Inc // 22 Books Highly Recommended by Successful People
June 27

Inc // 22 Books Highly Recommended by Successful People

People who achieve the most in life are often voracious readers.

People who achieve the most in life are keen on self-improvement, which is why they're also often voracious readers. Here are some excellent titles to check out, recommended by nearly two dozen successful executives.

1. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero


"The difference between someone who is successful or not isn't usually capabilities, it is the ability to believe in their capabilities. There's a pervasive myth that successful people are born with an abundance of self-confidence--they just knew early how good they were. In reality, some of the most skilled people in the world start out with significant self-doubts. The difference is that they take the time to learn self-confidence. You can spend your career building skills in your chosen field, but without personal confidence, you won't give yourself the opportunity to fully express your expertise. I love this book, because it breaks down how to recognize the difference between self-doubt and capabilities, and how we can manage self-sabotaging beliefs--all while infusing some humor into a very serious topic. Plus, who doesn't want to think of themselves as a badass?"

--Wendy Yale, VP of marketing at data center and cloud security company Illumio, which has raised $267.5 million and is trusted by nine of the largest 15 financial companies in the U.S., as well as three of the top seven SaaS providers

2. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

"I read books about business a lot, but this is the one that I always find myself going back to. It's likely because his approach to business resonates with me on many levels and how I'm always thinking about 'how can this be done better?' Which means to break the status quo and carve your own path, which is why I started Greats in the first place."

--Ryan Babenzien, co-founder and CEO of Greats, a Brooklyn sneaker brand available on, in select Nordstrom stores, and in Greats' brick-and-mortar locations in Venice, California, and New York City

3. Shogun by James Clavell


"[It's] the story of an Englishman trying to break a Portuguese monopoly and ultimately used as a pawn by a Japanese lord. Japan changes John Blackthorne and, as he is used by Lord Toranaga, he makes his own indelible mark on Japan. This learning experience of adapting to and operating within foreign cultures is a challenge our clients face as they expand globally. Toranaga's narrative shows us the importance of meticulous planning based on solid data, which is how we support our clients' businesses to expand and invest abroad. James Clavell uses detail and rich description to tell a spellbinding story on a vivid backdrop and made me see the world as a grander stage."

--Jason Gerlis, managing director for TMF Group USA, a cross-border consultancy with 7,000 employees across more than 80 countries serving 15,000 corporate clients 

4. Creating Business Magic: How the Power of Magic Can Inspire, Innovate, and Revolutionize Your Business by David Morey, Eugene Burger, and John E. McLaughlin

"It's been said that a magician never reveals his secrets, but the late, great magician Eugene Burger writes about how magic isn't only about doing tricks, but how it can inspire business innovation and disruption in this work that he co-authored with David Morey, a corporate strategist, and John E. McLaughlin, a former director of the CIA. I've been fascinated by magic my entire life and had the great fortune of being taught for many years by Eugene. He and his co-authors give amazing insight into how magicians think, and demonstrate how that thinking, when applied to business, can lead to results that are as amazing and unexpected as even the greatest illusion." 

--Andy Lansing, president and CEO of Levy, a national hospitality company serving more than 200 U.S. sports and entertainment businesses

5. Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown


"Most leaders today are being asked to do more with less, and, for me, this book is a road map of how to do that the right way. After studying 150 leaders over four continents, Wiseman found certain leaders, known as Multipliers, amplify and actually multiply the intelligence of others, getting on average two times more out of their people. The book shares practical suggestions for becoming a Multiplier and also helps self-diagnose the less favorable 'Accidental Diminisher' behaviors. This is a game changer in a time when what a leader knows matters far less than how fast they can maximize what other people know."

--Belinda Oakley, CEO of Chartwells K12, one of America's largest food-service providers, serving more than 4,000 schools across the United States

6. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman 

"This is the most impactful business book I have ever read, so much so that I reread it every year. In this book, Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, catalogs the areas where the human brain and logic are at odds. For example, he shows people have a bigger aversion to loss than a desire to win, which means they don't take risks even when the odds are in their favor. He also explores recency bias, the idea that the human brain focuses disproportionately on things in the recent past (e.g., avoiding the ocean because of a recent shark sighting despite the incredibly low odds of an actual attack). By making me aware of my biases and foibles, this book has helped me make more logical and just better decisions in business and in life."

