30 Book Recommendations From the World's Most Successful People
What are Jeff Bezos, Martha Stewart, and Daniel Ek reading?
Who knew that legendary marathoner Eliud Kipchoge loves reading business books? Or that Dolly Parton's favorite book is a beloved children's classic?
Books mean different things to different people. Stephen King believes books teach us how to think, Dolly Parton sees them as a ticket out of poverty, and Matt Haig claims that reading books is a form of therapy.
"[Books] are the most vital, intimate, personal, mind-altering, thought-twisting, friend-giving, empathy-strengthening, thrill-riding, emotional, world-shaking technology we will ever have," Haig says. "And in a world where we are increasingly connected via technology, but disconnected by society, books and stories can be the glue that bonds us."
With the holidays coming up, there's no better gift than a book (or a subscription to The Profile), so I've compiled 30 recommendations for some great reads for you and your loved ones.
From sports biographies to moving memoirs to classic novels, check out what 16 of the world's most successful people are reading.
Jeff Bezos, founder and chairman of Amazon:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: It's a novel about an English butler who tries to give his narrow existence form and meaning through the self-effacing practice of his profession. In a career that spans World War II, he is oblivious of the real life that goes on around him. Bezos says: "My favorite novel. Teaches pain of regret so well you will think you lived it."
Built to Last by Jim Collins: This book examines what makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and identifies the common practices that enduringly great companies followed throughout their history.“My favorite business book is ‘Built to Last,’” Bezos said in 2001, back when Amazon wasn’t even a decade old.
Creation by Steve Grand: Bezos says this book "was influential in the creation of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the service that popularized the notion of the cloud." Working mostly alone, Steve Grand almost single-handedly wrote 250,000 lines of computer code to produce Creatures®, a revolutionary computer game that allowed players to create living beings complete with brains, genes, and hormonal systems ― creatures that would live and breathe and breed in real-time on an ordinary desktop computer. This book raises the question: What is artificial life?
Tobi Lütke, the founder and CEO of Shopify
The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi: Using the theories of Alfred Adler, a philosopher helps his student to understand how each of us is able to determine the direction of our own life, free from the shackles of past traumas and the expectations of others. Lütke calls this book "fascinating" and says it's the best book he's read in the last few years. (This is one of my favorite books too.)
High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove: When he started Shopify, Lütke was a programmer with no business background. This is the book that changed his life in the very early days of starting his company. "Andy’s book is unapologetically almost a 'how-to' manual, but kind of deconstructs the world of business into first principles."
Dolly Parton, the queen of country music
Oral History by Lee Smith: Parton's favorite author of all time is American fiction writer Lee Smith who often incorporates much of her Southern upbringing in her novels. "This book really hits home for me because it's really about Southern people,” Parton says. “It's a wonderful story about families, and love, and romance, and just the hard times that people go through. Lee Smith just tells a story in such a way that it just goes plum deep into my soul and heart."
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper: This children's classic is one of Parton's all-time favorites — so much so that she chose it as the first book in her Imagination Library effort. "I often say that little phrase ['I think I can'] over and over to help conquer my apprehensions or my nerves before I am about to launch into something that is just a little bit scary to me," she says.
Daniel Ek, founder and CEO of Spotify
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed: This book argues that the most important determinant of success in any field is an acknowledgment of failure and a willingness to engage with it. We rarely acknowledge or learn from failure—even though we often claim the opposite. Ek says, "Since reading this book, I’ve literally incorporated this approach to problem-solving into my everyday life."
Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph: Ek is a father to two daughters, and he says this book has been helpful to him in setting a clear map of their developmental stages while teaching him how not to sell out the potential or uniqueness of his kids. He adds: "My two daughters are pretty spirited and I’m determined to raise them to stay that way, to know they can accomplish anything, and protect them as much as I can from the pressures they are going to face in this increasingly crazy world."
Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez: This novel tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love. Stewart says, “It is difficult to believe it was 46 years ago that I discovered this novelist and his masterpiece. To this day, I envy anyone who hasn’t yet read it; they have an amazing treat in store.”
Romola by George Eliot: This is one of George Eliot's most ambitious and imaginative novels. Set in Renaissance Florence during the turbulent years following the expulsion of the powerful Medici family. Stewart says, “Learn about the de Medici family, the Renaissance, and the life of a woman in 15th-century Florence in this introspective novel that incorporates historical figures and actual events.”
Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world-record holder
Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson: This book is a business classic that uses a deceptively simple story to show how to invite change into your personal and professional life. Kipchoge often refers back to this book, saying, "I believe it has helped equip me with the skills to handle change."
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey: This business book presents how a principle-centered, discipline-based life can help you build the healthy relationships that are key to an effective life. Kipchoge is a big fan, saying, "I am a big fan of the writer Stephen R. Covey. His books have taught me so much. They have instilled in me the importance of working hard, treating your profession as seriously as you can, and how to live alongside people."
Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva
Designing the Obvious by Robert Hoekman Jr.: This book is written in a simple and accessible tone, and it presents the reasoning behind design decisions and choices of web applications and interfaces. Perkins, who founded the world's most valuable software company Canva, says it will change your mind about how you think about user experience. "It explains how to create online experiences that people will find easy, intuitive, and enjoyable to use," she says.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull: This book is a manual for anyone who strives for originality, with behind-the-scenes examples from Pixar itself. It will help you understand how to build and sustain a creative culture with a unique identity. Zuckerberg says, “I love reading first-hand accounts about how people build great companies like Pixar and nurture innovation and creativity.”
The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun: The Muqaddimah, often translated as "Introduction," was written by the great fourteenth-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldûn. His work established the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics. Zuckerberg says, "While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it's still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it's all considered together."
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham: Benjamin Graham was considered the greatest investment advisor of the 20th century thanks to his philosophy of “value investing," which shields investors from substantial error and teaches them to develop long-term strategies. Buffett bestows high praise upon this book: “Of all the investments I ever made, buying Ben’s book was the best (except for my purchase of two marriage licenses)." In 2011, he added: "Picking up that book was one of the luckiest moments in my life.”
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: In his 2016 annual letter, Buffett called “Shoe Dog” the “best book I read last year.” The book offers an inside look at how Phil Knight built his startup Nike into the global brand it is today.
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: Rules of Civility is the book that Gates has re-read the most number of times. It's a novel about a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society. Gates says, "Towles is a master of language. With each glittering sentence, he makes you feel like you’re living in Manhattan in the 1930s. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet, hilarious book that whisks you away."
The Choice by Edith Eva Eger: In her memoir, Edith Eva Eger recounts the unimaginable experiences she endured as a teenager during the Holocaust. She explains how the horrors she witnesses helped her learn to live again with an unshakeable mental resilience. (Read a Profile Dossier on Eger here.) Gates says this book is one of her recent favorites. "The pandemic is far from over," she adds. "But for everyone who might be ready to start the healing, read this book."
Jim Koch, the founder of Samuel Adams beer
Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming: This book outlines 14 management points that advocate for the need to forecast, stay innovative, and empower employees. Koch says it helped him learn to prioritize long-term results over short-term fluctuations. "So I'm worried about, where are we in two years? In five years? How do I make this the best, strongest, healthiest company I can," he said.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn: Published in 1962, this book challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don’t arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation. Instead, it argued, revolutions in science occur outside of “normal science." This book helped Koch fundamentally shift his thinking. "To be able to say, 'I know this is the way the world is, but why can't it be different and better,'" he says.
Mellody Hobson, the co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments**
Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein: Journalist Roger Lowenstein draws on three years of unprecedented access to Buffett’s family, friends, and colleagues to provide the first definitive, inside account of the life and career of Warren Buffett. This is Hobson's favorite investment book of all time. She says, "It details his life and investment strategy in a way that is super engaging and in fact, riveting. "It is my 'go-to' book in good times and bad. I have read it many, many times. The book is full of lessons for novice and experienced investors alike."
Tara Westover, author of Educated
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson: Westover knows firsthand how difficult it is to write the gritty details of your own life, and this is precisely why this one of her favorite memoirs. It's about one woman’s journey to accept herself despite never being accepted by her adoptive parents. Westover says, "It is her reckoning with herself—with how she sees herself, and the fact of that being so different from how her mother sees her, and of all the ways she will be forever marked by that difference."
The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink: This is the story of a family coming to terms with loss: the author’s teenage brother is hit by a car while walking home, and after a series of medical setbacks, settles into a vegetative state. The family battles with the hope that he will recover for nearly ten years before they are able to let go. Westover calls this memoir "a beautiful, deeply moving book."
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis: Gladwell considers author Michael Lewis "the finest storyteller of our generation." He said he reads Lewis's work for the same reason he watches Tiger Woods play golf: "I'll never play like that. But it's good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like."
The Person and the Situation by Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross: Malcolm read this book in one sitting in 1996, and it's the one that's most affected him. It's about how the context of the situations we find ourselves in influences how we think and behave. Gladwell says, "It offers a way of re-ordering ordinary experience."
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar
The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall: This book posits that humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Catmull says, "This struck me as a powerful idea, that our brain is structured for and shaped by stories whose value goes beyond entertainment and socialization," he says.
Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd: This design book is a kid's guide to graphic design, covering form, function, color, typography, and more. Catmull says, "This book offers a beautiful distillation of the principles of great design and the careful decisions that go into making things look the way they do."
Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors
Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time by Ian O'Connor: This is considered the definitive biography of the NFL’s most enigmatic, controversial, and yet successful coach: Bill Belichick. Kerr says it is “one of the best sport psychology books I’ve ever read," especially when dealing with a player who is their own biggest opponent.
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