Reading is a daily habit commonly practiced by high achievers because it's an effective method of sharpening oneself. While nonfiction is the genre which likely comes to mind when it comes to self-improvement, even nonfiction is good for broadening your perspective and ability to be creative. Here are more than a dozen good titles to check out, according to successful executives who offer their rationales for reading them.
1. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle
"While this isn't your typical, run-of-the-mill, motivational self-help read, [this book] breaks down how to create and maintain motivated cultures. Most entrepreneurs and professionals in leadership positions are pretty self-motivated, but fostering that motivation throughout an entire organization is often where the difficulty lies. Coyle starts with big ideas and dials them into systems, justifying them all with case studies. He defines three key skill sets successful cultures share: building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose. He clarifies organizational challenges we all face, like 'status management,' and breaks them down to their essence to be overcome. Using case studies from the Navy SEALs to the San Antonio Spurs to elementary school students, he demonstrates both successes and failures in cultures, and, more importantly, the 'why' behind them. I found it to be an informative and inspiring read on one of the most important motivational topics any leader faces--building culture."
--Kelechi Okere, EVP of business development at RSP Nutrition, a nutrition brand distributed at retailers such as Amazon, Bodybuilding.com, GNC, and Vitamin Shoppe, in over 5,000 U.S. retail locations and over 80 countries
2. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
"The most valuable books I've read in my life are those that help me shape the principles that underpin the way I live my life, as opposed to practical business advice. [This book] is the perfect guide to Stoicism, a school of philosophy which, at its root, is a philosophy for minimizing the negative emotions in your life and maximizing your gratitude and joy. Working for a fast-paced startup for the past four years, you encounter just about every emotion you can in business. Practicing Stoicism helps you remain leveled throughout the highs and lows. Remaining leveled mentally is an underrated characteristic of leaders, and in times of uncertainty, people will always seek support from the calmest person in the room."
--Cathal Berragan, U.S. creative director at The Social Chain, an integrated social-media company with clients including Amazon, Coca-Cola, Nokia, DreamWorks, and Disney
3. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
"There are so many distractions in business today--so many people trying to convince you that they have the next thing that will take your business to the next level. It is important to not let these people and tactics distract you from what works. [This book] is an evergreen reminder of the fact that the basics in business still work, and work well if you focus on them. In the book, Greg renames the CEO from Chief Executive Officer to Chief Editing Officer, which is how I see myself when I step into a new business to lead its turnaround so that we can sell it for a multiple of revenue in one to two years. I need to edit out all the nonessential stuff for my team so that they are focused on revenue generating activities. The thing about being a Chief Editing Officer is that it is a never-ending job. You always need to be distilling the focus of yourself and your team into what matters most."
--Chris Dominello, director of business development at Reliefband Technologies, which offers patented, FDA-cleared, wearable technology that treats motion sickness through neuromodulation and is available at retailers such as SamsClub.com, Amazon, and FSAStore.com
4. How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick by Letty Cottin Pogrebin
"Shortly after undergoing a major surgery, I stumbled upon this book and have read it several times since. There is no manual on how to navigate life with a colleague, friend, or family member who is sick, yet this comes very, very close. This book makes you think about the ways in which you can improve your communication. Most people don't know how to approach so many situations as it relates to illness and this book provides valuable tips on how to navigate this. Letty has been the patient, caregiver, and friend, as well as interviewed many patients for the book, so she tackles all angles necessary to write about this topic. It's extremely heartwarming, tactical, and valuable for anyone who is looking to become more compassionate."
--Harper Spero, host of the Made Visible podcast, which has featured guests including Ally Hilfiger, Genevieve Gorder, and Gunnar Esiason, with sponsors including Lola, Beekeeper's Naturals, NDOband, and Ouchie
5. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
"For anyone starting a company or thinking about it, they need to read this book. Startups aren't for the faint of heart, and Ben does a great job describing the personal and professional sacrifices [involved in them]. He also explains that startups are messy, full of mistakes, and even big ones have many near-death experiences where not making next payroll is very real. There's nothing that can prepare a startup founder better than jumping in the deep end. Future founders should take his messages literally and see if they have the fortitude and guts. 'The struggle is real,' and this book is a great wake-up call for the startup world."
