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Practice Management > Building Your Business

25 best business books: 21-25

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While many obituaries have been written about the book publishing industry, those claims (to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain) have been greatly exaggerated. Books are alive and well though they come in many forms.

For years, I snobbishly only bought hardback first editions, preferably signed by the author. These days, I’m as apt to purchase an e-book or audio edition as I am a book in its traditional paper format.

Though Southern Literature is my first and best book love (thank you, Mr. Faulkner), I have a soft spot for a good business read as well.

Over the next five days, I’ll be releasing what I believe are 25 of the best business books ever published or at least the best of what I have read. To give the selections a thematic flavor, I’ve divided them into categories. Today’s theme: Management.

I welcome your thoughts on my selections and if you feel like I left any deserving books off the list, please leave a comment below or send me an email at [email protected]

drucker book25. The Practice of Management (HarperBusiness; Reissue edition October 3, 2006; originally published in 1954.)

By Peter Drucker

Background: Peter Drucker was a pioneer of management philosophy. His insight on the business of businesses carved a path for all subsequent management books. Upon entering graduate school, I received a letter (this was before email) from the Dean of the School. Dr. Reed didn’t mince words. She said to read Drucker’s 1954 classic management tome before the first class if I wanted to understand the levers that turn the business world.

Takeaway: While the hierarchal structure or organizations have changed, become flatter, in the 60 years since Drucker’s book was published, his ideas on peak performance, managerial responsibility and principles of production continue to resonate in the 21st Century. 

Quote: ”There is only one valid definition of business: to create a customer… It is the customer who determines what a business is.”

Up next: First, Break All the Rules

break all the rules

24. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster, 1999.)

By Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman

Background: There is no shortage of management how-to books. They litter the remainder bins of bookstores. Some good, some bad, the self-help books are too often numbingly unoriginal. Not so with “First, Break All the Rules.” In writing the book, Gallup Organization consultants Buckingham and Coffman accessed more than 80,000 interviews with managers. Their research took them in unpredictable areas, often debunking managerial “truisms” such as “treat people as you like to be treated” and “a manager’s role is diminishing in today’s economy.”

Takeaway: Where the book makes its bones is in understanding and measuring talent. The authors offer creative ideas on incentive-based pay and advise that companies tailor incentive plans to the individual.

Quote: “Today, more than ever before, if a company is bleeding people, it is bleeding value.”

Up next: Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street

business adventures

23. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street (Weybright and Talley, 1969; Open Road Media; Reprint edition, August 12, 2014)

By John Brooks

Background: Years ago, Bill Gates asked Warren Buffett a question: “What’s your favorite business book?” Buffett didn’t hesitate. “Business Adventures, by John Brooks.” As Gates later wrote: “More than two decades after Warren [Buffett] lent it to me—and more than four decades after it was first published—Business Adventures remains the best business book I’ve ever read . . . Brooks’s deeper insights about business are just as relevant today as they were back then.” 

Takeaway: In his studies of companies and the people behind them, Brooks is able to link commonalties from organizations as seemingly diverse as Xerox, Texas Gulf Sulphur and Piggly Wiggly.

Quote: (In describing the stock market crash of May 28, 1962) “If there was a villain, it appeared to have been the relatively rich investor not connected with the securities business—and more often than might have been expected, the female, the rural or foreign one, in many cases playing the market partly on borrowed money.”

Up next: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It


22. The E-Myth Revisited (HarperCollins; Upd Sub edition (October 14, 2004)

By Michael E. Gerber

Background: Gerber’s classic entrepreneurial study dispels the “assumption that a person who excels at the technical or operational work of a business will naturally succeed at running such a business.” Gerber cites many of the failure-rate statistics of small businesses (40 percent fail in year one; 80 percent fail within five year) and expounds on that data with real-life anecdotes.

Takeaway: According to Gerber, every business owner needs to simultaneously be an entrepreneur and a manager as well as a technician. It’s in this balance of skillsets that the small business owner will find optimal success.

Quote: “The problem is that everybody who goes into business is actually three-people-in-one: The entrepreneur, the manager and the technician. And the problem is compounded by the fact that while each of the personalities wants to be the boss, none of them wants to have a boss. So they start a business together in order to get rid of the boss. And the conflict begins.”

Next up: The Dilbert Principle


21. The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions (HarperBusiness; Reprint edition (April 24, 1997)

By Scott Adams

Background: Full disclosure: Before I began my career in journalism, I spent nine years as a low-level manager for a major utility company. As one of 98,000 employees and the not-very-happy inhabitant of a cubicle, I was Dilbert. Because of having lived that very Dilbert-like existence, Scott Adams’ creation has always held a special place in my heart.

Takeaway: The hopeless monotony of cubicle life deserves, nay, demands levity. Laughter is a cure-all and Scott Adams’ anti-hero, Dilbert, provides a bellyful for cubicle dwellers everywhere.

Quote:  “A company decided that instead of raises it will give bonuses if five of seven company goals are met. At the end of the year the employees are informed that they have only met four of seven goals, so no bonus. One of the goals they missed was ‘employee morale.’”


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