The Ultimate Guide to Marketing and Business Books

Written By Kristen Baker

My parents, teachers, and coaches all instilled in me the importance of reading. Fiction or non-fiction, self-improvement or fantasy, reading supposedly makes us all smarter ... right?

Reading promotes creativity, gives us refuge from the real world, provides us with knowledge about any topic we want to know more about, makes us better writers, and inspires us. 

It just so happens that some of the most powerful business magnates in the world are also avid readers.

Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates are all self-proclaimed bookworms who attribute their success to reading.

Even billionaire Warren Buffett is said to read about 500 pages per day.

If some of the most successful people in the world credit their success to something as simple as reading, then why wouldn’t you give it a try?

Whether or not you aspire to become a billionaire, there are thousands of business and marketing books to help propel you towards your career goals. These books may just provide you with the inspiration you need to make your next — big or small — career move.

Business Classics and Fundamentals

These books provide an overview of broad business topics and give context for the way business is done today.

Business Adventures by John Brooks

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Businesses need the right people on their team to successfully plan, implement, and carry out short- and long-term goals. The way team members and leaders react in both times of success and hardship will make or break their companies. 

Circling back to the influential billionaires I mentioned above, Bill Gates calls Business Adventures — which was a gift from Warren Buffet — one of the best business books he has ever read. 

The book tells the crisis and triumph of several prominent companies, including Ford Motor Company’s Edsel disaster, the rise of Xerox, and the GE and Texas Gulf Sulphur scandals. Brooks also details the stock market crash in 1962 and the chaos that ensued on Wall Street. 

Business Adventures is a must-read for anyone who is currently running, or aspires to run, a resilient business.

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

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If you’re looking for a lighter read that provides applicable information on how to be a successful boss and colleague, then this New York Times Bestseller is for you. Scott uses her own experiences at Google, Apple, and other tech companies to provide examples of how to be a respected leader and encourage others to do their best work. 

Radical Candor shows readers how to build strong relationships in a work environment, create a culture of feedback, shape a connected team, and achieve goals everyone can be excited about. Scott is engaging, humorous, and provides readers with entertaining illustrations throughout the book. 

Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart

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Ever hear that saying, “Money and power corrupt”? That’s what happened in the 1980’s when a group of elite Wall Street financiers were involved in one of the biggest insider-trading scandals in history. Stewart recounts the damage done and the punishments the criminals received after nearly destroying Wall Street. 

This book is a great option if you’re looking to read something informational but with some added drama and excitement. Den of Thieves is not a typical “how to” business narrative about ways to stay in control of your finances. It’s a real story about the dangers of greed and arrogance in business.

Pivot by Jenny Blake

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Today, our careers are longer and a lot less predictable than they once were. Most people realize they won’t be doing the exact same type of work throughout their career. Additionally, many companies strive to help their employees find their career path even if it leads them elsewhere. 

Blake’s book helps readers arrive at the answer to the often complicated question, “What’s next in my career?” She describes her own career “pivot” and explains the importance of being adaptable, flexible, and patient when moving into a new role or company. Whether or not you know exactly what you want to do in the future, Pivot will teach you how to be smart about your next move.

Check out this blog to learn about another classic business read.

Management

CEOs, directors, managers, and even employees just beginning their careers can use these books to learn how to become strong and respected leaders in the workplace. 

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton M. Christensen

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Christensen drives his point home about the importance of strong leadership by citing some of the most successful CEOs and managers in history — such as Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. He argues that no matter what resources a company has, chances are it’s going to be hard to achieve business goals without the right people leading.

The Innovator’s Dilemma brings to light the issues that come with ever-changing technology and the impact it has on the leaders who cannot accept or keep up with these developments. 

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra

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Successful CEOs, directors, managers, and leaders aspire to be respected, liked, and impactful among other things. The issue is finding the balance between being a skillful leader that supports colleagues and employees and being able to complete their day-to-day work.

Ibarra draws on her own experience and explains how managers of all levels can make small changes to become successful, adaptable leaders. Most importantly, she teaches the reader to “think before you act.” This will allow you to create what she calls “outsight,” which is perspective gained from our own experiences. Ibarra will help you become a stronger leader through self-assessment and by creating a plan of action to learn through doing.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't by Jim Collins

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There are plenty of companies out there that are considered successful. They may have good investors, a solid group of promoters who love their brand and make enough money to sustain their existence. But what about the companies that are really killing it? Raking in the cash and growing exponentially in all forms? How did they get to where they are? How did they go from good to great?

This is the question that kept Jim Collins up at night. So he created an experiment — that lasted five years — to find out the common characteristics of 28 successful companies that made that leap from good to great. 

