Books For Entrepreneurs

Last week an entrepreneur named Stephen who reads this blog regularly asked me for recommendations that budding entrepreneurs should read. I gave him a list and then forwarded it to my friends Brad Feld and Jerry Colonna who I knew would appreciate the list.

That led to this post by Brad where he lists his top three book suggestions for entrepreneurs. Go read that post. It's great.

As I was reading Brad's post, I realized that I should have shared my list with everyone, not just Stephen.

So here it is:

Kavalier and Clay

Atlas Shrugged

The Prince (Machiavelli)

any and all of shakespeare's tragedies and histories

Brad's suggestion of Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance is a great one and I'll include that in the future when asked this question.

The point of this list is that there is way more insight to be gained from stories than from business books. And these are some amazing stories.

If you've got suggestions to add to the list, please leave them in the brand new comment section.

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#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. David Semeria

    Catch-22 : to fully appreciate how inflexible and immobile a big company can become (which is where the opportunity for agile disruption arises).

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a good one!

    2. Dax Brady Sheehan

      Couldn’t agree more and should be a “force read” in business 101 not literature 101 on Campuses around the globe.

  2. S.t

    I can’t believe a right-wing book like ATLAS SHRUGGED showed up on this blog

    1. fredwilson

      i take inspiration from all sides

        1. fredwilson

          i think i am in that cramer booki should read state of fear

      1. Aaron Klein

        Your open mindedness and pragmatism is what makes this blog (and your VC career) work, imho.

    2. Chris

      Right.. because any book that preaches self sufficience is considered right wing.

  3. Dan T

    Fred, now I have to read Kavalier and Clay because Atlas Shrugged and the Prince were #1 and #2 on my list.…One of my other fav’s is “Selling the Wheel” (on my list above). I have given away over a dozen copies to people and keep a stash of extra copies in my office.”Great book for those that believe they have a “breakthrough” product that will help EVERYONE doing EVERYTHING better”

    1. fredwilson

      oooh. shackelton. now that an insipring story!

    2. Name

      Kavalier and Clay? That was one of the flabbiest and most pompous books I’ve read in a long, long time.

  4. Dan Ramsden

    Fred, I can’t believe you’ve listed The Prince! I’m a huge fan and always tell people they should read Machiavelli in the context of business management and entrepreneurship. Whenever I do, nobody seems to understand what I mean. By the way, also Discourses on Livy, which is actually even more of an entrepreneur’s guide as it relates to the building of Rome, the governance of new regimes, etc. The Prince always hit me as more of an M&A book. But I love them both. Thank you for including on your list.Also, since we’re on the topic, Plato’s Republic, which is about thousands of things, but at least a couple of these are entrepreneurship and the building of something from nothing.

    1. fredwilson

      Jerry Colonna, whom I mentioned in the post, used to teach a management course using Plato’s Republic and The Prince as competing views of how to manage

      1. Dan Ramsden

        I wish I was there. I’m far from being an expert, but the main difference I see between Machiavelli and Plato in this regard (there are huge differences in general), is that Plato puts forth his thesis on how one could build a [Republic] if one could wipe out all of human history and start over again, but this time thoughtfully and with the benefit of experience, while Machiavelli deals very much in the way things are and management strategies within our given reality. Both are useful, I think, for any entrepreneur, and for that matter any MBA student, and come to think of it, anybody, for different reasons.

        1. fredwilson

          he also made them watch citizen kane and startup.comi’ve never watched although there is apparently a scene inthe former flatiron partners conference room

          1. Dan Ramsden

            By the way, since we’re on the subject, and in keeping with themes of similarities and differences, entrepreneurship, management, etc., two more ideas: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Wittgenstein. Both written on the battlefield! Both meditative in their own way, and both seeking to strip away noise to arrive at some pure truth. In the latter, that truth is in the form of logic, and mathematical thought, and in the former, a logic of the spirit. I bring these up because logic, clear thinking, and spiritual balance, can add measurable value in a business environment, and certainly in an entrepreneurial setting in which all these things are prone to get lost in the rapid pace and chaos.

