Reading is hot. A recent wave of popular success gurus, including Tai Lopez, Tyler Cowen, and James Altucher, are pumping out videos, newsletters, and articles encouraging their fans to immerse themselves in books to find solutions to their most pressing business problems. They aren't wrong. But when it comes to becoming more persuasive, many businesspeople look in all the wrong pages.

Most of the marketing books and self-help guides that fill airport bookshops are ineffective, because their advice is based on how their authors think the world should be. The books in the list that follows take the opposite tack. The titles it contains are controversial--in fact, many of their recommendations will be perceived as downright offensive. They deal with the parts of human nature we often prefer to hide away in the shadows.

With that said, if you want to get other human beings to do your bidding (in other words, sales), every book on this list is indispensable.

1) Crystallizing Public Opinion, by Edward Bernays
There seems to be a new PR agency popping up every few days, and (it would seem) for good reason. With hundreds of television channels; thousands of magazines and newspapers; and countless blogs, podcasts, and social media platforms, you need someone with connections to get you mentions.


Edward Bernays, the author of Crystallizing Public Opinion, saw it differently. As Bernays describes in his 1923 masterpiece, the true purpose of public relations should not be to get in the news but to actually create the news. And Bernays would know--he invented the term "public relations." In Crystallizing Public Opinion, the man who got Americans to eat bacon for breakfast lays out a method for molding minds en masse. For close to a hundred years, governments, captains of industry, and advertising giants have been secretly using this book as their bible. Follow their lead.

2) The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, by Gustav Le Bon
The Crowd is the most influential book nobody talks about. First of all, it's old. It sparked Sigmund Freud's ideas about the unconscious and inspired the mass brainwashing techniques of the 20th century's most hypnotic despots. It turns out that the principles and tactics described in this book work as well in business as they do in psychoanalysis and politics. For those who want to learn how to get large numbers of people to fervently follow them and spread the word on their behalf, The Crowd is a must.

3) Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday
In many ways, Trust Me, I'm Lying is the 21st-century version of Bernays's and Le Bon's masterworks of persuasion. In this book, the former head of marketing at the hype-reliant American Apparel reveals how he drummed up extreme visibility by playing the digital media ecosystem. Despite his claims that he wrote the book to soothe his guilty conscience, Holiday devotes the bulk of it to giving us concrete techniques for manipulating the internet press, generating widespread controversy, and turning it all into dollars. For anyone who is long on ideas and short on cash, Trust Me, I'm Lying is the handbook for getting the modern world to pay attention to what you're selling.

4) Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson
If Trust Me, I'm Lying is the practical handbook for winning minds and eyeballs, Age of Propaganda is the guide to understanding why it all works so well. By studying a wide range of master persuaders--including advertisers, televangelists, cult leaders, political propagandists, master salespeople, undefeated trial attorneys, and campaign strategists--Pratkanis and Aronson have pinpointed the cognitive distortions and mental pressure points the most influential among us know how to find and use. Backed by contemporary brain science research, Age of Propaganda reveals the real reasons persuasion works and takes down a lot of popular myths in the process.

5) The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, by Tim Wu
The newest book on our list, The Attention Merchants is an instant classic of persuasion literature. Author Tim Wu wrote the book to bring awareness to a little-discussed economic paradigm that has shaped almost every aspect of our modern world--one in which our attention is bought and sold at a premium. In doing so, he dissects the mechanics of how the most sophisticated attention-getters in the world work their magic. While Wu has framed The Attention Merchants as a cautionary tale, it doubles as an instruction manual for anyone trying to capture attention in the information age. And if you're in business today, that means you.