Whether you turn pages, tap a tablet, or listen to audio, a good book can be a perfect relaxation aid, tutor, or source of inspiration. Here are quotes from more than two dozen executives who name their favorite book and explain why it's worth your attention.
1. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
"A quick and illustrative book that shows just how powerful well-designed and properly implemented checklists can be in reducing mistakes in all kinds of fields. I've been on many mountaineering adventures where your life depends on a good checklist to make sure ropes, harnesses, and equipment are properly set up. Not everything in life needs a checklist, but we see every day how they can deliver results. When you're boarding a plane, you see pilots working through a number of preflight checklists to make sure everything is in order and no steps are overlooked. At our fast-growing business, checklists that we continue to tweak are critical in building repeatable and scalable processes. Gawande sums it up well: 'You want people to make sure to get the stupid stuff right. Yet you also want to leave room for craft and judgment and the ability to respond to unexpected difficulties that arise along the way.' No matter how good the checklists, they themselves cannot make anyone follow them."
--Tom Martin, CEO of Glance, a visual engagement solutions software company
2. The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
"The book is marketed as 'a practical guide to personal freedom,' but in a work setting I use it to check myself when I'm trying to solve a problem, listen to criticism, give constructive feedback, or resolve a conflict. The agreements--don't gossip, don't take things personally, don't make assumptions, and do your best--help me start from a rational position of trying to understand the issue at hand, without bringing any negative mental baggage that may come along naturally if I weren't aware of them. I also use the Four Agreements framework to analyze conflicts, so I can understand why someone may be reacting in a negative or emotional way and to help me remain calm if I'm involved in the conflict."
--Bob Armour, CMO of interactive employee communication software company Jellyvision
3. The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse by Mohamed A. El-Erian
"During my time on Wall Street, I witnessed both high and low times. If you want to understand the modern global economy, you should read this book. El-Erian is an incredibly clear thinker and explains complex ideas in an articulate way that is understandable to the financial novice while engaging to a seasoned industry veteran. Although no one can predict the future, this book comes close."
4. The Varieties of Human Experience by William James
"I graduated from high school at age 16. I honestly think the teachers pushed me ahead because they couldn't put up with me anymore! I used my GI Bill benefits to enroll in college. In one of my psychology classes, I was exposed to William James, the father of modern psychology. He once said, 'If you can change your thinking, you can change your life.' And that really resonated with me, so I sought to begin a program in self-mastery. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about successful people. What were their thoughts, habits, and philosophies? It didn't take long to discover that my upbringing wasn't in alignment. Once I realized that, I gradually shifted into an entrepreneurial mindset, and I proved James's theory correct. William James really made me aware of what I had been thinking and truly opened my eyes to examining the crippling power and control of the past."
--Dan Lee, director of NextDesk, a company that creates power-adjustable desks that can be quietly raised from sitting to standing height
5. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
"An amazing investigation into the world of competitive memorization that turns into an in-depth study on the capacity, and limitations, of the human mind. The book provides a real appreciation for how our brains work that I find massively applicable in both my work and personal life. A must-read!"
--Adam Tishman, CEO of Helix, a direct-to-consumer sleep brand that uses personalization technology to individually design and custom build mattresses based on customer preferences
6. A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
"This masterfully written book highlights three leadership styles, culled from the lives of three kings mentioned in the Bible: Saul, David, and Absalom. Whether you are a seasoned business owner or a young entrepreneur, this book is a priceless treatise on the art of identifying and dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly attitudes of those who sit in the big chair at the office."
--Michael Tyrrell, author, composer, and producer of Wholetones, a healing frequency music project aiming to help people improve their health, sleep, creativity, productivity at work, and well-being
7. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
"A very good friend of mine recently gave me a copy. It's not a sit-down-and-read-it-in-one session type of book. But I was facing some challenging moments, and she left a copy on my desk with a note that said, 'You need this.' I opened a page randomly, and read, 'Know yourself, and you will win all battles.' It resonated immediately with me. Sometimes founding a company is like a war--you need discipline, a game plan, confidence, and to understand the enemy (competition). I keep it on my desk for moments when I'm finding things tough. It's not always relevant, but sometimes it's a better pep talk than any inspirational Instagram post."
--Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO of Peanut, an app launched in beta to help mobile-first mamas connect with other like-minded women
8. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
"It goes without saying that leading a company is hard and leading a fast-growing company is even harder. The challenge for me--and for many business leaders--is why does it always seem harder than it should be? This book does a great job of being therapist and consultant--from someone who's been there and done that--to those of us who have asked ourselves this very question. Ben's ability to convey, in an easy-to-read, engaging, and thought-provoking way, his thoughts, fears, and struggles about raising money, rapidly growing, restructuring, and ultimately selling his company makes this a must-read for any CEO who wants to build and run a great business. At the end of the day, success in business comes down to persistence and the willingness to make the hard decisions, day in and day out. To succeed, we must, as Ben suggests, 'embrace the struggle.'"
