Here are 35 books on leadership and business, plus advice on finding calm in the chaos, creativity and innovation, and overcoming obstacles.
Best Books on Leadership
They make their own rules. They stand up for what they believe in. We can all learn something from these true stories of badass leaders.
1. “Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography” by Ranulph Fiennes
Sir Ranulph Fiennes has traveled to some of the most dangerous and inaccessible places on earth. A modern-day explorer, he was the first to reach both the North and South Poles by surface and the first to cross the Antarctic Continent without support. Plus, he discovered the lost city of Ubar in Oman.
In his autobiography, the elite soldier, athlete, philanthropist, and mountaineer describes his journey full of courage, stamina, and madness.
2. “The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey” by Che Guevara
The travel diary of a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara across Latin America, “The Motorcycle Diaries” gives us a glimpse into the experiences and adventures that shaped him into one of the world’s most legendary revolutionaries, activists, and leaders.
3. “Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man” by Dale Peterson
In 1960, a young woman with virtually no scientific training headed to Africa to conduct the first long-term, intensive study of apes in the wild. With patience and perseverance, Jane Goodall’s observations of chimps redefined what it means to be “human.”
This biography is an in-depth look at the life and work of one of today’s most revered environmentalists and humanitarians.
4. “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
After winning the presidency, Abraham Lincoln recruited his political rivals for his administration and eventually gained their respect and admiration.
“Team of Rivals” is the story of one of the greatest leaders in history and demonstrates the value of turning opponents into allies and the power of having different perspectives on one team.
5. “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S.C. Gwynne
As white settlers aggressively and violently expanded their territory across America, one tribe was a stronghold against expansion for more than four decades. Known as the most skilled horsemen and fiercest warriors of their time, the Comanche tribe not only prevented white expansion, they actually regained territory claimed by the settlers.
This true account of the legendary Chief Quanah and the battle to save his people and homeland is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
6. “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope” by William Kamkwamba
This autobiography tells of a young boy in Malawi who was determined to build a windmill that would bring water and electricity to his village. Kamkwamba was unwavering in his dream, even as his fellow villagers doubted him and as his family and country survived through a famine.
This memoir proves what can be achieved with the combination of a scrappy can-do attitude, an innovative mind, and determination.
7. “Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster” by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer, author of “Into the Wild,” and accomplished journalist and climber, was a member of the 1996 Mount Everest expedition — which ultimately became one of the most tragic expeditions — in which 12 lives were lost in an unexpected and brutal storm.
A compelling story of the struggle to survive, fatal human error, the courageousness of the sherpas and Krakauer himself, and grappling with ongoing feelings of guilt, “Into Thin Air” is a bone-chilling read, equal parts devastating failure and immeasurable bravery.
Best Books on Business
These men and women have built some of today’s most successful companies. Their stories of both the struggles and triumphs experienced along the way can motivate anyone working to build a business.
8. “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie
TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie has built a successful business, donates to important causes, and loves his job. He insists that we don’t have to choose between profit, passion, and meaning — we can have them all.
“Start Something That Matters” is not only the inside story of the growth of a thriving company, but a philosophical guide on how to live the lives we truly desire.
9. “Built from Scratch: How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew the Home Depot from Nothing to $30 Billion” by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank
“Built from Scratch” is the journey of two men with an idea and some time on their hands — actually a lot of time, since they had both been fired prior to coming up with the idea for Home Depot.
A fun and informative read, chocked full of humorous stories, their concept of a wide-open warehouse store with low prices and great customer service grew from nothing to a $30 billion business over 20 years.
10. “Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic” by Mel and Patricia Ziegler
Mel and Patricia Ziegler had an idea to refashion military surplus as clothing for safaris and expeditions. With no business experience and just $1,500, they learned on the job and broke every rule in merchandise and marketing, greatly exceeding all expectations.
The early journey of Banana Republic is still regarded as one of the most remarkable rises to success in the history of both fashion and business.
11. “The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work” by Scott Berkun
WordPress.com has the potential to impact the future of the Internet on par with Google, Amazon, or Facebook, while only using a fraction of the resources.
After working as a manager at WordPress.com, Microsoft veteran Scott Berkun shares his insights on the company’s unique culture that continues to generate impressive results in creativity, productivity, and leadership.
