Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift or to catch up on your reading, there were plenty of blockbuster business books in 2014.
We’ve collected our favourites of the year — from billionaire Richard Branson‘s leadership insights to media mogul Arianna Huffington‘s thoughts on success — which are guaranteed to not only educate but entertain.
Richard Branson is a self-made billionaire who dropped out of high school to pursue a life as an entrepreneur, and his Virgin Group conglomerate now includes airlines, a bank, and a new hotel line. Throughout all of the ups and downs in his 40-year career, Branson has never stopped remaining positive and fun-loving.
His latest book 'The Virgin Way' is packed with little-known anecdotes that illustrate valuable management principles. For example, he explains why the time he called one of his companies demanding he speak with Richard Branson himself was a valuable exercise, albeit a goofy one, in stepping outside a leadership bubble and testing customer experience.
Billionaire Peter Thiel is as well known for being the cofounder of PayPal and first investor in Facebook as he is for being one of Silicon Valley's prominent freethinkers.
'Zero to One' is a concise, fluff-free treatise on the business philosophy he first taught in a Stanford University class, as collected by his former student Blake Masters.
Thiel explains concepts like why 'monopoly' shouldn't be a bad word but rather something to strive to become, and why Silicon Valley has become mired in a culture of competitive imitation rather than true innovation.
'Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder' by Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington says that we usually measure success by two metrics: money and power.
This can get people into all sorts of trouble, like when the Huffington Post founder woke up in a pool of her own blood after collapsing from exhaustion.
She realised that well-being is an important part of success. In 'Thrive,' she backs up her argument with academic studies relating to mindfulness meditation and at-work performance.
'These are numbers that directly affect the bottom line,' she says. 'It's not just someone's idea of what a good life is.'
'The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers' by Ben Horowitz
Before cofounding Andreessen Horowitz, a top Silicon Valley venture capital fund, Ben Horowitz helmed Opsware, a software management company that sold to HP for $US1.6 billion in 2007.
All that experience is boiled down in 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things.'
'Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes,' Horowitz writes. 'They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don't know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.'
More than any other business book released this year, 'Hard Things' gives an insider's perspective on what it's like to lead and scale a startup.
Google has long been regarded as one of the best companies to work for. If you've wondered how exactly Google is able to create a work environment that manages to be both fun and efficient, Google's former CEO and current chair Eric Schmidt and former SVP of products Jonathan Rosenberg break it down for you.
There are some great anecdotes in there, as well, such as the time Schmidt used his first day on the job as CEO to order the cluttered office space be cleaned up, leaving cofounder Larry Page confused and angry the next day (thankfully, the garbage collectors had yet to pick up anything set aside).
'Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration' by Ed Catmull
Pixar might be the most consistently brilliant company on Earth, making $US8 billion in gross revenues off of only 14 movies.
In 'Creativity, Inc.,' Pixar President Ed Catmull unwraps the exciting, strange history of the animation company.
The reader gets a first-person view into the animation studio's incredibly difficult launch -- their first product was a $US125,000 computer that no one wanted and Disney wanted the original Toy Story to be a musical -- and Catmull reveals something of the secret sauce in Pixar's success.
Sophia Amoruso is the outspoken founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, a Los Angeles-based fashion retailer that recently expanded into its first brick-and-mortar stores.
Her book #GIRLBOSS is part memoir, part career guide for young women. It could be described as a punk rock version of Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In.'
'You don't get taken seriously by asking someone to take you seriously,' Amoruso writes. 'You've got to show up and own it. If this is a man's world, who cares? I'm still really glad to be a girl in it.'
Celebrity life coach Tony Robbins has spent the past 30 years reaching millions through his books, audio lessons, and presentations. His personal coaching clients include former president Bill Clinton and legendary investor Paul Tudor Jones, and it was partially his relationship with Jones that inspired him to write 'Master the Game.'
It's an introduction to the basics of investing as told through Robbins' signature inspirational voice. Robbins interviewed 50 of the world's top financial minds to gather advice that investors of any skill level could benefit from. The book includes insight from Ray Dalio, the billionaire manager of the world's largest hedge fund, and Carl Icahn, the billionaire activist investor whose decisions reverberate throughout Wall Street.
