Successful Entrepreneurs And VCs Share Their All-Time Favourite Business Books

You are what you read, and if your goal is to build a massively successful company where you call the shots, you might want to start with the following books.

We asked wildly successful entrepreneurs and VCs, including Mark Cuban and Peter Thiel, for their top book recommendation. Here’s what they said. 

Bianca Male, Aimee Groth, and Alison Griswold contributed to this article.

'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand

Self-made billionaire Mark Cuban tells Business Insider that this book is required reading for every entrepreneur.

It's also a favourite of Charlie O'Donnell, a partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. He says, 'I don't know any book that sums up the entrepreneurial passion and spirit better than 'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand: 'The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.''

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'The Effective Executive' by Peter Drucker

This is one of the three books that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his senior managers read for a series of all-day book clubs. Drucker helped popularise now commonplace ideas about management. For example, that managers and employees should work toward a common set of goals.

'The Effective Executive' explores the time-management and decision-making habits that best equip an executive to be productive and valuable in an organisation.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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'The Innovator's Dilemma' by Clayton Christensen

Jeff Bezos also had his executives read 'The Innovator's Dilemma,' one of the all-time most influential business books and a top pick of several other founders and VCs, whose reviews are below.

Steve Blank, a former serial entrepreneur who now teaches at U.C. Berkeley and other schools, says of the book: 'Why do large companies seem and act like dinosaurs? Christensen finally was able to diagnose why and propose solutions. Entrepreneurs should read these books as 'how to books' to beat large companies in their own markets.'

Chris Dixon, an investor at Andreessen Horowitz and a former cofounder and CEO of Hunch, notes: ''The Innovator's Dilemma' popularised the (often misused) phrase 'disruptive technology,' but there's a lot more than that one big idea. Great insights into the 'dynamics' (changes over time) of markets.'

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'Business Adventures' by John Brooks

This collection of New Yorker stories by John Brooks became Bill Gates' all-time favourite business book after Warren Buffett recommended it to him in 1991.

Gates says of the book: ''Business Adventures' is as much about the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in challenging circumstances as it is about the particulars of one business or another. In that sense, it is still relevant not despite its age but because of it.'

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'Benjamin Franklin' by Walter Isaacson

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, says this book is one of his all-time favourites.

'You can see how (Franklin) was an entrepreneur,' Musk says in an interview with Foundation. 'He was an entrepreneur. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.'

Musk has read other books by biographer Walter Isaacson, and he also recommends 'Einstein: His Life and Universe.'

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'Think and Grow Rich' by Napoleon Hill

Daymond John, cofounder of clothing business FUBU and investor on ABC's hit pitch show 'Shark Tank,' tells Business Insider that Napoleon Hill's classic business book, 'Think and Grow Rich,' changed his life.

'The main takeaway from that was goal-setting,' John says. 'It was the fact that if you don't set a specific goal, then how can you expect to hit it?'

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'Conscious Capitalism' by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

Kip Tindell, the cofounder and CEO of The Container Store, tells Business Insider that this is a must-read for entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Tindell is close friends with John Mackey, the cofounder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and says they both believe in Conscious Capitalism, 'that a win-win is what's most profitable, and that no one has to lose. Business schools have discovered it, studied it, and found that companies that practice it are more successful.' This book is a great primer.

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'As A Man Thinketh' by James Allen

Life and career coach Tony Robbins, who's worked with President Bill Clinton and hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, tells Business Insider that he's read 'As A Man Thinketh' more than a dozen times.

He often gives the book as a gift because it's concise, easy to read, and profound. 'It's the whole concept of understanding that your thoughts really, truly shape everything in your life that you feel and experience,' Robbins says.

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'Things Hidden Since The Foundation of the World' by René Girard

Billionaire Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook, loves the work of French philosopher René Girard.

Thiel first read 'Things Hidden' when he was an undergraduate at Stanford University, he tells Business Insider. While he calls it 'an intimidating book,' it deeply affected the way he views the world and business.

