Business books can be a little dull, especially if they are from academia. Do we need to read constantly about business management best practices? Not really. It might even be better to put those books down and just start managing better.
When I read, I look for books that inspire me and make me want to embrace new ideas. They don't fall neatly into categories; they are just amazingly well done and worth my time. Here are my top picks (in order).
1. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, by Brian Grazer
There's something absolutely amazing about this book, and it's not just the trope of "stay curious" in business. What impressed me is how producer Grazer went to such great lengths to interview famous people like sci-fi author Isaac Asimov and medical researcher Jonas Salk. The stories about how he tracked them down points to a need to have incredible perseverance in business. In some cases, Grazer waited a year or more to get the face time.
2. The Road to Character, by David Brooks
Brooks writes a column for The New York Times and he's a frequent pontificator on television, but don't miss the seminal non-fiction work by David Brooks about what it means to have virtue. What drew me to the book was not the same thing that kept me reading. I was curious about what Brooks had to say about moral character, but the stories of labor activist Frances Perkins and social activist Dorothy Day were so well-researched and detailed, I wanted to find out more.
3. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
This book was a no-brainer for me to buy and read, since McCullough is one of my all-time favorite authors. What surprised me was how inspiring the story of the brothers--who invented not just the airplane but the age of air travel in general--really is. For anyone running a company, it's motivating because you see that it took incredible determination and willpower, even though the brothers had barely any education or financial support.
4. Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, by Paul Theroux
Another favorite author of mine, Theroux writes about his experiences traveling through the South over four different seasons. As usual, the writing is rich and detailed. Theroux includes many encounters with a cast of characters, some wily and some wise. He has one chapter intro in which he seems to make fun of his own writing style that you should not miss. A famous curmudgeon, he starts the book by explaining what's wrong with other travel books.
Check your politics at the door if you can, but this book about the elder Bush is worth reading just for analyzing how to write a biography and complete your research. It's amazing to see the details Meacham includes, everything from private journal entries to behind-the-scenes stories of famous political events. The main reason I recommend it for entrepreneurs is to peel back a few layers of greatness, particularly the ability to win people over in subtle ways.