Every year, I name the best business books in multiple categories and, finally, the best of the best. The categories posted so far are:
This post contains the 10 very best business books of 2015, in alphabetical order. Five of them didn't appear in the previous posts because they didn't fit neatly into any particular category.
Here are this year's winners:
Subtitle: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Author: Ashlee Vance
Key Takeaway: The most innovative and intriguing entrepreneur of our time is ushering in a future that's as unexpected and disruptive as the erstwhile future that the PC and then the internet created.
Best Quote: "Musk comes off much more like Thomas Edison than Howard Hughes. He's an inventor, celebrity businessman, an industrialist able to take big ideas and turn them into big products. He's employing thousands of people to forge metal in American factories at a time when this was thought to be impossible. Born in South Africa, Musk now looks like America's most innovative industrialist and outlandish thinker and the person most likely to set Silicon Valley on a more ambitious course. Because of Musk, Americans could wake up in 10 years with the most modern highway in the world: a transit system run by thousands of solar power charging stations and traversed by electric cars. By that time, Space X may well be sending up rockets every day, taking people and things to dozens of habitats and making preparations for longer treks to Mars. These advances are simultaneously difficult to fathom and seemingly inevitable if Musk can simply buy enough time to make them work."
Why It Made the List: There's no single person alive today who is doing more to change the world through technology. Every entrepreneur needs to understand what Musk is doing, not just because he's a role model, but because he's creating our future.
Get What's Yours
Subtitle: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security
Authors: Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman
Key Takeaway: Don't activate your Social Security until you're 70. If you're eligible for auxiliary benefits (spousal, childcare), activate your Social Security at age 66, suspend your own benefits until age 70, and meanwhile collect the auxiliary benefits.
Best Quote: "Social Security is, far away, Americans' most important retirement asset. And that's not only true for people of modest means. Middle-income and upper-income households actually have the most to gain, in total amounts, from getting Social Security right. Toting up lifetime benefits, even low-earning couples may be Social Security millionaires. And except for the Bill Gateses is and Warren Buffetts of the world--whose percentage of the population was exceedingly modest last time we checked--Social Security is a very meaningful income source."
Why It Made the List: Seldom does a personal finance book come along that can literally put an extra $500,000 directly into the wallet of the average reader. This is an absolute must-read for anybody over 50.
Losing the Signal
Subtitle: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry
Authors: Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff
Key Takeaway: A major corporation with a dominating market presence trashes its future due to the hubris and short-sightedness of its executive team.
Best Quote: "BlackBerry changed more than the workplace. We were liberated from offices and homes. Employers, clients, family and friends too, could reach us wherever wireless radio signals traveled. Work was no longer 9 to 5; it never ended. The same is true of socializing--we never had to be alone with our thoughts. BlackBerries meet us fast and efficient, but a little neurotic. The handsets transformed legions of users into addicts. For three days in October 2011, RIM customers were forced to go cold turkey. No BlackBerry. Where did everybody go? When the outage ended, users were as committed as ever to mobile messaging. For Research In Motion, however, it was a different story. RIM was losing the signal to the market it created."
Why It Made the List: Less than five years ago, the BlackBerry was the device of choice for just about everybody in business. Today, it's unusual to see anybody actually using one. Never has a company fallen so far, so fast. This book tells the story of RIM's decline and fall with verve and depth.
Subtitle: The Making of Behavioral Economics
Author: Richard H. Thaler
Key Takeaway: Traditional economics assume that people are rational and will act in their own best interests, when in fact people are irrational and frequently make very silly and stupid decisions, both individually and en masse.
Best Quote: "The problem is the model being used by economists, a model that replaces homo sapiens with a fictional creature called homo economicus, which I like to call an Econ for short. Compared to this fictional world of Econs, humans do a lot of misbehaving, and that means that economic models make a lot of bad predictions. Virtually no economists saw the financial crisis of 2007-08 coming, and worse, many thought that both the crash and its aftermath were things that simply could not happen."
Why It Made the List: Entrepreneurs need to know that they can't trust governments to do the right thing because politicians and bureaucrats continue to take actions based upon fanciful economic models that don't account for the stupidity of the average human.
Subtitle: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice
Author: Bill Browder
Key Takeaway: A real-life account of an American financier who set out to expose corruption, murder, and a criminal conspiracy in Putin's Russia.