--Chris Sullens, president and CEO of WorkWave, cloud-based field service management and "last mile" fleet management software solutions
9. Sam Walton, Made in America: My Story by Sam Walton
"I read this book more than 25 years ago and so much of it is still with me. My main takeaway was when he talked about how he would go to his warehouse at 5 a.m. to talk with the warehouse and delivery teams. He felt that was where he was able to get the best information about what was going on with his business. Remember, they didn't have advanced inventory data programs and tracking systems to the level we have now. To this day, I continuously travel to our factories, warehouses, and fulfillment centers and talk with the folks who build, ship, and deliver our products. Sam was right. That's where I get the most important information about my business."
--Ron Rudzin, co-founder and CEO of luxury online mattress company Saatva
10. Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer
"Danny Meyer is the restaurateur behind Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, and even Shake Shack. He shares how his focus on generous hospitality has led to his restaurants' resonating with customers. I find the intense focus on the details of the diners' experiences and the great respect and care shown to make their dining special incredibly applicable to businesses beyond restaurants. People want to be taken care of and remembered by the companies they do business with. Danny shares how he developed this philosophy and how he implements it across his various restaurants, from fine dining to fast casual burgers."
--Caleb Elston, co-founder and CEO of Delighted, which uses the Net Promoter System to help companies measure the voice of the customer over time
11. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
"Paulo Coelho leverages the myth, one of my favorite genres, to provide inspiration for all readers, but perhaps entrepreneurs will be affected especially. First, it challenges you to have a big vision, but teaches that creating and pursuing it is hard work and likely to take you on a very long journey. Second, you must learn by observing nature. To me, observation is the most important skill of an innovator. And the observation of nature is central to technological change throughout the ages. A 2016 robotics project at UC Berkeley mimicking cockroaches is just one modern example. Furthermore, understanding human nature is essential to being a good manager. In all his writings, Coelho reinforces that true inspiration comes from a quiet and calm place. Clearly, this is not possible if we never allow our minds and bodies some time away from emails, texts, and busy work. Finally, the book comes full circle, reminding us that the power to achieve our dreams is within us and was within us from the beginning. Think of it as a variation on the Star Wars theme: 'The Force is within you.'"
--Stephanie Newby, CEO of Crimson Hexagon, which provides business intelligence from social media analysis
12. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt
"This is a story about a business executive dealing with serious challenges at work and in his personal life. It is a good read as a novel, but more interestingly, it is a great business and leadership book. Its theme is that, in life and in business, you should constantly ask 'What's the goal?' before taking any action when faced with a task or challenge. If you establish clear goals and a method of measurement, your action plan is more likely to line up with achieving the goal. The character, Herbie, becomes a metaphor for how to identify constraints and define processes based on these constraints."
--Jim Dicso, CEO of SundaySky, which provides personalized video engagement for brands
13. When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub
"Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub shares fascinating firsthand stories and useful advice about how to get what you want in life. His book is based on his decades of experience producing music and movies for Elvis, Sinatra, George Clooney, and more. It's the 21st-century version of How to Win Friends and Influence People. And it's a fun read."
14. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim
"How to leverage, how to differentiate, and how to hedge--this classic business book inspires me on how to compete in the overcrowded optical and eyewear business. In today's fast-changing environment, what used to be your strength and competitiveness can be your biggest obstacle in growth and change. One must constantly question, learn, and keep an open mind."
15. The Widow Cliquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo
"For anyone interested in true business pioneers, or indeed one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of all time, this biography is a great read. It recounts the inspiring story of the widow Veuve Cliquot's struggle to grow her fledgling champagne business in the early 1800s following the death of her husband. Set against the backdrop of Napoleonic France, Veuve Cliquot conquered not only the glass ceiling of sexism, but political and financial turmoil to grow Veuve Cliquot into a remarkable empire. As similar issues resurface in the modern era, her battle is a timely reminder that determination and daring can win the day. A beautifully written account that I couldn't put down."
--Abi Weeds, founder of organic natural skin care and makeup company Odylique
16. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
"It was my first real exposure to Western literature and really opened my eyes. I was probably 11 or 12 years old, living in South Korea before we immigrated. Since then, I have reread it many times. The main inspiration for me is the utmost perseverance, planning, and dogged determination required to achieve one's goals despite encountering many hardships and setbacks."
--Lucas Roh, founder and CEO of the big-data platform Bigstep
17. I Love You All the Time by Jessica Elin Hirchman and Jennifer Elin Cole
"This is a children's book that I used to read to my daughters when they were three or four years old, and for some reason it has stuck with me even as they enter young adulthood. The message is simple: Remember those who have unconditionally loved and supported you through thick and thin; find the time, make the time. For me, it's namely my wife and kids. It's so easy to read one more email, take one more call, or work one more hour at the expense of those who have been there for me whether I'm successful or not. My ability to create lasting memories with my family will not be judged by how successful I've been, but by how successful I've helped them be. That single phase has entered my thoughts many times and is a good reminder of what's ultimately most important."
