Business School

The Big 40: Business Books You Really Should Read – Part 1

I love to read. If there’s a book that can help me improve in any way, in business or in life, I’m on it. Reading is the one thing, the single most powerful habit that has had the greatest effect on my success. But the funny thing is, I wasn’t always a reader.

I never really enjoyed reading as a kid. I didn’t hate it but let’s just say I only did it when I had to. You know, book reports for school and all. But I didn’t go out of my way to enjoy a book. It wasn’t until I was around 16 years old that I began to find reading awesome.

I realized I was just reading the wrong books. As a kid you’re given so much fiction to read in school, from Beowulf to Tom Sawyer, but I never really felt it was relevant to me. Good stories and all but when I got into books that actually affected my life, I was hooked.

As some  of you know I attended Wharton Business School for a semester before dropping out to start The $100 MBA. Many ask, “Omar, why did you drop out of the best business school in the country?” My reply is a short story I try to share as often as possible.

When attending Wharton, towards the end of my first semester there, a professor of mine pulled me aside and asked, “Omar, what are you doing here?” I replied in confusion,”What do you mean? I’m here to get an MBA.” He pressed me and asked, “But why do you think you need an MBA?” I was completely puzzled at this point and had no other option other than to come clean and say, “I want to be a great entrepreneur and I thought I have to go get an MBA to be one.” He shook his head in disappointment and said, “You don’t get an MBA to be a great entrepreneur. You get an MBA to get a middle management job at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley with zero experience.”

He then highly advised me to drop out of Wharton. He told me that with the experiences that I’d already had and was currently having in real life with my business I would be better off saving the $135,000 and 18  months. He then concluded by giving me a list 40 books I should read, books that would supplement the experiences and give me a better education than I could ever get at business school. Luckily at the time I had already read half of them.

I took his advice, dropped out, read the books and continued to learn through my experiences as a business builder.  I’d like to share with you those 40 books. Books that have changed my outlook and outcomes in a major way.

If you are serious about reading all 40, then I would commit to a book a week. That may sound like a lot but if you spend 30 minutes before bed every day, you can knock out a book a week easily. And within 9 months, you’ll be a someone else. Someone filled with insights, inspiration and the knowledge to process what’s happening in your business (and life) now and in the future.

I have hyperlinked all these books to the best deals on Amazon to save you the time and hassle of searching for the best price. So in no particular order here are the first 20 of my Big 40:

1. Anyone Can Do It

By Sarah & Bobby Hashemi

ISBN-13: 978-184112765  MY RATING: 10/10

Anyone Can Do itOne of the best non-fiction reads I have ever read. This book explores the question we all ask, “Can anyone be an entrepreneur?” Both inspirational and educational. The authors detail their whole bootstrapping journey and hide absolutely nothing along the way as they build the UK’s first well known Coffee Shop brand. Not easy for a country with a lifetime love affair with tea.

This one only comes in paperback, no eBook version. So save this one for the beach or pool.


2. 48 Laws of Power

By Robert Greene

ISBN: 0140280197 MY RATING: 8/10

Warning: Other people I have met that read this book think it is pure evil. But power exists, so it can only help to understand it better, even if you choose not to wield it. This book helped me understand some of the attitudes I’ve encountered in the past as well as quickly understanding the intentions of some in the present.

This is a small short book but it’s not the easiest book to zoom through. I found myself pausing and pondering a whole lot with this book. That never can be a bad thing.


3. Mastery

By George Leonord

ISBN:0452267560 MY RATING: 9/10

A description of the path to mastery in any field. This book focuses on how to enjoy regular practice for its own sake. It also discusses how to push your capabilities but to accept the plateau and surrender to the path and exercises your teacher gives you.

The main lesson explained in this book is how to stay focused, not distracted like the dabbler, or complacent like the hacker. It has taught me it’s not mastery we are after- that’s virtually unachievable. But it’s the path of mastery we should seek to be on.