I won’t tell you his exact findings … that’s for you to find out on your own. But I will share something Collin’s said at the end of his experiment: “The key concepts discerned in the study fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people.” 

The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate by Fran Hauser

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OK, ladies — this one's for you. 

Hauser realized two things prior to writing this book: 1. There are few books available for women in business that detail the badass accomplishments other women are making on a daily basis, especially in positions that are stereotypically male-driven, and 2. There is a lot of misguided information about professional women that says, “if you want to be a female powerhouse in business, you have to be mean.” 

Enter: Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.

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And if you’re not mean, you must be a weak pushover … right? Not anymore!

Hauser teaches women that they don’t need to sacrifice their values, hide their real personalities, or be mean to become an impactful leader. She refers to her own experiences working in high-level leadership positions at major companies — such as Coca-Cola, Time Inc., and Moviefone — to explain these points.

The book gives readers real examples of Hauser and other successful businesswomen using kindness and authenticity to achieve greatness. Intelligent, driven, professional women of all ages will find this book refreshing and uplifting.

Finance and Investing

Managing your money doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. There are thousands of books that can help you learn to make better financial decisions no matter where you are in your career or financial journey. Here are a few to get you started.

The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel by Benjamin Graham

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The Intelligent Investor, also known as the “stock market bible,” is considered a classic in the finance and investing field. It was published in 1949 and original copies can be found on used book sites for upwards of $1,500 a piece.

If you’ve heard of a technique called “value investing,” then you already know something about Graham’s book. The strategy encourages investors to create long-term plans to shelter them from significant error or damage.

The book has been updated since its original date of publication to keep it relevant for those picking up their first copy in the 21st century. Now, there is plenty of information on today’s markets that readers can mix with Graham’s classic lessons to stay on top of their finances and better understand the market.

Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman's Guide to Financial Freedom by Marianna Olszewski

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Olszewski makes lessons about personal finance more interesting and fun by describing her own journey to financial security. Although this book is tailored towards the female reader, men and women can both learn something from savvy strategies that she and other powerful women mention — including designer Diane Von Furstenberg and Congressman Marsha Blackburn — used to reach financial success.

There are three main goals mentioned throughout the book for readers to focus on: 1. Say yes to yourself. 2. Fall in love with your money. 3. Act as if. This is a light read that gives readers applicable advice on how to achieve financial independence paired with relatable experiences to help them through the process.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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An international bestseller and the winner of more than five notable awards, Thinking Fast and Slow takes a hard look at two ways that humans think, which he calls systems. According to the author, system 1 is “fast, emotional, and intuitive.” System 2 is a bit slower, more deliberate, and logical. By understanding these systems, Kahneman tells readers about the ways we can take information and use it to shape our personal and work-related decisions. 

There are certain aspects of the two systems that should be focused on or avoided based on the environment and situation. Thinking Fast and Slow takes you through practical techniques that will help you uncover best practices in all situations.

Afterall, how are we supposed to successfully lead and help the people around us if we cannot first understand ourselves and the way we think?

Creativity

Everyone has a level of creativity — it’s just a matter of learning how to harness and apply yours. These books will teach you how to unlock and leverage your creativity in all aspects of your life.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

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Grant’s book is all about taking the road less traveled. How can you improve the world around you and become the most successful version of yourself by going against the grain and trying something new? He also asks the question: “Can you really create and implement new ideas and policies regularly without risking your career, reputation, and more?”

Grant’s answer is “yes.”

His ideas about how to take a new idea, find people to support you, and implement your plan in a successful way are all backed by studies, experiments, and real stories. He even tells parents and teachers how they can work with children on ways to apply this method.

Originals reminds us all that being “different” can be scary at times, but pushing the status quo can also be what propels us towards our greatest successes. 

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

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When I was applying to jobs out of school, I noticed how many descriptions said something along the lines of “creative-thinker required,” or “must be able to think outside of the box.” But these were such arbitrary ideas. And frankly, “think outside of the box” is such a cliché term without real meaning.

Author John Leher helps the reader define creativity. He asks deeper level, thought-provoking questions about how both imagination and epiphanies are measured. The book provides readers with ideas about how to apply creative strategy to any task.

My favorite point the book makes is that everyone possesses creativity. It’s a way of thinking, not a gene we are born with, or even a skill that we acquire. Some of us just need help uncovering and applying our creativity, which is exactly what Imagine will help you accomplish.

The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World by Nilofer Merchant

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Merchant tells readers to stop making excuses about not being able to make a mark on the world. Yes, there is a seat at the table for you.

Thanks to innovation and technology, we all have the ability to mobilize new ideas almost instantly. The issue is that plenty of people push those thoughts to the side, or convince themselves that they are incapable of being successful at them.

