16 great books for anyone who wants to get ahead in life

Anyone who’s serious about self-improvement, leadership and succeeding in life is a reader.

Anyone who’s serious about self-improvement, leadership, and succeeding in life is a reader. Researchers consistently find a connection between reading and higher levels of cognitive ability, creativity, and overall brain health. Need some suggestions on what to crack open next? Here are more than a dozen inspiring titles recommended by high-achieving executives.

1. Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

“Getting the right team on board is as important as anything else you can do as a leader. A single hiring mistake can cost a company more than $1.5 million a year and countless hours wasted. Based on 1,300 hours of interviews with more than 20 billionaires and 300 CEOs, [this book] gives you the strategy to fill your team with A players in easy-to-follow steps that easily cascade throughout a company.”

–Steven Auerbach, CEO of Alegeus, a consumer-directed health care company that enables 30 million Americans to pay and save for their out-of-pocket health care costs

2. Essentialism: The Discipline of the Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

“In today’s world, distractions disguised as opportunities seem to come at us hour by hour. [This book] presents a transformative model for doing fewer things, better. What fundamental values do you hold? What essential goals must you accomplish? How can you identify activities chewing up time, focus and creativity that do not contribute to top priorities? This book is having a tremendous impact on both my personal and professional life.”

–Michael O’Neil, founder and CEO of GetWellNetwork, a digital health tech company used by 10 million patients and providers annually

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama

“‘Am I good enough? Yes, I am!’ This quote … really resonated with me. Most books about accomplished individuals seem like a straight line from start to glorious end, but I was impressed by Michelle’s candor when discussing the trajectory of her career. Michelle opens up about her self-doubt and insecurities, sharing how she kept these feelings at bay and used them as motivation to excel. Someone told me early on that to succeed you should be curious, committed, and humble. These qualities keep you grounded to reality, assuring you work hard to achieve results and avoid developing an ego that can blind you. By asking: ‘Am I good enough?’ we embrace humility and acknowledge our doubts, and by saying ‘Yes, I am!’ we triumph over our shortcomings and continue on our journeys toward a better self.”

–Marc van Zadelhoff, COO of LogMeIn, a provider of software as a service and cloud-based technology for collaboration, IT management and customer engagement used by two million people a day

4. The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker

“In operating as a team at Wix, we often look to sports analogies. This book is about the special players, the ones teams can’t do without. Also, the captain isn’t always who you expect it to be, just like in real life.”

–Omer Shai, CMO of Wix.com, a website-building platform used by more than 150 million people in 190 countries

5. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

“I discovered Brene Brown during a time that I needed her wisdom and insights. It was a particularly challenging time for our growing team and I was seeking tools to help navigate the situation with clarity and kindness. I saw an article posted on Facebook about leadership and was reading it when a business associate came in to talk to me about joining a leadership group he belongs to. He showed me [this book], saying it was required reading for the group. The next day, I flew to Palm Springs and one of the keynote speakers was none other than Brene Brown. I looked to the heavens and said, ‘I get it! I need Brene Brown in my life!’ I bought copies of her book and handed them out to our team. We use her book as our primer for how we engage and grow.”

–Fran Dunaway, co-founder and CEO of TomboyX, a gender-neutral apparel company that has doubled year-over-year growth from 2015 to 2018

6. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah

“Sapiens is a story about how human beings evolved over the last 200,000 years, giving readers tremendous insight into the human psyche and the world we live in today. The book helps readers understand how to effectively work with others, as well as how to navigate your own inner mind, while looking ahead into the future and discussing how human beings may evolve and what that implication has on us. I’ve gifted this book to dozens of people and each has come back and shared fascinating takeaways about the world we live in today, and what the future holds for us.”

–Stephen Sokoler, founder and CEO of meditation community Journey Meditation, which provides the app Journey LIVE, and programs nationwide at organizations such as Facebook, Disney, Nike and Morgan Stanley

7. Finding My Virginity by Richard Branson

“This book has served as a tool to better understand how to delegate priorities and pick battles. As business owners, we need to understand that we can’t do everything ourselves and that placing your trust in your colleagues is the key to growing your business. [It also] has inspired me to surround myself with people whom I can continue to learn from, to always be a student.”

–Giorgos Tsetis, co-founder and CEO of Nutrafol, a hair-growth brand that has tripled year-over-year growth since 2016

8. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

“By recognizing that mistakes are inevitable in any business, Ben resolves the myth of perfection. He establishes the perfect hierarchy [that] people come first, then products, then profits, and in that order. Throughout the book, Ben provides anecdotes on his former teammates at billion-dollar corporations and how he made decisions that either turned things around or made things worse. He explains that it is essential to cultivate a culture of trust at your place of work, because if one individual is stuck on something, the entire organization will be slowed, no matter the size.”

