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My 30 Favorite Business Books

As of January 2011, I have been earning a living on my own for 30 years.  It's as good a time as any to list the books I often recommend to clients and those that have made a huge difference in the way I do business.

For your convenience, the covers link to the books' descriptions on Amazon.  These are not affiliate links.

Bound for Success

The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill.  Incredibly, Hill first published this work in 1928.  Depending on which edition you read, it presents 16 or 17 timeless principles of business success that Hill derived from close study of the careers and operating principles of 19th century greats like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison.  The way he explains his "mastermind" idea here is much more spiritual than the contemporary version of the concept.

The Way of the Guerrilla by Jay Conrad Levinson.  Interested in achieving balanced success as an entrepreneur?  Having maintained a three-day workweek since the 1970s, Levinson shares his perspectives on measuring success, delegating, creating positive relationships with customers and vendors, living your passion and dealing with change.

The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less by Peter Bowerman.  Because I coach so many copywriters, I have probably suggested this top-notch how-to book more often in the last 15 years than any other.  I also recommend it highly to anyone who wants to gear up for a campaign of cold calls. 

6 Steps to Free Publicity by Marcia Yudkin.  Psychologists tell me that no matter what they say, parents do have favorite children, and likewise, this is my favorite of all the books I have written.  It was energizing and educational for me to write this book, and I'm excited to know that it has spawned many, many successes for its readers.

Growing Your Business

Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out- Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition by Jay Abraham.  I absorbed the contents of this book before it was published, through a subscription to Abraham's paid newsletter.  He offers solid ways to increase your earnings through strong offers, referrals, creative deal-making and more.

No B.S. Business Success by Dan Kennedy.  If you haven't read anything by Dan Kennedy, who deserves an honorary Ph.D. in street smarts, this is a decent place to start.  Although I take issue with his politics and some of his marketing tactics, I have learned loads from Kennedy.

Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss.  Deservedly a classic, this should be read by anyone who sells services.  Weiss is one of the two smartest people I have ever personally met.  (The other was a professor of mine at Cornell, Max Black.)  His book offers the voice of experience on developing proposals that earn a "yes" and pricing for profit, among many other useful topics.

There's a Customer Born Every Minute: P.T. Barnum's Secrets to Business Success by Joe Vitale.  I love how grounded this book is in P.T. Barnum's actual life (versus the legends) and how it conveys ideas relevant to today's business world in an entertaining fashion.  Highly recommended if you're looking for creative approaches to self-promotion.

The Craft of Communication

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.  Nicknamed "Strunk and White," this little gem of a book deserves to be read and reread early in your career, until its principles of clear, concise writing become second nature to you.


Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.  Filled with many helpful examples, this book explains how to make your communication clearer and more to the point by straightening out the overall message first, then paying attention to your choice and arrangement of words.

Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman.  As you might expect from the man who spearheaded the TED conferences, this is an unclassifiable book of brilliant observations on instances where communication goes wrong, along with suggestions of principles that make information easier to take in.  My copy is crammed with more than two dozen little bookmarks so I can quickly find the passages that inspired me most.

Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity by Jakob Nielsen.  Yes, the Web has evolved since Nielsen published this book in 2000, but at least 85% of the perspectives in this book about communicating through a web site are still valid.  Learn how and why to adopt the visitor's point of view when presenting your business online.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte.  Discover how to communicate data clearly in charts, graphs and schematic pictures.  Fascinating and thought-provoking. 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.  A tremendously influential, research-backed book on the psychological elements that help you persuade people to buy or agree with you, including reciprocation, scarcity and social proof.


How to Get Ideas by Jack Foster.  Of all the 200+ books I have read on the creative process, this one has the best anecdotes and the wisest lessons.  It's tightly written and cutely illustrated. 

You Don't Have to Go Home From Work Exhausted by Ann McGee-Cooper.  You've heard of time management, but how about energy management?  That's the focus of this nicely illustrated, well-written and engaging discussion of improving your productivity and work stamina.

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau.  Even more astonishing than the fact that this quirky romp of a book was actually published (in 1947) is that it was translated from French to English.  It retells a simple story over and over again 99 different ways, with some of the writing styles insanely baroque and others philosophically instructive.

The Art of the Possible by Dawna Markova.  I am so grateful to my friend Kathleen Lake for introducing me to Markova's work on learning styles.  It has vastly improved my self-understanding, my ability to relate to people who learn differently than I do and to get my message across to those with communication preferences that diverge from mine.

