25 Top Business Books for Your Reading Pleasure

And quick reasons why they're so powerful

I’ve read more than 250 business, history, and general interest books since I started keeping track in 2016.

I read because I enjoy it, and also because I know being a lifelong learner will pay off in so many different ways. As Charlie Munger famously said:

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time. None. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren (Buffett) reads — and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

The biggest benefit I get from reading is finding different mental models in books can be used in multiple situations. 

For instance, I found all sorts of great advice on building this newsletter from William Randolph Hearst’s media empire a century ago.

When I worked for a living, I was a better manager because of tips I read in Warren Buffett’s wonderful biography, The Snowball.

And I learned more about business from John D. Rockefeller’s biography than I did throughout all of high school — and that’s even including the Intro to Microeconomics course I took in Grade 12.

These are all powerful lessons I learned that were above and beyond the main scope of each book. That’s the power of reading — how ideas from books have far reaching ancillary impacts.

Reading will immediately put you ahead of at least 90% of your peers, too. When I worked for a living I would regurgitate facts read from books in meetings all the time.

Although, if we’re being completely honest here, my co-workers probably hated it. Non-readers just don’t get it, and that’s okay. We’re happy to leave them in the dust.

So today, let me share with you this list of top 25 business books I’ve read, but with a little twist.

Let’s face it; there are a million of these lists on the internet, each more predictable than the last. They don’t really add much value.

My list will be a little different. I’ve specifically read more obscure business books over the years, convinced there’s lots of wisdom where others aren’t looking. I’ve compiled this list of those books here today, including a 1-2 sentence summary of each explaining why it’s so powerful.

I’ll divide this list into three sections — biographies, business books, and books covering big ideas. Enjoy!

My top biographies

(Note: each link goes to Amazon, and I’ll earn a small commission on any books you buy from this list. All proceeds will be reinvested into more books.)

Whenever I feel a little down, I read this biography, which is probably my favourite book of all time. Joseph Kennedy was an Irish Catholic from the wrong side of the tracks in Boston. By his 50s he had become a bank president, a major Hollywood financier, financially independent through shrewd investing, a close confidant to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the ambassador to the United Kingdom. And that was before launching his son’s political career. What. A. Man.

Hearst took a struggling San Francisco paper and turned it into the largest publishing empire in the United States, but not without almost bankrupting himself several times. Hearst’s powerful lessons on empire building and investing for the future are timeless, and there’s enough dirt on his personal life to keep you engrossed. Highly recommended.

Kirk Kerkorian’s parents lost their farm to foreclosure when he was four and grew up in poverty. Despite this, he became one of the greatest dealmakers in Wall Street history; yet his story is virtually unknown. What I specifically learned from this book is the wisdom of making big bets; Kerkorian identified his target, researched extensively, and then put almost all his capital in that one big bet. He died in 2015 with a fortune exceeding $20B.

Don’t define the Hilton family by its latest generation. Patriarch Conrad Hilton essentially invented the luxury hotel industry, leveraging a single hotel in Cisco, Texas into a global empire. Hilton’s first hotel in Dallas was a masterpiece, showing how little details really matter. For instance, Hilton built elevators, air shafts, and other non-customer facilities on the west side of the building, so customer rooms wouldn’t face the hot Dallas sun.

Although the Bush family is more known for its political might than their success in business, this book has numerous lessons that are applicable to those of us interested in business. Powerful lessons include becoming financially independent before getting involved in passion projects (in their case, politics), and the importance of loyalty and networking, leveraging their unique ability to connect with large numbers of supporters to help their political ambitions.

This book is a tale of two brothers — the domineering older one (John) and the ambitious younger one (Will). John was one of America’s best-loved physicians and the founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, one of the best hospitals on the planet in the 1870s. Will, meanwhile, invented Corn Flakes and revolutionized what we eat for breakfast. This book is a story of two brothers who accomplished a great deal but ultimately lost so much because of hard feelings and jealousy towards each other.

The Reichmanns escaped Nazi persecution in the 1930s and eventually made their way over to Canada in the 1950s, rising to control one of the largest real estate empires on the planet by the 1980s. It eventually came all crashing down. This book has timeless lessons on the benefit of family, loyalty, the power of faith, community, and preparing for the worst.

Hunter Harrison did more for railroads than anyone since Cornelius Vanderbilt. Rising from a lowly labourer, Harrison eventually led four different railroads, and is largely credited with turning around Canadian National and then Canadian Pacific. He let nothing get in his way, losing family, making enemies, and firing countless employees over the years. Harrison’s biography is proof people will put up with a lot if you’re good at your job.

My top business books

This book outlines the struggle Ray Kroc and his team had building McDonald’s from a virtually unknown concept into a fast food powerhouse, including Harry Sonneborn’s ingenious concept to have the company own the underlying real estate underneath all its restaurants. It’s one of the greatest decisions in American business history, and John Love’s tale goes into great detail about how it works.

Console Wars is a highly entertaining book about the battle between Nintendo and Sega Genesis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But it’s mostly about how an underdog can win and the importance of perseverance. A fantastic read for anyone looking for timeless lessons on how to grab attention in a increasingly crowded market.

