I read about 75 nonfiction books a year. As an author of nine of my own books, I must stay current on what the greatest minds in business are thinking. When a title really sparks my imagination, I contact the authors directly. But I only write about books that teach me something new.
Each of these books taught me something new. I'm sure they'll inspire you, too. The hardcovers also make great gifts for the entrepreneur on your holiday list.
1. Edison by Edmund Morris
Thomas Edison didn't just invent the light bulb. He averaged one patent for every 10 to 12 days of his adult life. Edison is the last book written by Morris, a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer who died in May. The book runs close to 800 pages (and gets very technical in places), but it's a great read for inventors, scientists, and anyone who has a keen interest in the hard sciences and the history of inventions.
The passages in which Morris describes what it was like to listen to recorded sound for the first time (Edison invented the phonograph) or to see a world illuminated by electric light are reminders of why entrepreneurs do what they do. Light bulbs were "globes of glass that gave off no fumes and sooted no ceilings." When people heard the phonograph, a "miraculous machine" that recorded and played back a human voice, most couldn't believe it. "Since the dawn of humanity ... the human voice was a product of the body and therefore must die too ... but here now were echoes made hard, resounding as often as anyone wanted to hear them again."
If you choose to listen to the audio book of Edison, you know whom to thank for it.
2. That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph
In That Will Never Work, Netflix's co-founder tells the story of how Netflix went from concept to company--and how it nearly didn't make it. It reads like a novel full of ups and downs, failures and successes.
One memorable story is the time Randolph and co-founder Reed Hastings (Netflix's current CEO) pitched Blockbuster about a partnership. Netflix was making $5 million in revenue while Blockbuster was making $6 billion. Blockbuster executives laughed the founders out of the room--literally.
On the flight home, Hastings was exhausted, and the two men sat quietly. Randolph broke the silence with a line that became their rallying cry. Randolph said, "It looks like we're going to have to kick their a**." And so they did.
3. What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz
Horowitz is co-founder of the legendary venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The book is about how to create a business culture, one of the most important things any entrepreneur must do to sustain success. "Your culture is how your company makes decisions when you're not there ... it's how they [your employees] behave when no one is looking."
What You Do Is Who You Are is not just a culture book. It's one of the most intriguing history books I've read in the business category. You'll learn about slave rebellions, the samurai warriors who ruled Japan for 700 years, Genghis Khan, who built the world's largest empire, and other stories you're unlikely to find in a standard business book.
According to Horowitz, "Companies--just like gangs, armies, and nations--are large organizations that rise or fall because of the daily microbehaviors of the human beings that compose them."
4. Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt
Famed Silicon Valley business coach Bill Campbell mentored many famous entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs and another author on this list, Ben Horowitz. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt wrote Trillion Dollar Coach to capture Campbell's wisdom. He says that Campbell was a great listener and understood how to motivate people. Campbell ran startups like sports teams, using empathy and discipline to inspire everyone to run in the same direction.
5. Trailblazer by Marc Benioff
Salesforce founder and billionaire Marc Benioff says he wrote Trailblazer to inspire entrepreneurs. In it, Benioff explains how he built a company based on profits and purpose--even before Salesforce had booked a customer. Benioff's vision to make a profit and do good at the same time helped to attract the best and the brightest. In this book, you'll learn how to build a company employees want to work for--and don't want to leave.
6. Wise Guy by Guy Kawasaki
Anyone who worked side by side with Steve Jobs is worth listening to. In Wise Guy, Kawasaki shares tips and wisdom from a career as a marketing genius. I wrote an article earlier this year based on a conversation with Kawasaki. He taught me that Steve Jobs used 190-point font on his slides. When I asked why, I got a typical Kawasaki answer--short and insightful: "Bigger text is easier for your audience to read. Duh!"
Starting a company is hard. These authors or their subjects have taken the risks, endured the setbacks, and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They've written the stories you need to stay motivated.