12. “One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com” by Richard L. Brandt
The author of “One Click” interviewed employees, competitors, and other industry experts to provide readers with an inside view of Amazon.com.
The result is a compelling story of the business, its founder, and its ongoing evolution and expansion into new markets. Anyone in business can learn lessons from this company that continually reinvents itself.
13. “By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop” by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson
The co-founders of Gilt Groupe changed the way we shop. They transformed the experience of shopping from an all-day, leisurely activity to an instant, competitive, sometimes addictive online experience.
Follow their journey through the difficulties of getting up and running, surviving through the recession, and dealing with their own personal weaknesses as they built their company, now valued at $1 billion.
14. “Personal History” by Katharine Graham
“Personal History” is Katherine Graham’s refreshingly frank account of the once-floundering Washington Post and its uphill battle to succeed. With virtually no business background, Graham learned on the job, and led the company through turbulent times — including coverage of the Watergate scandal.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography contains lessons for all of us on overcoming obstacles in work and in life.
Best Books on Finding Calm
Stress and anxiety are often a given when working at a startup — but they don’t have to be. Leaders in business, sports, and spirituality offer advice to find calm amidst the chaos.
15. “Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way” by Richard Branson
The business genius shares inspiring and outrageous stories of entrepreneurship, leadership, and life.
Richard Branson’s autobiography is a lesson in finding the balance between striving for professional success and living a life full of family, friends, and adventure. If Branson — who has found success in airlines, music, and retail — can find a balance and enjoy life, the rest of us can, too.
16. “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
Years ago, Tolle experienced a personal transformation from a deep depression to an awakening — a complete surrender to what is.
He walks readers through concepts like the power of living in the present; your life is always happening now, though minds tend to focus more on the past or future. His teachings guide us in releasing ourselves from lives of stress and dissatisfaction.
17. “The Art of Happiness” by Dalai Lama XIV
The spiritual leader of Tibet collaborated with a psychiatrist to create this guide on overcoming everyday anxiety, anger, and insecurity.
A living example of his teachings, the Buddhist monk has lived through brutal violence against Tibetans and exile from his own country, yet is always quick to smile and laugh. The Dalai Lama shares his wisdom on dealing with life’s obstacles and living with a deep sense of inner peace and happiness.
18. “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington
Years ago, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group found herself incredibly “successful” in business, while suffering from extreme exhaustion and not truly enjoying her life.
In this deeply personal book, Arianna Huffington suggests that to be truly successful, an individual needs to strive not only for money and power, but also to thrive for well-being, intuition, compassion, and a sense of wonder. Huffington shows readers the way to revolutionize both their careers and personal lives.
19. “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams” by Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra teaches us how to align with the subtle yet powerful forces that can bring abundance into our lives — including an abundance of wealth and success.
This book helps us step away from our daily tasks and worries and ask ourselves the bigger questions, like what we truly wish to accomplish in life. Chopra presents us with seven simple concepts we can implement in our personal lives and careers to promote success.
20. “The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey” by Muhammad Ali
Revered boxing champ Muhammad Ali shares his journey from childhood to professional boxing to his battle with chronic illness.
An exploration of spirituality, finding one’s true path, and accepting life’s hardships, this memoir is an inspiration in finding peace and thriving in spite of life’s many obstacles.
21. “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
Great leaders and thinkers have turned to this collection of meditations and philosophical exercises for centuries.
Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 to 180), who created “Meditations” for his own personal use, provides encouragement, motivation and powerful questions that have shaped the way centuries of leaders have impacted the world.
Best Books on Innovation and Creativity
Innovation and creativity are must-haves in order to create a successful business and adapt to changing markets. True stories of creative geniuses can motivate our own efforts to develop innovative workplaces.
22. “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, gives us this engaging glimpse inside the company that has created some of the most successful and innovative films in history.
“Creativity, Inc.” is the ultimate guide to building a creative culture at work and bringing out the best in every one of your employees.
23. “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield
A practical and engaging guide for anyone in the creative sphere, “The War of Art” will inspire readers to conquer their own roadblocks and achieve great creative success.
This book can motivate artists and businesspeople alike to reach their full potential.
24. “Jim Henson: The Biography” by Brian Jay Jones
This biography takes us through the journey of the creator of The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, and many more innovative and experimental films and TV shows.
