100 Best Business Books of All Time?


Business list mixes Covey with Seuss – JSOnline

There's a new book I saw at the airport the other day, a compilation of short summaries of the “Best 100” business books of all time:

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You

I'm a big reader (and a little writer…. so a book about books is pretty appealing!

Inspired by the list posted here, I present the list with my annotations… which books are YOUR favorites? I need to re-read Leadership Is an Art by Max Depree, which I first read in high school because my dad had it in the house. What a powerful book. Between that and Dr. Deming's “Out of the Crisis” being so influential, it's no wonder I'm often the “square peg” in a traditional organization.

Which books would you avoid at all costs? For me, the “avoid” is “Execution” by Bossidy for reasons both rational and emotional.

BOOKS IN THE 100 BEST…that I have read or want to read:

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  • How to Be a Star at Work by Robert E. Kelley
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleby Stephen R. Covey
  • How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey B. Mackay
  • The Power of Intuition by Gary Klein
  • What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson
  • Oh, the Places You'll Goby Dr. Seuss/Theodore Geisel
  • Chasing Daylight by Eugene O'Kell
  • On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
  • The Leadership Moment by Michael Useem
  • The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  • Leadership Is an Art by Max De Pree
  • The Radical Leap by Steve Farber
  • Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will by Tichy and Sherman
  • Leading Change by John P. Kotter
  • Questions of Character by Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr.
  • The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
  • Never Give In! Speeches by Winston Churchill
  • In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove
  • Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
  • Discovering the Soul of Service by Leonard Berry
  • Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
  • Competing for the Futureby Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad
  • Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD
  • Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
  • A New Brand World by Scott Bedbury with Stephen Fenichell
  • Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith
  • Zag by Marty Neumeier
  • Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore
  • Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Ziglar
  • How to Become a Rainmaker by Jeffrey J. Fox
  • Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
  • The Experience Economyby B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore
  • Purple Cow by Seth Godin
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
  • Financial Intelligence by Karen Berman and Joe Knight
  • The Balanced Scorecard by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
  • The Essential Drucker by Peter Drucker
  • Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming
  • Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno
  • Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy
  • The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox
  • The Great Game of Businessby Jack Stack with Bo Burlingham
  • First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald CliftonThe
  • Knowing-Doing Gapby Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
  • Titan by Ron Chernow
  • My Years with General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.
  • The HP Way by David Packard
  • Personal History by Katharine Graham
  • Moments of Truth by Jan Carlzon
  • Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton with John Huey
  • Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
  • The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
  • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
  • The Republic of Tea by Mel Ziegler, Patricia Ziegler, and Bill Rosenzweig
  • The Partnership Charter by David Gage
  • Growing a Business by Paul Hawken
  • Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson
  • The Monk and the Riddle Randy Komisar with Kent Lineback
  • McDonald's: Behind the Arches by John F. Love
  • American Steel by Richard Preston
  • The Force by David Dorsey
  • The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
  • When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  • Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie
  • The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman
  • Jump Start Your Business Brain by Doug Hall
  • A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger Von Oech
  • The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
  • The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  • The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy
  • Out of Control by Kevin Kelly
  • The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  • Driven by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria
  • To Engineer is Human by Henry Petroski
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins
  • Up the Organization by Robert Townsend
  • Beyond the Core by Chris Zook
  • Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer
  • What the CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan
  • The Team Handbook by Peter Scholtes, Brian Joiner, and Barbara Streibel
  • A Business and Its Belief by Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
  • Lucky or Smart?by Bo Peabody
  • The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman
  • Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko
  • More Than You Know by Michael J. Mauboussin

What do you think is missing from the list? What else should I put on my “To Read” list?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Of what’s on the list, I would say absolutely read Flow and Six Thinking Hats. I think an important read is Emotional Intelligence and anything by Drucker. And of course as a father of 3 I think the first business (life?) book people should read is Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

  2. Mark,
    My guess is that you’d also enjoy “Up the Organization” by Robert Townsend. It’s easily the most entertaining business book I’ve ever read. Townsend was once described as an “archenemy of corporate bueaucracy”, and this book is subtitled “How to Stop the Organization From Stifling People and Strangling Profits”, which seems like something you’d enjoy.