--Manny Medina, CEO of Outreach, a sales engagement platform that supports more than 1,200 sales teams and 15,000 reps worldwide and recently raised $65 million at a half-billion-dollar valuation

7. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz


"[It's] the best book a first-time founder CEO, or really any CEO, can read. It's a gloves-off account of what it's really like to take responsibility for people and results. I am yet to read anyone, on any topic, who shares his journey with just brute honesty and authenticity, including some very personal lows. Hiring and firing, facing the board and investors and all manner of gut-wrenching decisions a CEO needs to make. I continue to experience the exact things Ben describes and it helps me to remember that someone else was there and came out the other end."

--Omer Molad, co-founder and CEO of Vervoe, an intelligent hiring platform that uncovers hidden talent through real-world tests, tasks, and tools designed by experts, which has been used by over 4,000 companies in more than 70 countries

8. 1776 by David McCullough

"I've been through several startups, and it is hard to express in words the dangers and the thrill of the earliest days. I believe that these feelings are well described in 1776 as it walks through the first and arguably the toughest year of the American Revolution. George Washington and the founding fathers faced insurmountable odds, had absolutely no systems or organization, and had to make up a lot of it as they went along. There was doubt in the plan itself and in the general who was carrying it out. We read it now knowing how successful the outcome is, but when they lived it they had no idea if they would even have a chance of success. It really captures the essence of what makes startups the hardest and most thrilling business endeavor."

--George Mashini, CTO at ‎Quick Base, maker of a no-code tool that enables workers to build apps without needing to know how to write code and that is used by more than half of Fortune 100 companies, including Google, Kayak, and Southwest Airlines

9. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell


"[A] fun and a fast read, this book prompts much thought and discussion involving the secrets to success with a series of compelling essays. Gladwell draws on a diverse and interesting set of examples to paint a picture of what it takes to make a person a success story. To me, one of the most important takeaways is that hard work matters much more than raw talent. In the chapter '10,000 Hours,' Gladwell cites a study of music students, which found that the number of hours spent practicing is the key determinant in mastery. But, while successful people must invest the time to master their craft, they can only do that when the circumstances and unique events of their lives allow it. I think that there's an important lesson for every entrepreneur and high achiever about the value of a lot of hard work and a little luck."

--Jyoti Bansal, serial entrepreneur who is founder and CEO of BIG Labs, a startup studio; co-founder and CEO of Harness, a continuous delivery startup; co-founder of venture capital firm; and founder and former CEO of AppDynamics, an application intelligence software company acquired by Cisco for $3.7 billion in 2017

10. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

"Many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, but this one looks distinctly at his political acumen and how it helped him overcome obstacles in his presidency. Something I found really interesting is how he assembled a cabinet of leaders that were either more established politically than he was or had even competed with him for office. It is a perfect example how great leaders--whether in politics or business--bring together individuals whose abilities may surpass their own in certain areas, with the end goal of creating an optimal, high-performing team."

--Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca, a call intelligence company that was recently named one of Inc.'s "Best Places to Work" and has received numerous awards for its newly launched voice A.I. product, including a spot on CB Insights' AI 100

11. The Winner Within by Pat Riley


"A few years after I started Ultimate, I received a copy of this leadership book by legendary basketball coach Pat Riley, who's now president of the Miami Heat. I must've read it hundreds of times. I see many parallels, in how we've built an all-star team that wins championships. It's since become required reading at Ultimate. We give copies to our people when they join our team. In the early days of Ultimate, Pat's words guided me. He became a mentor, if only through the pages in the book. Last year, when we teamed up with the Heat and became the jersey sponsor, it felt like I'd known Pat for years. Seeing Ultimate's logo on the Heats' jerseys is still an unbelievable feeling."