The soft-spoken, introverted leader developed an environment for his team where work and play were the same. Jim Henson often struggled to convince investors and business partners of the potential of his “out-there” ideas, but ultimately he became one of the most sought-after creators of his time.
25. “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation” by Jon Gertner
Bell Labs – the biggest and arguably best lab for new ideas in the world – was responsible for researching and developing the future of communications from the 1920s through the 1980s.
Jon Gertner explores the eccentric dream team of five men who spent their careers at Bell Labs, offering guidance on recruiting and nurturing young talent and showing what happens when genius minds are provided ample space and resources to explore technological innovation.
26. “Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters” edited by Bill Morgan and David Stanford
Writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg defined the Beat Generation and were both friends and inspirations to one another.
This enthralling collection of letters exchanged by the two cultural icons from 1944 until Kerouac’s death in 1969 gives us insight into how they led the artistic and creative movement that defined their generation.
27. “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution” by Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson, writer of the biography “Steve Jobs,” authors this fascinating look at the great minds behind the computer and Internet. He reveals that many of the most powerful innovations in the industry were developed collaboratively.
This is a story of pioneers in technology, exploring what made them so creative and the power of working in teams.
28. “Many Years from Now” by Paul McCartney and Barry Miles
“Many Years from Now” provides a glimpse into the artistic and social development of The Beatles.
Some of the most fascinating passages are Paul McCartney’s in-depth accounts of the collaboration between himself and Lennon, including his recollection of the genesis of every song co-written by the legendary duo. Creativity and collaboration at their finest.
Best Books on Overcoming Failure
Obstacles and failure are unavoidable when building a business. These stories can motivate us to turn our weaknesses into our greatest strengths.
29. “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela stood up to a government that was systematically oppressing black South Africans and spent 27 years in prison for his “crimes.”
The civil rights leader was released in 1990, became president of his country, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Struggle, setbacks, hope, and triumph – it’s all here in this beautifully-written memoir of one of history’s most inspiring leaders.
30. “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success” by Megan McArdle
People fail. Businesses fail. “The Up Side of Down” explores how the most successful among us recognize failure, learn from it, and pick ourselves back up.
The author combines findings from research in psychology and business with insights from professionals like emergency room doctors, mountaineers, and venture capitalists. The result is a compelling “how-to” book on turning failure into success.
31. “The Pursuit of Happyness” by Chris Gardner
An autobiographical rags-to-riches story, Chris Gardner struggled to create a better life for himself and his young son.
From homelessness and soup kitchens to an extremely successful career in finance, Gardner’s life story, set in San Francisco, is truly one of the American Dream.
32. “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul” by Howard Schultz
In 2008, Howard Schultz returned as CEO of Starbucks eight years after stepping down, concerned the company had lost its way. During tumultuous economic times, Schultz led the business from struggling to thriving, while dealing with his own limitations as a leader.
As he explains in this book, Schultz lives by the philosophy that it’s not just about winning, it’s about succeeding in the “right” way.
33. “Steve Jobs” By Walter Isaacson
This biography of Steve Jobs is based on 40 interviews with the Apple co-founder over three years, plus hundreds of interviews with family members, friends, colleagues, and competitors.
This is the definitive portrait of Steve Jobs, through his trials and successes as an innovator and genius entrepreneur.
34. “Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur
In the 1970s, J. Edgar Hoover aggressively campaigned to criminalize black nationalist organizations. In 1977, despite weak evidence, Black Panther Assata Shakur was convicted as an accomplice in the murder of a white state trooper.
She escaped from prison two years later and was granted political asylum in Cuba, where the activist remains to this day. Shakur’s intense and honest story is one of strength, trials, tragedy, and hope.
35. “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell examines why some of us exceed all expectations – the “outliers” – while others fail to meet our full potential. He scrutinizes what people like Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles had in common – extraordinary talent, yes, but also cultural privileges and good timing.
In an industry known for its lack of diversity, this book has the potential to change perspectives in Silicon Valley – both of employers and job seekers – for the better.
We hope you enjoyed this list of the top 35 books on leadership, business, innovation, and more. If you have recommendations of additional books we should add, please let us know by tweeting us at @ThinkApps.