I'm going to be very direct. I've started many companies. I've invested in many more. Some have failed. Some have succeeded beyond anything I could have hoped for. I have learned from the best. I have been scared to death by the worst.
You don't have to listen to me. These are books I would read again and again and again if I were going to start a business.
First piece of advice: Don't read the typical entrepreneur porn book. Books about entrepreneurship are all BS. Entrepreneurship is about fighting a war in the trenches. Bad things happen. Scary things happen. Deeply personal things happen that you'll never admit ever again to anyone because of the shame you feel.
OK, I got that out of the way.
I don't even like the word entrepreneur. Everyone is an entrepreneur now. If you are an employee, it still means you have to manage your life the way an entrepreneur manages a business. You have to deal with customers, bosses, shareholders, and all the things that screw with life that happen every step of the way.
So these are books a person should read as she tries to achieve peak performance in life. As she tries to find freedom, as she tries to succeed in the relationships around her, as she tries to build competence in the areas she loves--and even find what those areas are.
Here is a curriculum I would build for such a person. Note: These are not the best books, or the most mind-expanding books. But these are books for someone who wants to improve his lot in life.
1) Mastery. Read all of Robert Greene's books.
Particularly Mastery, The 48 Laws of Power, and 33 Strategies of War.
Robert Greene does years of research on each book. He studies the psychological nuances of almost every act of victory and failure in the history of the human race. He pieces together not just the event but the underlying psychology.
As an aside, if you are truly fascinated with the study of peak performance, read Peak by Anders Ericsson, who is the original scientist behind the phrase "the 10,000-hour rule."
Read these books and think about them. I've read them all three or four times.
There's a little known series I am finding short and beautiful and useful. A friend of mine designed all the covers, so I started reading them. The Do series. Do Design, Do Story, Do Improvise, etc.
To be honest, they are a recent discovery for me. But here's why I love them: Entrepreneurship is about solving a problem.
What annoys you? What betrays you? What is unsatisfying in life? For instance, waiting for a cab on a rainy day when I have no umbrella annoys me. Thank God now for Uber.
The same issue occurs for an artist. The problem is: I see something beautiful, and I want to bring it to life with my hands. Just like an entrepreneur.
The Do books are about birthing beauty into the world. Either through art, story, performance, speaking, etc.
Entrepreneurship, at its heart, is art. The Do books tell you how to create.
I don't mean to self-promote. And to be honest, I make a total of $0 off these books.
But I wrote three books--Choose Yourself, The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, and The Rich Employee (which shows how an employee can live by the code of an entrepreneur and find success)--to help me solve my problems in entrepreneurship. The problems that nobody sees. The actual things that I couldn't deal with and had to learn the hard way.
It was really hard for me to feel deserving of success when I left the normal "standardized world." And then I failed horribly whenever success flirted with me.
I was ashamed and embarrassed until I realized that I can, in fact, choose myself for success. In these books, I document in detail how I did it, from suicide and depression to success and freedom.
Don't buy the books if you don't want to. But after 600,000 copies sold of Choose Yourself, I know they are helpful to people.
You can only be a sellout if you are selling.
Brian Grazer is a mega movie producer. Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Splash, etc.--$15 billion in box office.
He wrote a good, simple book that can be read in just a sitting: A Curious Mind, which documents how he used curiosity every step of the way to find his success in life.
If a young man wants to rise up in life and go to the top, he should cultivate the curious mind the young but seriously dyslexic Brian Grazer cultivated.
I was so interested in the book, I flew out to L.A. to visit Brian in his offices and talk about it more. He was playful, curious, full of advice, and he listened. He was unlike anyone I had ever met, which is why he's probably one of the most successful people I've ever met.
Pair the above with Ego Is the Enemy by the young but brilliant Ryan Holiday. It's a good combo.
All failure I have ever experienced happened when my ego got in the way of my rational self. At heart, we are just trying to survive. We've been given a sliver of light between two dark infinities.
There's no reason for ego. As Ryan puts it, Alexander the Great doesn't care if Alexandria is named after him.
Use the fact that everyone else has an ego to your advantage. Become the nimble and creative person who challenges everyone and rises to the top before people see it coming.
Don't forget about getting basic knowledge.
Entrepreneurs don't need to know how to read a profit and loss statement. I still don't know anything about accounting.
But know history. Know the history of knowledge. Know the history of great people.
Here are some parting thoughts on books that I think are must-reads:
Modern Times by Paul Johnson
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Socrates by Paul Johnson
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (one of my favorite books of all time)
By the way, this is only the beginning. The successful person makes reading a daily habit. I am not always good with this habit, but I try. Today I finished No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy and I started The Fight by Norman Mailer, a beautiful book about the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974.
On my list is Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan, about the relationship between the internet and art. And also on my list is The Sun and the Moon and the Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen.
Every book, try to get one takeaway. You can't absorb all of a book. It's too hard. One takeaway from each book, a solid reading habit, and good books, and you will be ahead of 99.999 percent of the human race.
But it's not a race. There's no finish line. There's only joy and well-being and the pleasure of absorbing the lives and gifts of these great authors. I hope you like this list.
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