--Scott Scherr, CEO and founder of Ultimate Software, an HR tech platform that is on track to hit $1 billion in annual revenue this year and is used by companies such as Subway, First Horizon, the Phoenix Suns, Yamaha, and Nikon

12. High Output Management by Andy Grove

"Andy Grove's book is the stuff of legends, and for very good reason. Where most business books dispense trendy concepts or silly declarations, High Output Management is more essential, balancing counterintuitive ideas (people quit because of their bosses, not because of their jobs) and incisive observations (meetings can be for establishing consensus, sharing knowledge, or arriving at a decision--and it's important to know which sort of meeting is happening). The most impressive thing about this book is how it's still teaching me things. Like many business books, it introduces frameworks, processes, and mindsets that are valuable, but unlike others it provides new and deeper layers of value and insight every time I go back to it."

--Caleb Bushner, VP of digital strategy at Bateman Group, an integrated public relations and social media communications agency that has been named one of the "Best Boutique Agencies to Work For" by the Holmes Report and "one of Silicon Valley's top-tier tech agencies" by PR Week, and earned a gold Bulldog media award for best consumer tech launch


13. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

"The main concept of this book is that change is a constant cycle that should be welcomed rather than resisted, which is a valuable lesson for every business leader. As someone in the cybersecurity industry, this concept is especially relevant, since our job is to drive organizational change based on the current threat landscape. Security is constantly evolving and what you sold three years ago is now likely an outdated technique. While this may initially be viewed as a challenge by your marketing, engineering, and sales teams, it shouldn't be. The Heath brothers' book teaches us that when leaders articulate their vision and empower employees for broad-based action, industry shifts can become a driving factor for the success of a business."

--Jason Clark, chief strategy officer at Netskope, a cloud security startup with $231.4 million in funding that grew subscriptions by triple digits in 2017

14. The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs

"This book offers an incredibly clear and accessible explanation of how economies expand and specialize. By taking a city-centric view rather than a nation-centric view of economies, Jane Jacobs clarifies how the world works, how businesses are born, and how they are tied to the existing economies and geographies around them."


--Peter Reinhardt, co-founder and CEO of Segment, used by more than 15,000 companies across 71 countries to achieve a common understanding of their users and activate their own data to create customer-first decisions and experiences

15. Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Storyby Chris Nashawaty

"I've drawn countless parallels between this book, which tells the story of how the movie Caddyshack developed and became the cult classic, and what it's like to manage diverse, talented individuals in a business that may not be totally 'predictable.' Like millions of others in the 'cult,' I love golf, humor, and Cinderella stories. And I am always intrigued by the process of creativity and innovation. The story of Caddyshackchronicles a classic case study in big personalities, oversize egos, and free-form innovation. The best and brightest in 1970s comedy came together--from many different perspectives--to create an unpredicted and (still) unparalleled masterpiece. Sometimes you literally can't script success. And you've got to be OK with that. Let the talent loose, let them do their thing, don't micromanage, and you just might get more than you expected. Which, as Carl Spackler would say, 'is nice.'  The book is also a lesson in patience. Caddyshack was deemed to be an underachievement early on, until it found its target market. It was a slow burn to reach its pop culture status, where it has become the most-quoted motion picture of all time. A Cinderella story."

--Tom Buiocchi, executive director and CEO of ServiceChannel, a facilities management technology company that supports brands like Under Armour, Chipotle, Louis Vuitton, CVS Health, and Equinox


16. Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

"As part of the leadership team and as a team leader, I'm always looking for ways to retain talent. However, it's much more than that: My aim is to ensure my team understands our company mission and inspire all members of the team to aggressively seize our opportunity and to own their respective areas. For decades, I've heard, and sometimes even been the culprit of, so many clichés in cultural advice and thinking. After putting down Laszlo's book, I had to continue on my mission to make our entire global team highly informed, aligned, and integrated with our company mission and culture. Being more transparent and opening the floor for feedback is truly important to me, and it's not a crazy change. Google isn't the only company that can pull that off!"

--Carl Tsukahara, CMO at Optimizely, a platform used by more than 26 of the Fortune 100 companies to power their global digital experiences

17. Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney


"Play Bigger explores the inner workings of industry leaders like Amazon, Ikea, Pixar, and even Elvis Presley that have proven to be a challenge to unseat. Their secret sauce: becoming category kings. Whether you're an executive or an entrepreneur looking for guidance in your next venture, this book is a must-read for innovators looking to build successful and sustainable companies. This guidebook argues that if you're not inventing, developing, and dominating a new market category, you're already losing. It articulates to CEOs and the entire C-suite, not just the CMO, why category creation should be viewed as the third leg of business strategy, alongside product design and company design. Anyone looking to build and grow a business should read this book cover to cover."

