big meeting or event. Great read for anyone looking to get the most out of themselves and perform at their peak."

—Elliot Tomaeno, founder and CEO of Astrsk PR, an award-winning PR agency that has launched more than 300 companies and products since being founded in 2012

12. Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships That Matter by Ryan Paugh and Scott Gerber

"Written by the founders of YEC, an invitation-only organization comprised of the world's most successful young entrepreneurs, Superconnector will redefine how you think about networking. Ryan Paugh and Scott Gerber illustrate why traditional networking no longer works and share their winning strategies on how to build a highly valuable community who make things happen through their understanding and utilization of social capital. Learn to talk to anyone about anything and develop a powerful approach to creating and enhancing connections in an increasingly digital world. This book played an integral role in helping me build the business community that has fostered much of my success."

—Richard Lorenzen, founder and CEO of the PR firm Fifth Avenue Brands who was named by LinkedIn as one of the top millennial influencers of 2016 and included on Inc.'s list of 25 Inspiring Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017

13. How to Flip Houses With Little or No Money by Cody Sperber

"Everyone knows real estate is a time-tested way to make money. Let's face it—there is no shortage of people saying they know how to make money in real estate. The fact is most don't have the knowledge or real-life experience to make a difference for you. Cody Sperber is different, a U.S. Navy veteran turned self-made millionaire and active real estate investor. Not only has Cody done 1,000-plus real estate deals himself, his systems and training have also helped thousands find their own success. [This book] offers expert advice to anyone looking to get started in real estate, even on a shoestring budget. Using the strategies in the book, even a total beginner can learn to flip houses without credit or capital. So if, you're ready to add a side income or even make a total career change, read this book first."

—Joseph McClendon III, best-selling author, speaker, trainer, and coach who has presented to more than three million people globally

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This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published April 9, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

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