--Patrick O'Leary, founder and CEO of Boostr, a media-specific CRM and order management platform which grew more than 250 percent last year
6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
"This book is about Louis Zamperini, a problem teenager, college athlete, Olympian, WWII airman, and Japanese POW. While he experienced countless achievements throughout his life, the book hones in on the most challenging of all, surviving Japanese entrapment. It's a testament to the overwhelming power of the human mind and body to overcome desperate times and events. Not only is it an enticing read, but it also shows what you can really do if you put your mind to something and don't let others or outside factors break you."
--Michael Fox, vice president and chief commercial officer at Valid, a global provider of technology solutions for mobile, identity, data, and payments that is the fifth-largest producer of SIM Cards in the world, and is among the world's 10 largest manufacturers of banking cards
7. The Road Less Stupid by Keith J. Cunningham
"Most entrepreneurs are going 100 miles per hour in dozens of different directions, but most of us don't even take five minutes of quiet time to think and plan. At the very start of the book, Cunningham asks: 'How much money would you have right now if I gave you the ability to unwind any three financial decisions you have ever made?' We all have great ideas, but sometimes the best successes are the mistakes we didn't make. Cunningham's book is full of insightful concepts, and I have seen tangible results from an amazingly simple one--set aside thinking time every day to work out all the variables and consequences in your plan so as to avoid those mistakes."
--Avi Weintraub, Fort Lauderdale chair of Tiger 21, a peer membership organization with more than 700 high-net-worth wealth creators and preservers worldwide, and CEO of The Weintraub Companies, an Inc. 500 construction company
8. Feck Perfuction by James Victore
"My Stevie award-winning sister sent me [this] book... [T]he main theme: action over perfection. Everything about your life is a test of your character. From obstacles in front of you, to the fear inside you, to the naysayers beside you. Success is how you tackle these tests. And it's all up to you whether you play the victim or the hero. The imperfect actions of the hero are far greater than the inaction of the victim. It comes down to fighting to find the light, by being resourceful and breaking through to the other side of your greatness, and most importantly influencing your employees and colleagues."
--Lori Taylor, co-CEO of Better Choice Company, a global health and wellness business for animals, serving 150,000 customers with 62,000 product shipments per month
9. The 5 a.m. Club by Robin Sharma
"I live this methodology. I wake up at 4:45 a.m. and I am in the gym by 5:00 a.m. The mental clarity and focus that owning the morning provides me sets my day up for success. It gives me the opportunity to work through my thoughts and goals for the day to ensure I make every day a meaningful and productive one. The routine provides me with discipline that radiates throughout all aspects of my professional life."
--Ryan Webber, VP of enterprise mobility at SOTI, a provider of mobile and IoT device management solutions, with more than 17,000 enterprise customers and millions of devices managed worldwide
10. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
"Written 2,500 years ago, this book is of a disconcerting pragmatism. Far from dogmas, principles, or ideologies, the objective of this book is to give readers the information that they need to win. On the one hand, it's a great manual for managers that advises leaders on humbleness, integrity, and an inflexible fairness. On the other, it provides the keys to intelligence, observation, and analysis for various cases so that leaders can act in a timely, composed manner. During my entrepreneurial life [this book] has always been a reliable source for me to look to during countless situations. It's a must-read."
--Dr. André Choulika, CEO of Cellectis, a publicly traded biopharma company that recently received approval from the U.S. FDA to initiate clinical trials with UCARTCS1 for the treatment of multiple myeloma with the first off-the-shelf CAR T-cell therapy
11. Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh
"As an entrepreneur, I am always interested in how to take my company to the next level. [This book] is the secret to take a company from one to one billion as quickly as possible and truly stand out from the competitors. This book cites the stories of the rapid rise of great companies of Facebook, Netflix, and Airbnb. The tools to support successful 'Blitzscaling' are the right business model, right hiring and managing practice, evolving culture, and marriage of responsibility and velocity for the greater good."
