Must-Reads: A List of Classic Business Books

What constitutes a “classic” business book? Wisdom? Influence? Staying power? Any one of those qualities — or all three — can make for a great read. Here are a few our favorites.

Wisdom

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, written more than 2,000 years ago, is the first known study of how to plan and conduct military operations. Because the concepts emphasize strategy and psychology, they can be applied to the business world, too.

First published in 1776, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations laid the foundation for modern economic thought and is still considered the Bible of capitalism today.

Strategy

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, first published in 1936, remains one of the most popular and influential self-help books of all time. To date, it has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman Jr., authors of In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies (1982), outline eight key principles of management that drove 43 of the biggest and most successful companies in the United States.

The classic guide to small-business marketing, Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Businesses by Jay Conrad Levinson (1983) is now in its fourth printing. Updated editions include tips on websites, blogs, podcasting, and other digital-marketing techniques.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (1989) has sold more than 10 million copies. The book is a guide to succeeding in one’s personal and business endeavors.

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It by Michael Gerber (1990) challenges the “entrepreneurial myth” that a person who is good at the technical or operational parts of a business is naturally inclined to succeed at running the whole business.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t by Jim Collins (2001) answers the age-old question, “Why are some companies better than others?” Collins and his colleagues introduced the concepts of “level 5 leaders” and “a culture of discipline” into the business lexicon.

How do many little things come together to create enormous change? Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2002) has emerged as a classic study of the viral marketing revolution.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (2005) was among the first books to closely examine the virtues and shortcomings of globalization and its effect on business.

Winning by Jack Welch (2005) offers insights and business solutions in the former General Electric chairman and CEO’s characteristic no-nonsense voice.

Management

The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson was recognized as revolutionary upon its publication in 1982. The 111-page book advocates breaking down management practices into small goals and actions to improve employee motivation and performance.

Peter Drucker’s view of management as its own business discipline was truly innovative. His book, The Practice of Management (1954) has served generations of managers and business leaders.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, written by Patrick Lencioni (2002), describes what goes wrong in even the best businesses and how to build a cohesive, high-performing team.

What are your picks for the best business classics? Share the titles of your favorite books in the Comments field below.

About Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor and a former Senior Writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.
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3 comments
Mark
Mark

Hug your customer is without question one of the best customer service books written.

Helen Caton Hughes
Helen Caton Hughes

Great to see we share similar ideas about the classic leadership books Lee.  In our business we started a 'leadership book club' and people phone in from around the world to hear @bobnhughes interview authors about the thinking and stories behind their books.  It didn't quite work out the same way when we looked at 'Art of War' though!

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