What are the best business books of all time?

To find out I analyzed 100 book recommendations from the top CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs from the past 20 years.

I then combined each individual recommendation in Excel. Of the 742 books recommended, I assigned each a point.  Then sorted by count.

What books come most recommended by the top CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs?

It’s not what I expected.

Best Business Books of all Time

# 1 – Influence by Robert Cialdini

Recommended By: Charlie Munger, David Heinemeier Hansson, Derek Sivers, Guy Kawasaki, John Doerr, Justin Kan, Max Levchin, Paul Allen

From the back cover: 

With more than one-quarter of a million copies sold worldwide, Influence has established itself as the most important book on persuasion ever published. Inre it, distinguished psychologist Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., explains why some people are remarkably persuasive and how you can beat them at their own game. You’ll learn the six psychological secrets behind our powerful impulse to comply, how skilled persuaders use them without detection, how to defend against them–and how to put those secrets to work in your own behalf. This indispensable book guarantees two things: You’ll never again say “yes” when you really mean “no” and you’ll make yourself more influential than ever before. 


# 2 – The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen

Recommended By: Andrew Grove, Ben Horowitz, Guy Kawasaki, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban,  Steve Jobs, Steve Blank

From the back cover: 

In this revolutionary bestseller, Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen says outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership — or worse, disappear completely. And he not only proves what he says, he tells others how to avoid a similar fate.

Focusing on “disruptive technology” — the Honda Super Cub, Intel’s 8088 processor, or the hydraulic excavator, for example — Christensen shows why most companies miss “the next great wave.” Whether in electronics or retailing, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know when to abandon traditional business practices. Using the lessons of successes and failures from leading companies, The Innovator’s Dilemma presents a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation. Find out: When it is right not to listen to customers. ?When to invest in developing lower-performance products that promise lower margins. ?When to pursue small markets at the expense of seemingly larger and more lucrative ones. Sharp, cogent, and provocative, The Innovator’s Dilemma is one of the most talked-about books of our time — and one no savvy manager or entrepreneur should be without.


# 3 – Good To Great by Jim Collins

Recommended By: Evan Williams, Steve Blank, Fred DeLuca, Jeff Bezos, Meg Whitman, Max Levchin, Tracy DiNunzio

From the back cover: 

The Challenge:
Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning.

But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?

The Study:
For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

The Standards:
Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world’s greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.


# 4a- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Recommended By: Aaron Patzer, Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, John Doerr, Peter Diamandis, Rex Tillerson

From the back cover: 

This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world and did. Was he a destroyer or the greatest of liberators?

Why did he have to fight his battle, not against his enemies, but against those who needed him most, and his hardest battle against the woman he loved? What is the world’s motor — and the motive power of every man? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the characters in this story.

Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life — from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy — to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction — to the philosopher who becomes a pirate — to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph — to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad — to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels.

You must be prepared, when you read this novel, to check every premise at the root of your convictions.

This is a mystery story, not about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit. It is a philosophical revolution, told in the form of an action thriller of violent events, a ruthlessly brilliant plot structure and an irresistible suspense. Do you say this is impossible? Well, that is the first of your premises to check.


# 4b – Crossing the Chasm

Recommended By: Andrew Ng, Brad Feld, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Blank, Josh James, Max Levchin

From the back cover: 

The bible for bringing cutting-edge products to larger markets—now revised and updated with new insights into the realities of high-tech marketing

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore shows that in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle—which begins with innovators and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards—there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are willing to sacrifice for the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the technology actually offers improvements in productivity. The challenge for innovators and marketers is to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate adoption across every segment.


# 4c – The Lean Startup by Eric Reis

Recommended By: Andrew Ng, Brad Feld, Dustin Moskovitz, Steve Blank, Evan Williams, Sheryl Sandberg

From the back cover: 

Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable.  The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.

Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business.

The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively.  Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute.

Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs – in companies of all sizes – a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in an age when companies need to innovate more than ever.


# 4d – Zero to One by Peter Thiel 

Recommended By: Andrew Ng, Brad Feld, Derek Sivers, Elon Musk, Max Levchin, Sam Altman

From the back cover: 

The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One, legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things.