'Think Like a Freak: The Authors of 'Freakonomics' Offer To Retrain Your Brain' by Steven D. Levitt And Stephen J. Dubner
In 2005, Steven D. Levitt And Stephen J. Dubner did the unthinkable: They made economics cool.
In 'Freakonomics,' and their followup 'SuperFreaknomics,' the authors argued that all sorts of surprising links shape our society, most controversially with the claim that legalized abortion lowered crime rates.
In 'Think Like A Freak,' the authors reveal the critical thinking tool set that led them on these adventures.
Thinking like a freak 'means putting away your moral compass and not worrying about what the answer 'should' be, but focusing on what the answer really is,' Levitt told us. 'It means thinking hard about causality. It means going beyond the obvious to consider all the possibilities -- but still being willing to accept the obvious.'
Ryan Holiday's book is an engaging introduction to the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism, as illustrated by anecdotes on historical figures like Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller.
Holiday uses these examples to show that Stoicism remains timeless not because it is a mindset that forces you to ignore your feelings in time of distress or tragedy, but rather allows you to control your emotions by acknowledging what you cannot change and determining a way to triumph over what you can.
As soon as the English translation of French economist Thomas Piketty's 700-page investigation of income inequality came out in March, it became a surprise New York Times bestseller and media staple for weeks, with passionate opinions for and against Piketty's conclusion that inequality levels are at dangerous levels around the world.
In a review on his blog, Bill Gates explains that 'Capital' is far from perfect, but an important book that's worth reading. 'The debate over wealth and inequality has generated a lot of partisan heat. I don't have a magic solution for that,' Gates writes. 'But I do know that, even with its flaws, Piketty's work contributes at least as much light as heat. And now I'm eager to see research that brings more light to this important topic.'
Contently founder and author Shane Snow takes a look at recurring habits and mindsets of those who are able to rise to a high level of success in a remarkably short time.
Snow takes a look at examples like how Jimmy Fallon's accelerated path from sketch comic to 'Tonight Show' host was largely due to exceptional relationship-building, how improv school Second City has consistently produced some of the world's funniest comedic actors through a rapid learning method, and how Elon Musk was able to convince others that pursuing a private space flight company with SpaceX wasn't insane.
Snow then lays out key takeaways from each of these stories so that you can be as efficient as possible in your daily work life and in achieving long-term goals.
In 2014, as in every year before it, we felt busier than ever.
In 'Overwhelmed,' author Brigid Schulte takes us on a tour of our busyness.
'In surveys, people say they're too busy to make friends outside the office, too busy to date, too busy to sleep, and too busy to have sex,' she writes.
But what's weird, she explains, is that we don't work that many more hours than generations before us. Instead, we only perceive that we're busier than ever before.
Using everything from sociology to neuroscience, Schulte explains where that perception -- and obsession -- with busyness comes from, and what we can do about it.
After graduating from Brown University, Adam Braun went to work at Bain & Company, the esteemed management consultancy.
But he couldn't shake the feeling that he wanted to do aid work abroad. So in 2008 he started Pencils of Promise, an education nonprofit, in his time away from the office.
He made the leap to running the organisation full-time. It's now grown to 80 employees and built 200 schools across the globe, affecting some 20,000 students' lives.
'The Promise of a Pencil' is a book that reveals how that growth happens.
As a 'startup really starts to grow,' Braun said to us, 'employees' responsibilities grow in relation to the growth of the organisation.'
We usually think of history as a record of what people have done.
In 'How We Got to Now,' Steven Johnson takes the machine's view of cultural development.
The connections Johnson draws are astounding. We learn how the printing press led to the discovery of the cell (thanks to the profusion of lens-making), and we learn why Chicago can thank its growth to refrigerated rail cars (because otherwise meat wouldn't it make to the East Coast in a quality condition).
Johnson is a storyteller of the highest order, and in this book he tells the story of our most essential, civilisation-shaping technologies.