--Scott Holden, CMO of ThoughtSpot, a search and A.I.-driven analytics platform that recently raised $145 million in new funding, with total funding at $306 million

18. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

"[This book] helped me think more critically as we were in the early stages of developing our business. Ultimately, the concepts from the book reshaped our strategy and eventually led us to apply for and join Y Combinator. The rest is history, as they say. I don't agree with all of it (I definitely don't take it as gospel), but the core concepts of the five-whys and, more broadly, really committing to getting things done and making sure they're right for the customer are completely key when you're building a startup."

--Russell Smith, CTO of Rainforest QA, an on-demand quality assurance testing company that was recently named one of Inc.'s 2018 "Best Places to Work" and services hundreds of companies, including Adobe, Oracle, and SolarWinds

19. Good to Great by Jim Collins


"This book is a deep exploration of the Hedgehog Concept, a concept that empowers readers to figure out what lies at the intersection of: 1) what they are passionate about, 2) what they are really good at, and 3) what drives their economic engine. People who build great companies are often hedgehogs who know what lies at this cross section for them and pursue it doggedly (as opposed to the fox, who knows a little bit about everything). Trying to be a hedgehog has not only helped me reflect on my past and my company's past but also think about what direction I want to take it in. From a more tactical perspective, it has also helped me reimagine hiring, where I can now think about what an incoming candidate's superpower might be, and how it fits into Optimove's future."

--Pini Yakuel is CEO of Optimove, maker of an A.I.-powered customer relationship management software that lets brands like 1-800-Flowers, Adore Me, and Freshly send emotionally intelligent and personalized communications to customers

20. Restaurant Operator's HR Playbook by Carrie Luxem

"This is a new release from one of my favorite personas on LinkedIn, particularly as she is a thought leader in HR, specifically in the hospitality industry, and this is so relevant to what we are doing at ShedWool shift scheduling apps. Her insights into culture, best practices, and ways to engage and retain talent while maintaining an optimized P&L are all at the center of what we're doing, and the format is interactive and incredibly concise, and helps provide me with insights into one of our primary use-cases (managers of shift workers) to perfect ShedWool as we continue to grow our feature set and functionality. I enjoyed reading this, benefited greatly from it, and highly recommend it!"

--Cory Warfield, founder and CEO of ShedWool smart scheduling software and apps, which has bootstrapped its way to profitability, saved its users over half a million dollars in 2017 in its open beta, and is currently scaling its user base and feature set on iOS, Android, and Web

21. It Must Have Been Something I Ate (The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything) by Jeffrey Steingarten


"There are very few books I reread for pleasure, but Steingarten's book is pure joy. I heartily relate to his intense compulsion and scientific curiosity behind each dish he encounters. One of the best chapters is about the lobster roll--primarily, the role of the lobster in that sandwich from conception through molting through its final moments of life. Tacos, baguettes, turducken, you name it. He answers questions about our food we would not think to ask, yet are inextricably linked to health and humanity."

--Priya Kamani, MD, founder and CEO of LivingMatrix, a patient information management system for personalized and functional medicine that claims to have established the most extensive clinical and research network in the industry and the largest database for personalized and functional medicine research in the world

22. How to Win Friends and Influence People ­­by Dale Carnegie

"[This book] is a must-read. I first read it when I was 18 and felt like I needed to change how I built and maintained relationships, and I've reread it several times since then. It holds up a mirror to the reader and forces you to look inward at your own approach to building and fostering relationships. The lessons are practical and immediately applicable and are provided in such a way as to clearly highlight how the advice has been used to great effect. This book has provided me with invaluable advice in winning people over, providing others with feedback and criticism, handling feedback and criticism, and making a good impression on people. It puts the reader in the driver's seat and immediately makes you feel as if you can succeed in building fruitful relationships. Plus, how could you not love a book in which each chapter ends with a bulleted list of the main points of that chapter?"


--Kyle Lelli, general manager of the Tylt, a social polling and opinion platform reaching 50 million people each month, primarily Millennials