There are thousands of books written about entrepreneurs, but few written by the entrepreneurs themselves, probably because they don't have the time. That's a shame, because knowing how entrepreneurs think is more useful than observing what they do.
Here are the ten books that do this best:
Subtitle: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way
Why It's Worth Reading: Most business books are dry. At best, they're exciting if you're fascinated (as I am) about how people become successful. This book is different. It's about adventure, both inside and outside the business world. More than any other entrepreneur, Branson is larger than life, and this entertaining description of his exploits, ideas, and businesses is destined to become a classic that is read and appreciated generations from now.
Best Quote: "Screw it. Let's do it."
Subtitle: His Own Words and Wisdom
Why It's Worth Reading: This book, which is only available as an ebook, consists of an alphabetical list of things Jobs said, selected by the Cupertino Silicon Valley Press. The quotes run the gamut: arrogant, prescient, funny, wise, and weird. As such, the selection reflects the man himself. Note: to put some of the quotes in context, it helps if you know something about Apple's history and Jobs's life.
Best Quote: "I told [Bill Gates] I believed every word of what I said but that I should never have said it in public. I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid or gone off to an ashram when he was younger."
Subtitle: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Why It's Worth Reading: While this book is positioned as advice for women, it's also a manifesto for a new way of thinking about the work environment. For me personally, the big takeaway was that the success of a culture in today's technology-driven world is inversely proportional to how much it excludes women from the decision-making process.
Best Quote: "A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world. The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve.
Subtitle: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom
Why It's Worth Reading: I caught some reader flak for declaring this book one of 2014's best because it was published the day I posted about it and there was no indication whether it would be a bestseller or an also-ran. To date, the book has 1,100 Amazon reviews (far more than any other business book of which I am aware) and is holding an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. That alone should pique your interest.
Best Quote: "We've been taught to think, 'This is too complex' or 'This is not my field.' Frankly, the system is designed to be confusing, so that you'll give up control to the 'professionals' who reap enormous fees by keeping you in the dark."
Subtitle: Playing to Win in Work and Life
Why It's Worth Reading: I was originally going to include Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal in this list. However, while that's a good book, I find Ms. Trump's to be more introspective than her father's, with an engaging wit that makes it a fun read. Just as important, though, is that her experience with starting successful businesses contrasts to the usual rags-to-riches story, making her perspective valuable to entrepreneurs who come from successful, supportive families (as many do).
Best Quote: "We've all got our own baggage. Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we've all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way. Some break that might have gone to someone else. Some edge of inside track we couldn't have counted on."
Why It's Worth Reading: When it comes to disruptive innovation, the industrial age was arguably a much bigger deal than the information age. Carnegie's view of that rapidly changing world as he rose from poverty to become one of the world's richest men is fascinating, if only because he had a personal relationship with so many historic figures. Hint: Carnegie's writing style is stilted, but it's tolerable if you think about it as a steampunk memoir.
Best Quote: "I intend to tell my story, not as one posturing before the public, but as in the midst of my own people and friends, tried and true, to whom I can speak with the utmost freedom, feeling that even trifling incidents may not be wholly destitute of interest for them."
Subtitle: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything
Why It's Worth Reading: Kawasaki's new book is THE guidebook to creating a successful entrepreneurial business. There's none of the airy theorizing that characterizes most business books. Instead, you get step-by-step actionable advice for every stage of building your business. If you read only one book in your career, this should be it.
Best Quote: "For every recommendation, there is an exception, and I could also be wrong. Learning by anecdote is risky, but waiting for scientific proof is too. Remember, few things are right or wrong in entrepreneurship--theres' only what works and what doesn't work."
Subtitle: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
Why It's Worth Reading: Some people (like me) know from childhood what career will suit them best. Many people, though, struggle to find their place, and in the process get bogged down in go-nowhere jobs. Cuban's invaluable observation and philosophy is that everything is a learning experience, even if you're not sure where you're headed. Note: while most of the material in this book originally appeared on Cuban's blog, arranging it into book format makes his ideas and experiences easier to understand.
Best Quote: "In every job, I would justify it in my mind, whether I loved it or hated it, that I was getting paid to learn and every experience would be of value when I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up."
Subtitle: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder
Why It's Worth Reading: While most entrepreneur-written books have a "how I got where I am now," this extremely readable book has more of a "here's what I might have done better" vibe. Rather than recommending the go-go-go that's been characteristic of her life, Huffington reflects on how success often lies in your perception of what you're doing rather than any external measure. Thoughtful stuff.
Best Quote: "There is a purpose to our lives, even if it is sometimes hidden from us, and even if the biggest turning points and heartbreaks only make sense as we look back, rather than as we are experiencing them. So we might as well live life as if--as the poet Rumi puts it--everything is rigged in our favor. But our ability to regularly get back to this place of wisdom--like so many other abilities--depends on how much we practice and how important we make it in our lives."
Subtitle: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It
Contributor: Gina Smith
Why It's Worth Reading: Two reasons. First, the book provides an insider's view of the mythic events that led to the Macintosh and the very human people behind the technology. Second, and more important, this book is about an engineer rather than a businessperson. One gets the impression that Wozniak would have led just as happy a life had he remained in an engineering group somewhere, building stuff. As a former engineer myself, I know exactly what he means.
Best Quote: "[My Dad taught me] that engineering was the highest level of importance you could reach in the world, that someone who could make electrical devices that do something good for people takes society to a new level. He told me that as an engineer, you can change your world and change the way of life for lots and lots of people."