My book integrates creative themes, philosophy, and business, so my book recommendations will go beyond a business focus.
Free From Corporate America
Opinionated Recommendations for Further Reading
Recommending business books is a ridiculous task. There are so many to consider, from the bland to the compelling. You can take something useful from most, and a grain of salt is advised as well. I have already noted, on separate pages, the two business titles that I think are most relevant to the development of Free From Corporate America: the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series and Your Money or Your Life. I have also added sections for books and online resources that explore the topic of globalization.
My book attempts to integrate creative themes, philosophy, and business, so my book recommendations will eventually go beyond a business focus. For now, I’ll use this reference page to select the most important business books in a variety of categories. This list is not yet finished, so feel free to ask me about titles you don’t see here.
In order to compile my recommendations, I did some cross-checks with other lists of the best business books.
This list from Entrepreneur.com of the best business books ever written was pretty cool. I like the way they talk about the historical significance of each selection.
This compilation from the US News and World Report is also instructive. You can click on the pic of each individual to get their annotated “best business books” list. This is a great illustration of just how much the superlative “best” depends on your own business agenda as well as your background.
Another issue with business books is that they are faddish. Even the classic business biographies, like Lee Iacocca’s, lose their sheen as they age. Trends can fade unfairly. For example, no one talks about “positioning” anymore, but I would maintain that any aspiring businessperson needs to read the book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout, which is billed as the “most important book about advertising ever written,” but even that may undersell its broader importance to a business education. Today’s trend is yesterday’s fad, but many of yesterday’s books are still crucial even if their terminology has lost buzz.
Having said that, I still find that virtually all of the arrogant books from the peak of the 90s Internet bubble are a complete waste of time except as a document of a bloated era. I don’t know that they will ever age well in the sense of being useful to future generations, except as cautionary tales. After all, would you want to read a book on the 1850s gold rush that said “just pick up a shovel and start digging”? So, no books from the Internet Bubble are on this list. If you must read one, Fucked Company by Phillip “Pud” Kaplan is a very funny chronicle of dotcoms gone bad with a surprising amount of wisdom.
We can also consider business books whose titles are probably the only concepts you need to know. For example, did we need to read The Tipping Point to understand its central point? Same goes for The Wisdom of Crowds and books with sexy images leased from nature about why we should be more like sharks or lions or cobras. This is not to say that books with a simple, powerful concept are not valuable, but most won’t make the cut for this list.
I learned way more from hands-on business than I ever did in books. Whether you are a senior executive or a pottery maker, you learn about business in the streets of the marketplace. The ideal way to use this list is to focus on the titles that are most relevant to the work you are doing now. This way, you can test their validity in the practical reality of your work day. Each book title will link to its Amazon profile where you can read more reviews and publisher information, and we’ll usually include a least one other online forum where you can find more people talking about the title in question.
I’m also not recommending books in every business category. For example, I don’t have a real estate investing book I endorse as the top book in that area. Some of it depends on your focus – those who are interested in winning foreclosure auctions should be reading different books than the fix-and-flip crowd. Same goes with negotiation – lots of great books out there, and you should read one of them, but I don’t have one I would currently single out over the others.
In addition to this list, I hope to do another list of “books to avoid” where I lay into a few popular titles that are not up to snuff. Then, I’ll continue to add book references to the chapters. I’m thinking I will add some as comments after the chapter in question, so those who are reading a chapter online will know where to turn next. You can also add your own comments to the end of chapters or email me besides. For those who make it to the end, there is a fun “guilty pleasures” category.
White Collar Skills in Transition
Perhaps the most relevant category for my own book, there is a growing body of work about the shift in white collar skills and the impact of global outsourcing on “information worker” job stability.
- Reason for Selection:My favorite book in this genre to date, Daniel Pink, influential author of Free Agent Nation, has written a terrific guide to the importance of developing creative “right brain” skills in order to avoid the threat of outsourcing, which many “information workers” are facing. Pink details six new conceptual skills to master in the “world is flat” economy.
- Got 60 minutes? Hear Pink discuss the book’s concepts in this June 2007 podcast on EconTalk.org. There are a few comments from listeners.
We’re not all meant to lead organizations, but you can’t possibly apply the principles in my book without some exploration on leadership. We can’t move forward without taking proper action. That means forming our own conception of power and how we’re going to wield it. Sometimes that means exercising power over others, and that’s where the fun starts, because there is a range of ways to do that, from uplifting to oppressive.
- Reason for Selection: Too often, when people read the phrase “emotional intelligence,” they think “empathy” or “active listening.” To me, emotional intelligence is the secret to effective leadership, but not because of clichÃ©s about active listening. It comes down to two things: (1) developing mastery of your own emotions so that you do not sabotage your own opportunities (and emotional mastery is very different than emotional repression, which is the state that many, especially men, mistake for mastery), and (2) having the emotional force to step in the middle of difficult situations and broker settlements with complicated personalities.We can debate the different components of business success and how to weight each factor, such as talent, market opportunity, timing, and interpersonal skills. My opinion could change tomorrow, but when it comes to which skills are most important, I’d put interpersonal skills at the 50 percent or higher level for all but the insanely talented (if you’re in the top 1 percent of your industry, you can often get away with some interpersonal sloppiness). There’s no better place to learn about these skills than in Daniel Goleman’s genre-starting “Emotional Intelligence” book series. He has a couple of books on emotional intelligence in the workplace, but the best place to start might be his “Primal Leadership” book.
- Browse 85 customer reviews on Amazon.com for pros and cons on the book and the topic.