The Power of Onlyness explains why this is a false notion and gives readers information on how to get their ideas rolling. Anyone can make a difference. The question is whether or not you’re willing to take that first step toward achieving your goal.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

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Remember when Kylie Jenner decided she was no longer a fan of Snapchat? This information spread like wildfire, and Snapchat’s stock lost over $1 billion in one day? All because Kylie’s fans care about her opinion oh so much.

 That’s the tipping point — when a trend, idea, or behavior builds to a certain point until it essentially “tips” or causes a big change. 

Businesses need to account for this phenomenon by buffering their sales and marketing tactics to avoid major disruption. Gladwell gives readers tactical ideas on how to buffer their businesses to avoid hitting a detrimental tipping point.

Biographies and Memoirs

Sometimes we just need a little bit of inspiration. These biographies and memoirs recount the lives of some of the most successful businessmen and women and how they reached their greatest achievements.

Success Never Smelled So Sweet: How I Followed My Nose and Found My Passion by Lisa Price

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Price’s rags to riches memoir is an inspiring tale of a woman who was nearly bankrupt, took a leap of faith by starting her own business, and began grossing more than $2 million per year. 

As a child, Lisa loved fragrances and beauty products. When she hit her all-time low and only had $100 to her name, she realized that her love for these products could be her way out of debt. She created her own line of all-natural bath and beauty products that ultimately made her successful. But, more importantly, Price was successful because she loved what she was doing and was good at it. 

This is an inspiring and uplifting story about a woman who took action and changed her life forever — all from her home in Brooklyn. In her memoir, Price tells readers how difficult times do not define us, but rather it’s how we handle those times.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

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Nike is an internationally recognized brand, but would you recognize Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, if he was walking down the street? 

He’s known as a shy man who isn’t necessarily a fan of the spotlight. The level of mystery behind the creator of the brand may be the reason Knight’s memoir became a New York Times Bestseller so quickly. 

The book details Knight’s beginnings as an entrepreneur when he set out with only $50 to try and import inexpensive, high-quality running shoes from Japan. He sold the shoes out of the trunk of his car while trying to kickstart his brand.

The book reminds readers of the ups and downs that come with starting and growing a business. There are people who will doubt you and try to sabotage you, and there are roadblocks that will make you wonder if it’s even worth trying to grow your company. But there are also times of triumph when you overcome your competitors and see the fruits of your labor. Knight’s memoir shows readers why it’s worth pushing through the tough, dark times to reach success.

Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business by Barbara Corcoran

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If you’re a fan of the show Shark Tank, then you’ll know exactly who this next memoir is about. Corcoran tells her story of how she made it big. And it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park for this investor. She describes failing at 22 different jobs — yes, you read that number right.

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When she found herself waitressing, she decided something needed to change. Corcoran borrowed $1,000 from her boyfriend and started a small real estate office in New York. She tells readers about the ways she built this tiny office into a $6 billion business using the lessons her mom taught her while growing up (moms really do know everything don’t they?).

Corcoran built her business from nothing, and now she’s a“shark” on a hit show. She wrote this book to highlight that anyone can have a success story.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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Walter Isaacson uncovered the truth behind the man who created one of the biggest brands in history: Apple. In a series of over 40 interviews — which took place over the course of two years — Isaacson wrote the story of what made Jobs such a force for change. 

Jobs had no control over what was written in the book and was not able to read it before it was published, which ensured that the information is accurate and raw. Isaacson also interviewed Jobs’ family members, friends, competitors, adversaries, coworkers, and acquaintances.

Jobs' exceptionally strong personality, often unpleasant leadership style, and intense way of life shines through in Isaacson’s writing. Readers get a microscopic view into his day-to-day and thought processes. The book also has little-known stories about this entrepreneur who transformed computers, laptops, phones, and so many other devices into what we know them as today.

Entrepreneurship

Have you always dreamed of starting your own company? There are countless books available to those who aspire to own their own businesses, as well as some for those who already do.

The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

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Everywhere you turn, a new startup is popping up on the market. People all over the world are finding investors and starting their dream companies. Unfortunately, not all of them succeed. In fact, plenty of startups simply fail.

Ries takes a look at why so many startups fail and how a lot of these failures are preventable. The Lean Startup offers a new approach to the way startups are built and launched to avoid failure.

The approach gives startups a way to test their vision and business plan continuously throughout the building process, adapt it to the feedback they are getting from real customers, and then adjust it before they reach the point of failure. This is a great book for anyone who has recently started a new business or has plans to start a business. The Lean Startup is a simple yet disruptive approach that will increase any new company’s chances of success.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

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Have you ever noticed that the most successful people in life are often the ones that work hard, persist, and are also extremely passionate about what they do? Well, that winning combination is what New York Times bestselling author and psychologist Angela Duckworth calls “grit.”