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore.  Ounce for ounce, this book contains more help than any other I've read for procrastinators or anyone who is stuck or stalled in a big project.

The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz.  This author had quite a following in the 1980s for his blueprints on how to break out of unproductive patterns and reach difficult goals.  My heavily underlined and annotated copy contains an insert showing offices in five countries.  This is a discussion of the dynamics of personal creativity that if you're like me, you'll come back to again and again. 

The Psychology of Wealth

Secrets of Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny.  What, a matchmaker making more than $100,000 a year?  A makeup artist doing so?!  This book is eye-opening and freeing.  Whether you're male or female, if you are not earning up to your potential, it's helpful to measure yourself against the attitudes of the successful people interviewed in this book. 

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.  I remember clearly what a revelation this 1996 book was to many people in documenting that most wealthy people actually drive ordinary cars and that most people who flash signs of wealth aren't necessarily rich.  Reading it reinforced my belief in living below one's means as a steady route to the lifestyle of one's dreams.  

Spider, Spin Me a Web by Lawrence Block.  A very small section of this book (Chapter 38) contains mystery writer Block's unconventional philosophy of financial security for writers, which left a lasting impact on me.

The Seven Laws of Money by Michael Phillips.  Despite the hippie-dippie tone of this 1974 book and its wild design, the author was not a dope-smoking dropout but one of the financial wizards who brought MasterCard into being.  Phillips' Law 5, "You can never really give money away" and Law 6, "You can never really receive money as a gift," are especially worthy of deep reflection. 

Money and the Meaning of Life by Jacob Needleman.  During a period when I spent several years working on an (unpublished) autobiography centered on the theme of money, I found this book extremely helpful in casting light on the various cultural reasons why we might be tempted to measure ourselves by money. 

Money-Smart Secrets for the Self-Employed by Linda Stern.  Most personal finance and money management books give short shrift to the topics small business owners and solo entrepreneurs need help on the most.  This book fills that gap with practical guidance on budgeting, record keeping, managing risks, planning for retirement, collecting money from clients and more.

The Zen of Business

The Way (also known as Dao De Jing or Tao Te Ching) by Lao Zi.  I never got very far reading Sun Zi's Art of War, assigned in many MBA programs, but this other Chinese classic from the sixth century B.C. resonates deeply with me.  I also happen to be married to someone who often quotes from Chapter 56 of this work: "He who knows does not speak.  He who speaks does not know."

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.  "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities;  in the expert's mind there are few."  In parables, instruction and teachings, this book explains why it can be so challenging to find a simple answer, to stay humble and to create elegance in any realm of life (including business).  

Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est by W.W. Bartley III.  There isn't an adequate book on the controversial legacy of Erhard Seminars Training (est), but this book is the next best thing.  Like me, Bartley was an academically trained philosopher who benefited from Werner Erhard's shortcut to enlightenment.  To outsiders, est was a cult in which bullies kept a ballroom full of people from taking bathroom breaks over the course of two weekends.  The positive impact of this Zen-like human-potential training, however, which I took in the summer of 1978, lingers with me to this day.  With both my clients and myself, it enables me to separate beliefs from facts and think more clearly.

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie.  This book offers a life-affirming method of detaching yourself from self-defeating patterns, especially when you believe that people - clients, competitors, the economy, family members - are harming you.  Usually the harm turns out to be in your own head.  Katie has an unusual combination of sweetness and steely loyalty to the truth that shines a compassionate mirror on someone who's suffering and helps them see the way beyond.  Though this book doesn't have much business content, her method of inquiry definitely applies to business issues.

A Bonus

My all-time favorite novel is The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier.  Most years I read well over 100 novels, and this is one that has stuck in my memory for more than 30 years as not only being a compelling read but also containing wise lessons about life.  The story concerns a weary film composer who flees the city and heads upstream on the Amazon, farther and farther from civilization.  In a simple village that couldn't be any deeper in the jungle, he starts to live outside of time, recovers his creativity and makes a fateful, tragic choice.  The prose of this book, translated from Spanish, is lush, the themes profound and the plot riveting.

Your Own Book?

Over the years, I've been hired as a developmental editor, pre-publication critic, marketing coach and how-does-it-all-work publication consultant for scores of books.  For in-depth help, come work with me on your book in Maui next winter or spring and write it all off on your taxes.  Or stay at home and make astounding progress in 30 days through my Book Intensive coaching program.


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