In my book, I devoted a chapter to how we are all fundamentally salespeople.Â Those who make a big deal about their contempt for salespeople and how they are not selling anything are some of the biggest salespeople of all. For that reason, anyone who lives in a market economy should put down any remaining snobbery about sales and learn the art of getting what you want.
- Reason for Selection: This is one of the least known books on this list; it came and went without fanfare. In fairness, it wasn’t all that well written. But the central concept is critical: customers are now looking for “experiences” more than they are looking for products or even the best price. An example that came out after this book was published: the iPhone. Is it the cheapest? No. Is it the best? Arguable. But does it create a unique experience for the customer? Definitely. There is a sex appeal to the iPhone and a user-friendly interaction that other products can’t get near.This concept of “selling experiences” is essential for us “Free From Corporate America” types, because we don’t have the capability to get into WalMart-style mass production and sell millions of products on tight margins. But in the “experience economy,” none of that matters. We can create “value” for our customers by giving them things that no one else can – and in exchange, they will (hopefully) pay us more than enough to make our own living.
- Karen Schultz’s Personal Development Support blog comments on the latest from the authors with startling examples of the “experiences” that are being sold today.
Print on Demand Publishing
In a variety of industries, technological advancements have lowered the bar for enterprising people who want to step out and test the merits of their work and the mettle of their marketing – the latter, of course, being far more important. In my industry, print on demand (POD) publishing has changed the playing field by allowing publishers to test the marketplace without having to worry about getting bogged down with a warehouse full of books. In any business context, when we can dramatically reduce inventory and still serve our customers, our chances for success improve. I do think we have to be wary of over-idealizing new technology, as an exchange I published on this site has shown. But for those of you who want to learn more about POD publishing tactics, these books are a good place to start.
Print on Demand Book Publishing by Morris Rosenthal
- Reason for Selection: Morris’ book is not only an influential guide to Print on Demand publishing, it’s a great overview of business fundamentals – in any industry. The most valuable part of Morris’ approach is his emphasis on developing web sites into marketing platforms, and test-marketing your ideas before you get into a heavy investment cycle – cornerstones of the so-called “Free From Corporate America” approach.
- Small Press Blog interviews Rosenthal’s blog for some additional answers to success with POD.
- Reason for Selection: I view Aaron Shepard’s “Aiming at Amazon” as a vital companion book to Rosenthal’s POD Publishing book. Aaron’s book contains some of the same POD fundamentals, but Aaron has more tips on maximizing your results within Amazon.com – the most important book sales channel today, especially for the self-publisher. In my own bookselling approach, I believe in focusing more on my own web site and less on marketing within Amazon, but “Aiming at Amazon” has still been an excellent resource for me.
- Grumpy Old Bookman, Michael Allen, gives a short and sweet outline of who should or shouldn’t read this book and why.
- Small Press Blog interviews Shepard for more secrets to success.
Whenever you venture into the realm of “success literature,” you come out with some guilty pleasures. Guilty pleasures in this context means books you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others at a dinner party – but not because they didn’t help you.Â
- Reason for Selection: I have a love/hate relationship with my New Age buddy Deepak. “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” is the perhaps the best “spiritual” book on business, and Deepak’s simple lessons on expanding your prosperity through, basically, opening your mind and being a good person, goes counter to a lot of the “business is full of sharks”/ “business as battlefield” clichÃ©s that imply you have to slay your foes and leave carcasses behind.New Age “thinkers” would criticize the “last man standing” approach to business as a “scarcity” model. In contrast, Chopra’s book may be the most concise expression of “abundance” thinking. He basically says that if you have the right intentions and an openness to prosperity, and you conduct yourself in the right Dharmic and Karmic way, you’ll find success on every level, and guess what: financial wealth will be the natural byproduct!The biggest problem with Chopra’s approach? If for some reason you haven’t found the kind of “effortless” success he has, you end up blaming yourself, because for Chopra, it is your own limited thinking that prevents you from obtaining the wealth that is right there for the taking (or the giving, as he would say) if you can only expand your mind and open yourself to the possibilities. If I’ve learned only one thing in my forty years of toil on this planet, it’s that what I just wrote is pure bunk.Chopra doesn’t allow for the possibility that the universe is imperfect and that good people can find themselves in predicaments not of their own making. And while I agree with Chopra that you can be successful in business while conducting yourself with integrity, in my experience, this usually means a harder road with tighter profit margins. There are a lot of skeezy business people out there making pretty darn good money who are not, as far as I can tell, accountable to whatever universal laws Chopra fantasizes about. And when they read his book, I’m sure they pat themselves on the back – another damaging byproduct of this kind of literature. Having said that, I’ve read this book several times and will probably read it again. Taken with a dash of skepticism, there is plenty of wisdom to be had here.
- The book is taken with a big grain of salt by Viki Babbles Gonia, who gives it an honest review on Newsvine.com. The 25 comments that follow her post range from skeptical to sold on Chopra’s “Laws of Success.”
I hope this reference list gives you some options for further study as well as a sense of the context my own book was written in. One thing I did not mention is that many of these books have multiple offshoots, including book sequels, audio books, and intensive study courses, giving you many options for “continuing education” in the areas I have recommended. I’ll also be adding more titles to this list as time permits.
Curious to hear my opinion on a particular business book? Email me – I may well add it to this list.
Want to buy Free From Corporate America or see reviews of the final published version from readers like yourself? The printed book is now available on Amazon.com with product reviews.
You can also get a discounted version of the final book in eBook (PDF) format, or you can pick up a copy on the Kindle. The published version of the book is significantly enhanced from the web version available on this site.