  3. Since ‘people’ is at the core of lean then recommends are:

    Good Business by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi

    The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

    Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

    The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

    And although The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman is well conceived a very good practical view of globalization can be had with The Pentagon’s New Map by Thomas PM Barnett.

    I don’t have any ‘avoids’ but then I haven’t read most of the books on the list. Would love to see which ones should be crossed off if any.

    Thanks for this post and all ov the comments by your readers it will help reduce wasted time reading.

  4. I would certainly recommend most of those previously mentioned and add, Leading Change by John Kotter. It really helped in kicking off the lean steering committee consisting of senior management.

  5. I vote for Fred Taylor’s “Principles of Scientific Management”.

    The weather in Philadelphia was so gorgeous today that I rerouted my constitutional over to St. Martins and Highland where I stood in front of the remains of Boxly- Taylor’s last home and considered that which had drawn me to become a manufacturer in the first place- Taylor’s synthesis of labor and management toward a common good.

    Lean sycophants seem to miss the egalitarian basis for Taylor’s work while focusing on the later mis-application of Taylor’s work by that bricklayer Gilbreth.

  6. From what’s on the list, I’d encourage the “lean” community to check out Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Reading it, assessing ourselves, and then working the exercises in the companion “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team” gave us the capability as a team to take on organizational transformation. For all our talk about teamwork and all the sports metaphors we toss around, what do we know about the practical assessment and change methods for group dynamics? It’s here in these books, and even comes with an approach to metrics that should appeal to the engineers in the crowd.

    Not on the list? Drucker’s “The Practice of Management” for the foundations of understanding of what it means to take responsibility in an organization. His insight is timeless.

    And “Chasing the Rabbit” is a “must read”, because Steve Spear gets it!!! What are the capabilities of high performance organizations? Spear tests his theories in the real world.


  7. Ah, Rearden and his Taylor love. We’ll continue to disagree on this. Taylor made some contributions, to be sure, but I still don’t like his whole vibe (not having met the man myself, it may be an unfair assessment, I’ll admit).

    I can attest to the warmth in Philadelphia, being physically here in the City of Brotherly Love through Wednesday.

  8. Lean Thinking doesn’t even belong on a list of best lean books, let alone this list.

    Missing might be Henry Ford’s Today and Tomorrow.

  9. +1000 for Orbiting the Giant Hairball – essential for those of us working in larger firms.

    Another favorite of mine:
    Throwing The Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up Stanley Bing

  10. I assiduously avoid anything by Stephen Covey (or his kids or his pets). Friedman’s Flat Earth book was too “gee whiz” naive for me so I never read any of his others. Nice to see Charles Handy and Gordon MacKenzie on the list. My recommendation for anyone new in a leadership position is Ram Charan’s “What the CEO Wants You to Know.”

    So what’s with the lean thinkers and Philly these days? Must be the water or something. After a lifetime in the frozen auto wastes of Michigan I now live only an hour from downtown Philadelphia.

  11. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen is great (though I would suggest his Innovator’s Solution). Team Handbook is excellent though I think the Leader’s Handbook (also by Peter Scholtes) is actually the single best management book).

    Add at least one book by Ackoff to the list. See Curious Cat recommended management books:


    Knowing-Doing Gap is very good as is the Effective Executive. When Genius Failed is a nice read (nice focus on financial markets). Emotional Intelligence is also decent. As is Flow.

  12. Leading Change by Kotter is a very useful book and very quickly read. It has the largest type I have ever seen in a book. A bit simple, but solid advice and refreshing to read as there is not too much bulls*** in it.

  13. I was very intrigued by the book “Flow”. I read it years ago before I really knew anything about lean. I recently re-read it and I think it is an excellent study in why people would want to work in a true lean system vs. batch-and-queue. This even though the book is not at all about lean.

  14. Brian – thanks for the tip. Just started reading What Would Google Do? Also had it recommended by someone else.

    Also read Seth Godin’s “Tribes”. Not on the Best 100 list, but really interesting and inspiring stuff.


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