--Dr. Lan Huang, co-founder, chairman, and CEO at BeyondSpring, a late-stage biopharma company focused on developing cancer therapies for non-small cell lung cancer and for the prevention of chemotherapy-induced neutropenia, which recently raised $35 million during a public offering of ordinary shares
12. Leveling the Playing Field: A Guide to Successful Business Development Transactions for Private and Small Public Life Science Companies by Larry Horowitz and Larry Ellberger
"This book is short, step-by-step analysis of how to approach negotiations, auctions, and development transactions. Both of the authors have immense experience and share it in a straightforward and honest read. While the book did not impact my personal life, it certainly provided me with a wealth of knowledge that has enabled more successful negotiations and better commercial outcomes. I would highly recommend it."
--Dr. William Levine, chief scientific officer of CannRx, a company developing scientifically-based cannabis technologies and products, and founder of Izun Pharmaceuticals, a company specializing in botanical medicine with an IP portfolio of over 65 patents
13. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
"This is the book you need to read to realize that perseverance is probably the most important factor required to succeed both in business and in life, and may be more important than natural aptitude. The author illustrates through many examples how the power of interest, passion, and perseverance move people and ideas forward. I can really identify with this book's message: 'believe in your passion, identify a goal, and persevere through grit.' Grit is really all about the reaction to getting knocked down again and again, and how success is achieved by learning from failure. In the book: 'To be gritty is to fall down seven times and rise eight.' I really cannot count how many times I have been down face first. A couple times not even sure I would be able to get up again. But I always seem to, and most times move forward after the knockdown with a better understanding of what I have to do to succeed. To me, this is really the essence of being gritty."
--Dr. Paul MacKoul, co-founder of The Center for Innovative GYN Care, a surgical practice with five practice locations in four states, treating complex gynecologic conditions with trademarked, minimally invasive surgical techniques
14. Alchemy by Rory Sutherland
"So many of us are trained to focus on data and the logical, and Alchemy makes a great argument for the irrational. I think everyone, myself specifically, could use a reminder that asking dumb questions, reframing old ideas, and, in turn, trying to create a bit of magic, can lead to unexpected solutions for some of our most difficult problems. Alchemy was a reminder of that and then some."
--Daniel Kane, co-founder and CEO of The Ridge, an accessories company that makes a front-pocket wallet that has been purchased by more than 1 million people globally
15. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
"I was recently recommended this book and absolutely devoured it, and then immediately re-read it. The main concept, as told by Sinek, is that 'People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.' Although it is an admittedly challenging task, being able to articulate why your company is doing whatever it's doing--and not just what it sells--is really powerful and helps to drive decision making with much more clarity. This book gives you the framework to better develop and more clearly express your 'Why.'"
--Adam Callinan, co-founder and CEO of BottleKeeper, which earned a $1 million combined offer from Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner on Shark Tank in November 2018
16. Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
"I read this great classic by the Nobel prize winner Solzhenitsyn when I was in graduate school. [This book] is best known for its brilliant macro insights of Soviet life at the depth of the Cold War in the 1950s and micro insights of an individual confronting death. The story is told through characters representing different aspects of Soviet life, from the ex-political prisoner who survived years in the brutal gulags to the Soviet official who ratted out non-communists. For me, the inspirational aspect of the book was the change of behavior of a young cancer victim, who first entered the clinic with a stack of books he was committed to reading. As he realized his plight, his motivation was replaced with despair. Remarkably, he survives, but his outlook on life dramatically changes. Solzhenitsyn brilliantly addresses how life changes our motivations and how we view the world."
--Dr. Jonathan Rothbard, chief scientific officer at cannabis biotech CannBioRx Life Sciences Corp., who was responsible for helping to establish a variety of successful biotech companies, including Amylin Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2012 for $7 billion), ImmuLogic, CellGate, and Cardinal Therapeutics