Slugfest is the ridiculously entertaining tale of Marvel and DC comics battling for superiority in the highly competitive world of comics. But it’s also the story of how two companies engaged in a long battle will inevitably have victories against each other, and how both can win despite taking very different paths.

Daring to Succeed is the remarkable story of Alain Bouchard, the mastermind behind the Couche-Tard convenience store empire. Armed with nothing but a dream, a strong work ethic, and determination, he created a true powerhouse. My biggest lesson was learning how the company approached acquisitions, successfully using a simple checklist to separate interesting assets from the rest.

Ted Rogers is one of Canada’s greatest entrepreneurs, yet he’s hardly ever mentioned as his descendants have tarnished his legacy with boardroom battles and a lackluster share performance. But he was a true visionary who turned one small Toronto FM station into a media empire, building a legacy that’s equal parts respected and reviled — depending on who you ask. This is a book about huge risk — and even bigger rewards.

Lego has grown to become arguably the most successful toy of all time, a toy that is given to between 80 and 90 million children annually. This book is about the history of this revolutionary toy, but it’s also about the power of reinvention, how to run a family business, and the power of play.

I happily discovered McIllhenny’s Gold one day when Amazon was having a sale. It’s a delightful story about a secretive family, a sneakily addictive product, and the struggles of keeping the family involved in the business as the number of beneficiaries keep getting bigger and bigger. But the most interesting part is the family’s relationship with its staff, which is really unorthodox. Like, really unorthodox.

Michael Lewis’s newest book is a fascinating look at Sam Bankman-Fried, crypto wunderkind who became the world’s youngest billionaire. Fried built FTX into a global crypto powerhouse before it collapsed in epic fashion. This book taught me how there’s two sides to each story and how perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. Is SBF a con artist, like so many think? Or was he a misunderstood genius who got in over his head?

My top ‘big ideas’ books

These are books that literally changed the way I think. 

Moneyball is a book about finding unloved and undervalued baseball players, but the parallels are endless. Every business and every investor can use the principles embraced by Billy Beane as he successfully competed against other teams that had more money, better scouts, and greater resources. I read it once a year and I get something new from it every time.

Joe Studwell’s history on Asia seeks to answer an important question: why did certain Asian countries become wealthy and others didn’t? He adeptly finds the common ground between China, Japan, and South Korea, the real success stories of the region, while explaining how nations like the Philippines failed to share in that success. Read this and you’ll immediately be ahead of 99% of your peers in understanding this dynamic region.

Daniel Yergin is the world’s leading energy historian, and this is his pinnacle work. The Prize outlines the history of oil from the the discovery in Titusville to the rise of OPEC in the Middle East and the Oil Wars of the 1970s. At some 900 pages, this book is large and in charge, but it’s a must read for anyone with any interest in the energy sector. I know my investments in oil stocks were influenced by it.

This is a relatively short book with a simple, powerful message. The world’s birthrate is collapsing, and it will have a dramatic impact on our lives. Authors Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson outline what’s happening, why this problem has crept up seemingly unnoticed, and, in a surprising twist, why Canada should fare pretty well in their forecasted grim future.

Part explainer on bubbles, part biography of eccentric toy genius Ty Warner, and part story of one of the most bizarre trends to ever captivate middle America, this book is a fascinating tale about one man stumbling upon a pot of gold and the chaos he was able to create by making just a few great decisions. It’s filled with interesting lessons. One of my absolute favourites.

Author Mark Schatzker’s important work gets to the core of why there’s a food crisis in North America — and it’s 1,000% not for the reason you think. The Dorito Effect explains how our modern agricultural system comes with some major drawbacks and how when we reach for a Dorito what we’re really craving is food with flavour.

I’m a big fan of author Geoff Saab’s wealth preservation book, but not just for folks who want to stay wealthy. The book’s message of low volatility investing in simple products is timeless, and is equally valuable for those of us who are trying to get rich in a slow, deliberate, and low-risk way.

In fact, I think a low risk way of investing is one of the most powerful strategies you can implement.

A follow-up to the classic 1988 best-seller Dividends Don’t Lie, which was written by successful author and newsletter pioneer Geraldine Weiss, this book has a simple concept that I’ve taken to heart. It urges a value-based strategy to investing by using a stock’s dividend yield as a starting point — pointing out that dividend payments are the only concrete way a company rewards shareholders. Sure, prices should go up over time as earnings increase, but there are countless examples where that just isn’t the case.

Author Pat Dorsey — former director of research for Morningstar and current independent analyst — literally wrote the book on moats, revealing why these competitive advantages lead to such successful investments. This book goes over the various kinds of moats and explains them in a simple, no-nonsense way. It’s a quick read and you’ll emerge with a much greater understanding of economic moats.

Looking for a quick list of all these books? Just right click the image below and save it to your photos. Easy!

Although there are a few books here that I’d categorize in the “popular” genre, most are under the radar tomes which I really enjoyed. I think y’all will think the same. Enjoy!

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