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.


# 8 –  The Hard Thing About Hard Thing

Recommended By: Brad Feld, Justin Kan, Max Levchin, Michael Dell, Steve Blank

From the back cover: 

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup—practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular ben’s blog.

While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.

Filled with his trademark humor and straight talk, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures, drawing from Horowitz’s personal and often humbling experiences.

# 9a- How to Win Friends & Influence People

Recommended By: Kevin O’Leary, Lee Iacocca, Warren Buffett, Sara Blakely

From the back cover: 

For more than sixty years the rock-solid, time-tested advice in this book has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

Now this previously revised and updated bestseller is available in trade paperback for the first time to help you achieve your maximum potential throughout the next century! Learn:

  • Three fundamental techniques in handling people
  • The six ways to make people like you
  • The twelve ways to win people to you way of thinking
  • The nine ways to change people without arousing resentment

# 9b – The Foundation Trilogy

Recommended By: Andrew Ng, Brad Feld, Elon Musk, Sam Altman

From the back cover: 


FOUNDATION begins a new chapter in the story of man’s future. As the Old Empire crumbles into barbarism throughout the million worlds of the galaxy, Hari Seldon and his band of psychologists must create a new entity, the Foundation-dedicated to art, science, and technology-as the beginning of a new empire.

FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE describes the mighty struggle for power amid the chaos of the stars in which man stands at the threshold of a new enlightened life which could easily be destroyed by the old forces of barbarism.

SECOND FOUNDATION follows the Seldon Plan after the First Empire’s defeat and describes its greatest threat-a dangerous mutant strain gone wild, which produces a mind capable of bending men’s wills, directing their thoughts, reshaping their desires, and destroying the universe.

Best Business Books of all Time, as Voted By 100 Famous CEOs & Entrepreneurs: Summary

With over 742 selections, from 100 different CEOs and entrepreneurs, the highest total was eight.

My takeaways when curating the best business books of all time is that successful people read A LOT and they read a wide variety.

While I wasn’t surprised books such as The Innovator’s Dilemma, Good to Great, and Influence were on the list, I was surprised at the selection of The Foundation Trilogy. The book is currently out of print.

The Lists of Recommended Books by Top CEOs, Entrepreneurs, and Founders

Here are each of the lists that went into compiling the top business books of all time.

Aaron PatzerEric SchmidtLee IacoccaReid Hoffman
Andrew GroveEvan WilliamsMarc AndreessenRex Tillerson
Andrew NgFred DeLucaMarc BenioffRichard Branson
Arianna HuffingtonFred WilsonMarcus LemonisRussell Simmons
Ben CasnochaGuy KawasakiMarillyn HewsonSam Altman
Ben HorowitzIndra NooyiMarissa MayerSara Blakely
Bill GatesJack DorseyMark CubanSatya Nadella
Bill GurleyJack MaMark SusterSean Parker
Bob IgerJamie DimonMark ZuckerbergSeth Godin
Brad FeldJason FriedMarie ForleoSheryl Sandberg
Carlos SlimJeff BezosMax LevchinSir Martin Sorrell
Charles KochJeff WeinerMeg WhitmanSpencer Rascoff
Charlie MungerJim KochMichael BloombergSteve Blank
Chuck RobbinsJohn ChambersMichael DellSteve Jobs
Dan MartellJohn DoerrMichael MoritzSteve Schwarzman
Dave MorinJohn Paul DeJoriaMuhtar KentTaso Du Val
David DuffieldJorge Paulo LemannOprah WinfreyTed Turner
David Heinemeier HanssonJosh JamesPaul Allen (Microsoft)Tim Cook
Daymond JohnJustin KanPaul Allen (Ancestry)Tim Ferriss
Derek SiversKevin KellyPaul GrahamTony Hsieh
Donald TrumpKevin O’LearyPavel DurovTracy DiNunzio
Dustin MoskovitzKevin RosePeter DiamandisTravis Kalanick
Ed CatmullKip TindellPeter ThielWarren Buffett
Elon MuskLarry EllisonRamit SethiWendell Weeks
Eric RiesLarry PageReed HastingsZhang Ruimin