--Tracey Wiedmeyer, InContext Solutions, a Web-based virtual reality solutions provider for retailco-founder and CTO of
18. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
"Lencioni's work reads like a script for a Mission Impossible movie. In this case, he takes a very talented protagonist, Kathryn Petersen, and drops her into a Silicon Valley company in turmoil. Her mission: Take a highly dysfunctional set of executives and turn them into a highly functioning leadership team before the company implodes or she gets fired. I have a particular passion for understanding how to transform a group of individuals into a high-performing team, as a great team does more for a company's results than anything else. Yet I've also struggled with how to communicate what makes great teams great and how to internalize that message. Lencioni takes a bit of the opposite approach, where he explains what makes a team not so great: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. His lessons are simple and inspired, and I've found the book to be a road map for building great teams, drawing on the story countless times in my career."
--Jeff Somers, president and head of retail for small-business insurance company Insureon
19. The Power of Broke by Daymond John
"[It] is essential reading for every aspiring entrepreneur with a big idea and limited resources. So many people assume that you need to have money to succeed--that's a false presumption. JR and I are living proof that passion and tenacity are more important than money to realize your goals. The Power of Broke, which I am lucky enough to be featured in, truly provides the tools and information needed to help you realize people of all financial statuses can find success, as long as you work hard and trust in yourself."
20. American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman
"This book really resonated with me, because it's almost a mirror image of what we did with the Sparkling Ice brand. Hoffman dives into how Alan Mulally went into Ford and took a look at the organization as a whole. He shifted the focus to the consumer and recognized the importance of delivering quality products and services. Mulally honored the heritage of the company and used Ford's identity as a strength to reinvigorate a culture. If you need to enact change in your company without losing its values, this book will be perfect to pull inspiration and tactics from."
--Kevin Klock, president and CEO of beverage company Talking Rain
21. Double Your Profits in 6 Months or Less by Bob Fifer
"This book was the most impactful on my career. Other than a small section on technology (that I don't fully agree with), the book is a blueprint for how an effective and efficient business should be run. Fifer's teachings are ingrained in nearly all of TransPerfect's business systems, and he has personally come and participated in training conferences with our senior management team."
--Phil Shawe, co-CEO and founder of TransPerfect, a translation and content management company
22. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
"I read this book when it was first published and I was a first-time CEO at Cobalt Networks. The book, which focuses on how to bridge the chasms that occur in the transition from a market solely for innovators and early adopters to one that reaches a mainstream audience, proved to be my personal manual for building disruptive companies. For those in management, marketing, and sales at B2B tech companies, this book is a must-read."
--Stephen DeWitt, CEO of Work Market, a freelance management system
23. The Wu-Tang Manual by the RZA
"There are a number of core lessons I have pulled from this book over the years. First, follow your dreams--don't chase someone else's. Wu Tang could only have happened on Staten Island, just like Godzilla could only have appeared on a remote radioactive island in Japan. No distractions, no envy. Be like ODB: There's no father to his style. Second, location matters. In an era when everyone chases careers and dollars, the Wu represented Shaolin (Staten Island)--pride of place and people, and a commitment to draw from, but built on what's strategic around you. Third, build a platform of success for others as your legacy. There have always been great rap duos (EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Run-D.M.C., and more), but Wu Tang was the first rap dynasty. While many companies claim to be a great place to work, we want Duo to also be a great company to have worked for, and we support our colleagues in their success at and beyond our company. Fourth, a team needs shared values and cultural contribution, not cultural fit. From Kung Fu and Bushido, to Nietzsche and Lao Tzu, the Wu drank deep from the well of history to draw wisdom from both the profound and the profane."
--Dug Song, Duo Security, a cloud-based information security providerco-founder and CEO,
24. Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
"It provides a practical approach on how companies can drive innovation. This is something we're always focused on here at Wayfair, where employees are encouraged to share innovative and out-of-the-box ideas, test their theories, analyze data, and learn and iterate to find the best, most effective solutions."
--Brad Johnson, VP of Castlegate Fulfillment for the online home store Wayfair
25. Ten Types of Innovation by Brian Quinn, Helen Walters, Larry Keeley, and Ryan Pikkel
"The framework is organized into three categories: configuration, offering, and experience. The author uses a theatrical metaphor, backstage, to describe the configuration phase, its steps being more distant to the customer, such as the profit model, structure, and process. The experience phase is described as onstage and is more obvious to end users: brand, service, and customer engagement. This book has been a great reference for our team as we create our own Ten Types that we call the stages of Human-Centered Design, a creative approach to problem solving. And similar to the Ten Types, only when you include every important step in the process will you end with a truly innovative solution."
--Bob Niemiec, managing partner of Twisthink, a product innovation and business strategy consultancy