A book I read over 6 years ago but its lessons are still clear to me today. Very well written.


4. The Lean Startup

By Eric Ries

ISBN:0307887898 MY RATING: 9/10

EVERY entrepreneur should read this book! Its methodology is the one I recommend the most. I found the lean approach explained in this book hard to refute given the incredible amount of evidence the author gives to support it. It’s really the only way to go for us non-billionaire types.

Not a super easy read but the insights are priceless and keep the read going.


5. Purple Cow

By Seth Godin

ISBN:1591843170 MY RATING: 10/10

Seth Godin is my favorite business writer. His no-nonsense style has me hooked. His books tend to be short reads because he doesn’t believe in any fluff whatsoever. 

This book was a game changer for me when it comes to value creation, marketing and sales. Seth drills the importance of being remarkable with everything you build, and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable.

I read this book in one sitting. It’s that good.


6. The War of Art

By Steven Pressfield

ISBN:0446691437 MY RATING: 8/10

Have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the person you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what “Resistance” is. This book is about that. Read it.

Pressfield gives you the kick in kaboos you need with this book, smashing every excuse you have before you have a chance to use it. Nicole and I read this book together on vacation and the conversations that transpired were as good as the book itself.


7. Think and Grow Rich

By Napoleon Hill

ISBN:1585424331 MY RATING: 10/10

A classic that never gets old. Forget Jim Rohn and Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill wrote the first book to boldly ask, “What makes a winner?” Hill is now counted in the top ranks of the world’s winners himself.

Hill interviews some of the most well known millionaires and billionaires to find out, what the heck it takes to be wealthy. A novel concept in 1937, when the book was first published.

The concepts taught by Napoleon Hill has transformed the lives of many entrepreneurs. Some of these concepts include developing a definite purpose, building a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA), channeling the power of the sub-conscious mind and dealing with adversity.

It’s actually a fun read as Hill is very candid in sharing the experiences he’s having gathering the information for the book.


8. How To Win Friends and Influence People

By Dale Carnegie

ISBN:0671027034 MY RATING: 10/10

An incredible study on human behavior. You can apply his years of research instantly to connect with others and win over even the most difficult people you encounter. A masterpiece that needs to be read ASAP.

Carnegie is actually quite humorous in this book and share some very engaging stories to drive his points home. Nicole loves this book. She took diligent notes and found it to be a fun read.


9. The Tipping Point

By Malcolm Gladwell

ISBN:9780316346627 MY RATING: 7/10

Malcolm Gladwell explains that The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. He gives examples such as a single sick person that can start an epidemic of the flu, how a small but precisely targeted push can cause a fashion trend, or how a drop in the crime rate occurs.

Not a an easy read at all. Gladwell is a bit dry (hence the 7/10 score) but the concepts are intriguing and useful.


10. Rich Dad, Poor Dad

By Robert Kiyosaki

ISBN:0307887898 MY RATING: 8/10

This book exploits the myth that you need to earn a high income to be rich and explains the difference between working for money and having your money work for you. One of the best personal finance books you can read.

The book is not exactly a literary masterpiece.  I’m not really sure how to put this… it’s written at a 5th grade level. I am not in any way insulting Robert’s intelligence. He is actually an incredible public speaker and communicator.

With that said, lots of engaging stories from Kiyosaki’s childhood and what he learned from his “Rich Dad” versus his “Poor Dad.” when it came to money and wealth.


11. Brand Against The Machine

By John Michael Morgan

ISBN:1118103521 MY RATING: 9/10

Brand Against the Machine offers proven and actionable steps for companies and entrepreneurs to increase their visibility and credibility, and create an indispensable brand that consumers can relate to, creating lifelong customers.

This book is filled with short little chapters that actually came from years of tweets by the author. Some of the best branding advice I have ever gotten came from this book. I reach for this book often as a reference when I’m working on our business.


12. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

By Stephen R. Covey

ISBN:1451639619 MY RATING: 8/10

This book is known as one of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written. I personally would’t go that far. It’s great and all and Covey covers a lot of ground when it comes to “how to be effective” but it’s not as actionable as some of the other books on this list.

A must read nonetheless, this book will influence your work. Plus it’s well edited and isn’t filled with pretentious jargon.


13. The 4-Hour Work Week

By Timothy Ferriss

ISBN:9780307465351 MY RATING: 8/10

This book has probably inspired more online entrepreneurs than anything else. Period. Tim Ferriss creates an industry with this book. An industry of location independent entrepreneurs that attempt to out source the parts of their business and lives they rather not deal with.

Personally, I thought the best part of the book was his concept of mini-retirements. A concept Nicole and I are piloting this year.

A very easy read. I read it cover to cover on a 5 hour flight. Tim’s unique personality and desire to hack life to it’s core caries all the way through.


14. Guerilla Marketing

By Jay Conrad Levinson

ISBN:0618785914 MY RATING: 8/10

Based on hundreds of solid ideas that really work, Levinson’s philosophy and book has become the first marketing book people recommend. It’s geared to marketing on a shoestring budget and looking big when you’re actual just getting started.

It’s a solid marketing book that lays much of the fundamentals many of us miss when it comes to marketing.


15. Tribes

By Seth Godin

ISBN:1591842336 MY RATING: 10/10

An inspiring look at what it takes to organize and mobilize groups of people. These people could be your target audience or your employees. Godin is brilliant at explaining rather complex subjects in a digestible and actionable way.

Again, Seth Godin is my favorite author so it’s hard for me not to love this one.


16. First, Break All the Rules

By Marcus Buckingham

ISBN:0684852861 MY RATING: 9/10

Marcus Buckingham does an incredible job at exposing the fallacies of standard management thinking. This book really helped me become a better manager back when I first read it, when I was a head of department in the school I worked for. I literally broke every traditional management rule and was able to win my subordinates respect and got the best out of them in the process.

Read this book. It works.


17. Now Discover Your Strengths

By Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton

ISBN:0743201140 MY RATING: 10/10

Unfortunately, most of us have been told since we were children to improve our weaknesses. This book tears those words into shreds and pleads with you to focus on your strengths. It gives solid evidence to why working on your weaknesses is a huge waste of time and how discovering your talents and strengths and sharping them will get you a lot further in your life and career.

I absolutely love this book! Made perfect sense to me. A major mind shift.


18. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got

By Jay Abraham

ISBN:0312284543 MY RATING: 10/10

If you can only read one book on marketing this should be the one you read. Jay Abraham is known as one of the best marketers on the planet and this book gives you a glimpse as to why.

What I love about this book the most is that it is written in plain English and is actually one of the most practical books on this list. Keep this book close by as it’s always good to refer to when you are in a marketing rut.


19. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

By Marshall Goldsmith

ISBN:1401301304 MY RATING: 9/10

This book is aimed at already-successful people. Marshall explains that the personality traits that brought you to success (personal discipline, saying yes to everything, over-confidence) are the same traits that hold you back from going further!

This is another great management book that has helped me become a better manager with only applying a few of its insights. I remember really enjoying this read. A lot of paradigm shift moments.


20. Good to Great

By Jim Collins

ISBN:0066620996 MY RATING: 8/10

I found this book to be a refreshing change from other leadership books. Collins spends 5 years conducting a study to discover what makes businesses not just good but great. He pinpoints how and when a shift is made from mediocrity to greatness and who is responsible for it.

This book is a definite read for any business person or leader. Not a fun read but a worthy one nonetheless.


Well there you have it…the first 20 books of my Big 40. You can find 2-part of my Big 40 here.

If you have any comments on any of these books or your own personal opinions on them, let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to share this post with your friends, you’ll look well read : )

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