–Devaraj Southworth, co-founder and CEO of Thirstie, a compliant e-commerce and logistics solution for alcohol brands used by brands including Moet Hennessy, Beam Suntory, Makers Mark, AB InBev and Drinkworks

9. Give and Take by Adam Grant

“I have to thank Adam for writing the best guide book on human interactions that I have ever read. The brilliance of this book is that Adam simplifies the complexities of human personalities and breaks them down into three simple categories: Givers, Matchers, and Takers. When you begin the see the world through Adam’s eyes you begin to see the truth that some people only take, some people only match what they believe you can offer them, and some people give, and give unconditionally. With this perspective, I try to remember that no matter how busy or tired I am, I should always strive to give.”

–Dylan Kaplan, co-founder of the Cereal School, a low-carb, keto-friendly cereal that has sold out four times in 2019

10. High Output Management by Andy Grove

“No other book has influenced the way I operate as an entrepreneur more than [this] seminal work. Each chapter is filled with substantive advice on what you need to know to build a great organization and a strong company. I continue to give a copy to every manager we hire.”

–Alpay Koralturk, founder of Kaiyo, an online marketplace for preowned furniture used by tens of thousands of customers in and around New York City

11. Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists by Steven Bach

“Movie producers are essentially serial entrepreneurs, having to fundraise, build a team, and launch a business for each project. While we can learn a lot from their successes, it can be a lot more interesting to learn from failures. [This book] is a fascinating true story about how hubris and lack of careful management can destroy a business. The author was head of production for legendary movie studio United Artists when they tried to produce Michael Cimino’s follow-up to the 1979 Oscar-winning Deer Hunter. No matter what business you’re in, you can learn a lot from the series of missteps that led to the megaflop that took down the studio. Bach is a great storyteller and in true Hollywood-fashion he peppers in plenty of anecdotes about the stars of the 1970s and 1980s.”

–Peter Gerard, co-founder of Welcome, an A.I.-powered travel platform that launched in June 2019 and raised $1.2 million in funding

12. Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas

“[This book] calls into question the basic structure of philanthropy and mission driven companies. It encourages leaders to truly live their values both personally and within their organizations, not simply aim to solve them after they themselves have seen success.”

–Lauren Haber Jonas, cofounder and CEO of Part and Parcel, a social commerce community for plus-size women that recently raised $4 million in funding

13. Astroball by Ben Reiter

“For both die-hard sports fans and business readers, [this book] discusses the spectacular rise of the Houston Astros, from being the worst baseball team for a span of 50 years to being one of the best franchises within three years and winning the World Series. The book describes the importance of relentlessly focusing on a long-term vision, ignoring short-term pitfalls, and creating a culture of data-driven decisions.”

–Abhi Ramesh, founder and CEO of Misfits Market, a produce delivery service that recently announced a $16.5 million Series A funding round

14. The World According to Garp by John Irving

“John Irving’s lush prose in the trio of humane, absurd, wildly funny novels is infinitely readable and taught me the pleasure and power of great fiction writing. By highlighting the possibility of living a life of total individuality and nonconformity [this book] and his The Hotel New Hampshire and A Prayer for Owen Meany are three seminal literary masterpieces of the late 20th century that helped me understand I need to follow the beat of my own drummer and that there is no format or template for a life beautifully and well-lived. [He] paints with words canvases of enormous breadth and colorful characters that have stayed in my memory for many years. Ultimately, Irving shows us that acceptance of life’s quirky circumstances and the unconditional love of and for people — and especially of oneself — is the key to living a full and satisfying life.”

–Yuval Brisker, serial entrepreneur (cofounder of TOA Technologies, acquired by Oracle in 2014) and current cofounder and CEO of Mezu, a mobile payments app which has grown 67 percent year to date

15. The Art Is Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander

“When I discovered this book, I was in an entrepreneurial rut and was questioning everything from my management style to the meaning of life. This book reassured me that it’s OK to have crazy dreams and big ideas, and there’s no single right way to get there. From problem-solving to risk-taking, the author breaks down topics into fun, easy-to-digest, anecdotal stories that are now in my mental toolbox. It’s been a very functional piece of literature for me and my company.”

–Steve Shriver, CEO of organic lip balm brand Eco Lips, which broke the $1 million sales mark in about five years and was chosen 40 Under 40 by Natural Foods Merchandiser Magazine

16. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

“[This] is the first business book I read voluntarily at the onset of my career and probably the one that stuck with me the most. It describes the elements an idea needs to have to become viral and why some products and services reach explosive growth. I still go through the checklist from this book when considering any new idea and I largely attribute the success of QuizUp, my first major app, reaching 100 million users, to my learnings in [this book].”

–Thor Fridriksson, founder and CEO of Teatime Games, an interactive platform which has raised $9 million

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