Duckworth is a firm believer that anyone striving to succeed, no matter their age or professional status, needs a blend of long-term persistence and passion — not talent. She adds her own personal story to the book and mentions what it was like growing up with her father, a scientist, who often mentioned her “lack of genius.” Duckworth adds to the intrigue of the book by taking readers into the world of cadets working through their first days at West Point, teachers in some of the toughest schools in the country, and other inspirational anecdotes.

Duckworth gives readers insight on how to be persistent and find what they are most passionate about. And she shows readers that no matter who they are or where they come from, anyone can have grit. 

Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success: Discovering Your Gift and the Way to Life's Riches by Steve Harvey

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Thanks to my brother, I have watched a lot of Family Feud. Although the game show is a bit goofy at times, I often find myself laughing at the comments made by the larger-than-life personality of host Steve Harvey. His outgoing, happy, and playful demeanor makes the show. But who is Steve Harvey? TV personality, millionaire, comedian? How did he become a household name? 

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Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success is a book for aspiring entrepreneurs. It gives readers insight into how anyone can achieve financial freedom and happiness. Harvey truly believes everyone has a gift given to them at birth and that we all just need to find ours.

The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage by Daymond John

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And here’s another one for my fellow Shark Tank fans. John is one of the show’s hosts and the CEO of FUBU. He’s another entrepreneur who started with little money and successfully turned his company into a billion-dollar business. 

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The Power of Broke takes readers through the story of John selling and promoting home-sewn shirts on the streets in Queens all on a $40 budget.

John draws on his own experience and the experience of other highly successful entrepreneurs who started their businesses with nothing. He explains why the best time to start your next venture may actually be when you have the fewest resources available — you’ll be forced to learn "the power of broke” quickly as success is your only option. 

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

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Author and podcast producer Tim Ferriss is known for his extremely in-depth, two-to-three hour interviews. During these interviews, he dives deep into the minds of some of the world’s most successful business people, scientists, doctors, athletes, celebrities, and others.

Tools of Titans describes the best tactics, lessons, and tools that Ferriss learned from his interview subjects over the years. Ferriss says he has applied every tactic and method mentioned in the book to his own life to see what works for him — and what doesn’t.

Some of the questions Ferriss asks during his interviews include: What do you do in the first hour you’re awake in the morning? What is your workout routine and why? What books do you share with others? What supplements do you take daily?

Interviewing some of the world’s smartest and most talented people has provided Ferriss with life-changing information that he shares in this book to try and help improve others’ lives as well. 

Marketing

In a time where technology is ever-changing, marketers need to find new ways to target customers. These books provide marketers with a guide to some of the most classic tactics that are still relevant, as well as innovative ways to reach your target audience. 

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith

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Selling the Invisible a is straightforward, fluff-free marketing book that covers the specific tactics that help businesses to turn a prospect into a customer. The book describes how service marketing works to retain customers and turn them into promoters of a brand. The key lessons are: How to remain succinct and accessible to customers, how to keep an eye on the prize, and how to stay focused on the final goal of the customer.

Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah

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*Insert clap for HubSpot’s talented co-founders here.*

As technology has changed over the years, so has the best way to market to customers. People have little tolerance for interruptive ads. Instead, you need to attract your target audience through helpful content that adds value to the relationship and builds trust.

Detailing the core tenets of the inbound marketing methodology, Halligan and Shah show you how to attract, engage, and delight your customers to increase engagement and grow your customer base. The book outlines important tactics, such as lead nurturing, blogging, email marketing, and others, and shows you exactly what you need to do to build a successful marketing strategy that turns strangers into promoters. 

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

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To succeed as a business, you must eliminate your competitors. You also need a new idea that nobody has — something that really separates you from other brands. In other words, you need clear waters … a blue ocean.

This is exactly what the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy argue. Lasting success for a company means customers aren’t confusing your business with your competitors’ who have similar products and structures to your own. Your goal is to avoid being in the “shark-infested, bloody waters” and instead find your own calm and quiet blue ocean.

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Kim and Mauborgne give readers tips on how to find new market space and make competitors insignificant.

Conclusion

Reading about other’s successes and failures will help you follow their example and avoid their mistakes. These books — and so many more — have the potential to help you advance your career, find your passion, and stay motivated. 

Just because you graduated from college, think you landed your dream job, or even retired doesn’t mean you should stop learning. So, log onto Amazon, hit up your local Barnes and Noble, or turn on that Kindle to find a book that piques your interest and start reading.