He finds Girard's thinking on these two points especially powerful: '(1) Competitors tend to become obsessed with their rivals at the expense of their substantive goals, and because of that (2) the intensity of competition doesn't tell you anything about underlying value. People will compete fiercely for things that don't matter, and once they're fighting they will fight harder and harder,' Thiel explains.

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'The Obstacle Is the Way' by Ryan Holiday

Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss, who made a name for himself with his book 'The 4-Hour Workweek,' recommends Holiday's 'The Obstacle Is the Way.'

The 2014 book examines leaders like Marcus Aurelius and Steve Jobs who've effectively led others using the principles of ancient Greek Stoicism.

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'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert Pirsig

Brad Feld, cofounder of the Foundry Group, a venture capital firm focused on investing in early-stage tech companies, recommends this classic book about a father-son trip across the US.

'Anyone who is creating anything should read this book, slowly, and savour it,' Feld says.

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'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell

Paul Jozefak, a managing director at Liquid Labs GmbH and former managing partner at Neuhaus Partners, calls this book 'some great advice on how decisions are made.'

Gladwell explores the science behind decision-making and intuition, a topic of great importance to any aspiring business leader.

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'Reality Check' by Guy Kawasaki

Penelope Trunk, cofounder of virtual event platform Brazen Careerist, says she loves to flip through the chapters of this book.

'Each one is like a blog post, so you learn something on every page,' Trunk says. 'And each chapter reminds me to be a little bit better at something I'm doing already.'

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'Switch' by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of analytics company Qualaroo, recommends this book to any entrepreneur.

It explores the psychology behind why it's so hard to make lasting change and how to do it. Ellis says his key takeaway from it is to 'double down on things that are working.'

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'Out of the Crisis' by W. Edwards Deming

Roger Ehrenberg, the founder and managing partner of IA Ventures, calls this book and the material it covers 'critical for the startup founder.'

'Big or small,' he says, 'this book focuses the entrepreneur/manager on respecting employees, focusing on process, and insisting on the collection and analysis of data.'

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'Peak' by Chip Conley

Fred Destin, a partner at the venture capital firm Accel Partners, describes this book as 'Maslow's hierarchy of needs adapted to the business world.'

It's 'not that well written (sorry Chip),' he adds, 'but sound advice on achieving 'sustainable outperformance' and leveraging crises for the better.'

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'Influence' by Robert B. Cialdini

David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and a partner at 37signals, recommends this book to anyone in business.

''Influence' teaches you how to sell and deal with customers by treating them as humans,' he says. 'Great stuff.'

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'Lucky or Smart?' by Bo Peabody

Mark Peter Davis, a managing partner at Interplay Ventures and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Singularity University, describes this book as 'insight into some of the unique trials entrepreneurs face.'

Written by serial entrepreneur Bo Peabody, the book shows readers how they can put themselves in the right place at the right time and set the conditions for success.

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'Extreme Programming Explained' by Kent Beck

Babak Nivi, a founder of AngelList and Venture Hacks, says this book is 'revelatory.'

'Develop your product like this book tells you to, unless you know better (e.g. you have experience building operating systems, space shuttles, Googles),' says Nivi. 'Buy the first edition.'

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'The Four Steps to the Epiphany' by Steve Blank

Nivi also recommends this book by serial entrepreneur Steve Blank, calling it 'the closest thing to a manual for building a startup.'

Entrepreneur and Andreessen Horowitz cofounder Marc Andreessen also appreciates the book, saying it is 'a roadmap for how to get to Product/Market Fit.'

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'Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War' by Robert Coram

Blank has another recommendation of his own.

He says of this work: 'Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act -- the cornerstone of Customer Development and the Lean Startup was first invented by a fighter pilot. Read his story.'

Get it here >>

Want to keep reading? Here are the best of the year:

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