Best Quote: "10:45. I really began to panic. 10:51. How could I have been so stupid? Why would an average guy from the South Side of Chicago think he could get away with taking down one Russian oligarch after another? 10:58. Stupid, stupid, stupid! ARROGANT AND STUPID, BILL! ARROGANT AND JUST PLAIN STUPID! 11:02. I'm going to a Russian prison. I'm going to a Russian prison. I'm going to a Russian prison. 11:05. Two jackbooted officers stormed into the room and made a beeline for me. They grabbed my arms and gathered my stuff and pulled me from the detention room. They took me out, through the halls, up a flight of stairs. This was it. I was going to be thrown into a paddy wagon and taken away. But then they kicked open a door and...."
Why It Made the List: It's just a damn good read. And you learn about international finance and how dangerous Vladimir Putin actually is.
The Art of the Start 2.0
Subtitle: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything
Author: Guy Kawasaki
Key Takeaway: Silicon Valley's top business and marketing guru provides practical step-by-step advice for founding and growing a successful tech startup.
Best Quote: "It's much easier to do things right from the start than to fix them later. At this stage, you are forming the DNA of your startup, and this genetic code is permanent. By paying attention to a few important issues, you can build the right foundation and free yourself to concentrate on the big challenges."
Why It Made the List: This is probably the most useful book ever written for the budding entrepreneur. Every page is crammed full of actionable information, expressed in an easily understood, common sense manner.
Subtitle: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations
Authors: Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone
Key Takeaway: The latest scientific research on team behavior reveals that conventional wisdom about teamwork is wishful thinking. This book provides a blueprint for using that research to create more effective teams.
Best quote: "Teams are not strictly practical responses to immediate challenges and situations. Teams are at the heart of what it means to be human. Put another way, as human beings, we must form teams. It is encoded in our DNA. It has proved to be the critical factor in the rise of civilization. The human drive to form teams is also a survival mechanism for individuals. The archeological evidence suggests that even the earliest hominids always grouped together to live and hunt."
Why It Made the List: Almost everything written about teams and teamwork is rah-rah bullsh-t. This is the real deal, with the real science behind it.
The Go-Giver, Expanded Edition
Subtitle: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea
Authors: Bob Burg and John David Mann
Key Takeaway: Changing your focus from getting to giving--putting others' interests first and continually adding value to their lives--ultimately leads to unexpected returns.
Best Quote: "Go looking for conflict, and you'll find it. Go looking for people to take advantage of you, and they generally will. See the world as a dog-eat-dog place, and you'll always find a bigger dog looking at you as if you're his next meal. Go looking for the best in people, and you'll be amazed at how much talent, ingenuity, empathy, and goodwill you'll find. Ultimately, the world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated."
Why It Made the List: This easily read, highly engaging book teaches lessons that go far beyond the realm of sales and business and into the realm of living a fulfilled life.
The School of Greatness
Subtitle: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy
Author: Lewis Howes
Key Takeaway: You can discover your own purpose in life and build effective strategies for achieving it by understanding how other exceptional people have done so in their own lives.
Best Quote: "A vision is the most important step to getting anywhere and achieving anything you want in any area of life. But we also have to be clear about what a vision is. A vision is not just a dream. A powerful vision emerges when we couple our dreams with a clear set of goals. Without both, we are apt to wander in a clueless and purposeless fog, because a dream without goals is just a fantasy. And fantasies are the bad kind of visions--the hallucinogenic kind, not the real kind."
Why It Made the List: While this book contains no great surprises, it's consistently interesting and helpful. It's particularly useful for entrepreneurs looking for inspirational role models.
Subtitle: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder
Author: Arianna Huffington
Key Takeaway: The unrelenting pursuit of success is a trap unless you consciously decide to slow down, create cherished memories, and pursue lifelong passions.
Best Quote: "If we let it, technology can also add a lot of noise and distraction that gets in the way of our most fundamental creative capabilities--instead of freeing us, it can consume us. What we're beginning to recognize now is that success is not always about doing more, but also about doing better--and we do better when we are connected to our inner wisdom, strength, and intuition."
Why It Made the List: As I've said before, nobody ever says on their deathbed: "I wish I'd spent more time at the office."