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10 Eye-Opening Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

These books reveal the truth of how organizations really work, and it's not pretty.
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As anyone who reads this column knows, I'm a huge proponent of positive thinking.  However, positive thinking is delusional unless it's based upon a clear understanding of how the business world really works.

Put another way: We can't make the world a better place unless we can first see things as they really are. I've already pointed you at the "Top 10 Motivational Books of All Time" in order to help you prepare to make the world for the better.

The books on this list show you exactly what we're up against.

10. How to Lie With Statistics

Darrell Huff's classic 1954 tome explains how business people, politicians, and the news media misuse "the truth" specifically to mislead. As a touchstone and reality check, this book keeps you from being duped by others. As a weapon, this book gives you vast power over the ignorant masses. Please handle with great care.

Best quote: "A well-wrapped statistic is better than Hitler's 'big lie'; it misleads, yet it cannot be pinned on you."

9. The No Asshole Rule

As much as we all wish it were different, there's no denying that some people are jerks and that sometimes we're going to end up working with them. The expletive in the title sets the tone for this book, which also provides suggestions for avoiding, transcending, or even utilizing these inevitable corporate sphincters.

Best quote: "Two-faced backstabbers...who have enough skill and emotional control to save their dirty work for moments when they can't get caught, are tougher to stop--even though they may do as much damage as a raging maniac."

8. The 4-Hour Workweek

Hard work and long hours are the key to success, right? Well, maybe not. In this widely praised (and criticized) book, author Timothy Ferriss asks you to rethink the concept of work, revealing the sad truth that 90 percent of what you're doing may be not just unnecessary but actually detrimental to achieving the life you desire.

Best quote: "Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest, and mental endurance all wax and wane. Plan accordingly."

7. The Peter Principle

Most businesses aspire to create meritocracies where the brightest get promoted while the mediocre get culled out of the company. Unfortunately, there's a downside to this strategy, according to authors Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull. As companies grow and change, all staff members (including CEOs) end up in over their heads.

Best quote: "Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails."

6. Crazy Bosses

The business press tends to lionize the heads of large corporations, treating them as giants among the rest of us mere mortals. This classic by Stanley Bing reveals the petty side of corporate privilege: the extreme narcissism of the powerful and privileged psychopaths who've clawed their way to the top.

Best quote: "After nearly 6,000 years of evidence on the subject, one thing stands clear: the people who end up as leaders in any organization, large or small, are often the craziest guys around."

5. 21 Dirty Tricks at Work

In this horribly fascinating book, authors Mike Phipps and Colin Gautrey explain the most common ways that bosses, co-workers, and employees attempt to manipulate one another. More important, it provides specific advice for thwarting these attempts and getting what you want at work.

Best quote: "Dirty tricks are more than just a career-threatening nuisance; they also form part of the political backdrop to all the great recent organizational scandals."

4. Don't Bring It to Work


Ever wonder why some people act childishly at work? Wonder no more. Workplaces have a tendency to reproduce the family dynamics of the people who work there, explains author Sylvia LaFair. She describes the dysfunctional types, then provides suggestions to help them evolve beyond their emotional limitations.

Best quote: "The reason most organizational programs abort is that they fail to deal with our life patterns, which are at the foundation of workplace anxiety, tension and conflict."

3. Poorly Made in China

According to author Paul Midler, the real story behind outsourcing to China isn't how much cheaper it is to manufacture there; it's how Chinese manufacturers destroy product quality and weaken brand names. Once you read this, you'll know why just about everything you can buy in the U.S. (but made in China) feels like a second-rate replica.

Best quote: "American companies...were no match for savvy Chinese industrialists who often went out of their way to manipulate product specifications to widen profit margins."

2. The Complete Yes Minister

Based on the acclaimed BBC TV program of the 1980s, this hilarious book describes exactly how faceless, nameless bureaucrats wield the vast power of inertia to frustrate attempts by clueless "leaders" to move organizations in new directions. Read it once, read it twice, and you won't get fooled again.

Best quote: "It's called 'the law of inverse relevance': the less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it."

1. The Dilbert Principle

Still one of the best (and certainly the funniest) business books ever written. Author and cartoonist Scott Adams looks into the very soul of the business world and captures the absurdity of much that takes place there, puncturing every bloated corporate balloon that ever floated past a cubicle.

Best quote: "We're a planet of nearly six billion ninnies living in a civilization that was created by a few thousand amazingly smart deviants."

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Last updated: Apr 16, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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