Books That Matter

We asked entrepreneurs which books were most influential in helping them build their companies. The result: Our summer reading list

Carol Bartz

Executive Chairman, Autodesk

"A little book called THE CONATIVE CONNECTION, by management consultant Kathy Kolbe, has been by my side for years. It explains motivations and work styles better than anything else I've read. In any business, you have to bring out the best in people. The only way to do that is to understand them."

Randy Boudouris


"The story that keeps me going is that of Teddy Roosevelt in THEODORE REX, by Edmund Morris. Here was a President who had a ton of critics but kept moving forward with his vision. The message is good for all small business owners: It's not the critic that counts."

Larry Spear

Founder, BFE Telecom

"Stories of people's lives give you inspiration when things get overwhelming. For me, inspiration came from WHY SHOULD WHITE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN?, by Blair S. Walker and Reginald F. Lewis. Lewis, the first African- American billionaire, came from meager beginnings, like a lot of us. He climbed the ladder and led the first major leveraged buyout of Beatrice Foods. This book lets you know that sheer hard work really can make a difference. It's inspirational no matter what color you are."

Dan Thralow

CEO, Thralow Inc.

"By far, THE 22 IMMUTABLE LAWS OF MARKETING, by Al Ries and Jack Trout, has affected me the most. This book gets right to the heart of the issue of branding, which is simply staying focused. I've got a ton of ideas, but until I read this I didn't know how to focus and stay focused."

Davin Wedel

Founder, Global Protection

"When you're a small business owner you have to do everything, and it's the details that can kill you because you forget how to dream. I like books that speak to me about big-picture things, and I find that in literature, especially fiction. I was traveling to Asia recently and I read THE PIANO TUNER, by Daniel Mason. This is a story about self-discovery and passion, and it reminds you to think big."

Harvey Mackay

Founder, Chairman & CEO,

Mackay Envelope

"I tell entrepreneurs not to read books. Rather, underline them. Beat them up. Turn the pages. And go back all the time for advice. A book that will stand the test of time and one that I absolutely devoured is Thomas Friedman's THE WORLD IS FLAT. If a businessperson doesn't understand that everything is portable and the world really is a very small place, he or she better read this book."

Jennifer Litwin

President, Jennifer Litwin


"When I was in grad school, I read all the business books, but I've since discovered that I like books that are more personal. DECODING YOUR DESTINY, by Carmen Harra, is an important book that talks about free will and motivation. It is a kind of manual for an entrepreneurial tune-up, a guide to how to focus and live your dreams."

Doug Ducey

CEO, Cold Stone Creamery

"No.1 on my shelf is THE EFFECTIVE EXECUTIVE, by Peter F. Drucker. There was a time when the growth of my business was completely out of control and my time wasn't my own. The business was essentially unmanageable. This book taught me how to be more efficient. I would have been lost without it."

Sam Chapman

CEO, Berman Health & Media

"KANE & ABEL, by Jeffrey Archer, is a novel about two brothers vying for success -- how they compete, and how that competition drives them. It grabbed my imagination as a young person and taught me how one could exercise power in entrepreneurship through self-confidence and imagination. The book also explored the ideas of the exercise of power and profit for personal gain and competition for its own sake."

Dwight Aspinwall

Co-founder, Jetboil

"I'm a people-obsessed kind of guy, so it's books about people that have really influenced and helped me out the most. EDISON: A BIOGRAPHY, by Matthew Josephson, has to be the most influential. Thomas Edison's life story gives a lot of credence to sticking with an idea and then working hard to make that vision real. Edison is the classic American inventor, the hands-on guy. In any small business, you invariably need to be hands-on, and then you learn how to relinquish control."

Tony Hsieh


"THE TIPPING POINT, by Malcolm Gladwell, talks about the power of word of mouth, and that's exactly what we've built Zappos on. Rather than spend a lot of money on marketing, we instead focus our resources on providing the best online shopping experience, which results in more word of mouth and therefore more customers."

Sean O'Leary

Co-founder & CEO, Genscape

"When we started out, there was a point at which we were in debt, couldn't make payroll, and were about ready to toss in the towel. Then I read INTO THIN AIR, by Jon Krakauer. Here was a guy who was left for dead on Mt. Everest, and if you need a story about survival and beating the odds, this is it. This is a great read for anyone in business and can certainly give you the motivation to keep on trying."

By Joan Raymond

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