          2. Dave Pinsen

            You should watch and blog about it here. It would be interesting to read a V.C.’s take on that.I wonder, too, if the founders of that company would have benefited from reading some literature — specifically, Greek tragedies. The word hubris comes to mind.

          3. fredwilson

            I know the team from that startup. That’s how they got into our conference room. And you are so right about greek tragedies

          4. Descarga

            Hey Fred,In many cases such as this the discussion around the post ends up being more interesting than the post itself. You clearly understand this and hence your investment on disqus. Congrats on the great reader base…

          5. fredwilson

            All I have to do I get people talking and they’ll do the rest

          6. javajames

            You got to watch; It’s a must watch for an entrepreneur or VC. Citizen Kane is a great movie but I don’t get it’s relevance.

  5. kidmercury

    i love business books but i have a passionate dislike for most fiction books. too long, not enough pictures, should’ve just made a movie and put it on the web for free instead. maybe then if i’m feeling generous with my time i’d watch are biz books that i feel gave me the knowledge, confidence, inspiration, and strategy to help me launch my own business:+ the core clayton christensen trilogy — innovator’s dilemma, innovator’s solution, seeing what’s next. christensen is too smart for his own good and his books are unnecessarily complex as a result. seeing what’s next was written by some of his disciples and is a much easier read. if you’re lazy and don’t want to read hard and complicated stuff, i recommend starting with that one.+ built to last by jim collins+ good to great by jim collins (collins has another book too about how companies end up failing….i haven’t read it yet but i have high expectations for it)+ anything and everything by john hagel. like christensen too smart for his own good and thus unnecessarily complex, though not to the extent that christensen is.+ the keystone advantage by marco iansiti — for those with aspirations of building the next great platform/OS, i highly recommend. not a technical book, but gives great insight into platform strategies and pitfalls. i would probably vote for this as the most underrated business book of all time.+ dealing with darwin by geoff moore+ brand hijack by alex wipperfurth+ here comes everybody by clay shirky — for internet entrepreneurs+ information rules by hal varian and carl shapiro — best explanation for the free media vs non-free media. varian is now an economist advising google. after we all read this book we can stop the stupid debates and jump on the free media train and get on with the program+ permission marketing by seth godin+ unleashing the ideavirus by seth godin+ seo book by aaron wall — for web entrepreneurs, particularly the low budget/unfunded onesas entrepreneurs benefit from understanding what is going on in the world, here are my favorite truther books — fact filled and written by an author striving to be as objective as humanly possible+ rule by secrecy by jim marrs+ rise of the fourth reich by jim marrsto understand real economics:+ economics in one lesson by henry hazlitt+ creature from jekyll island by g. edward griffin. this book blurs the line between monetary economics and kookology. griffin is an excellent writer who makes the subject fairly straightforward and easy to understand while still remaining true. highly recommended

    1. fredwilson

      These are the kinds of books most people recommend. They are fine for what they areBut they don’t provide the kind of insight you can get from someone like shakespeare

      1. ArtIg

        Reference to Geoff Moore’s Dealing with Darwin is interesting in the context of business books vs fiction/literature. The Crossing the Chasm guy has a doctorate in literature, dissertation somewhere in the area of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. For sure something there about insight.

        1. kidmercury

          i didnt know moore had a doctorate in literature, but i think it shows. he is a very lucid writer, i’m always impressed at how clearly he articulates abstract concepts that his peers manage to make too complicated.

          1. ArtIg

            Yes, I’m sure that has played a part. More on Moore here:

    2. ldeakman

      “+ creature from jekyll island by g. edward griffin. this book blurs the line between monetary economics and kookology. griffin is an excellent writer who makes the subject fairly straightforward and easy to understand while still remaining true. highly recommended”- Every potential voter should read this book

      1. fredwilson

        Kookology sometimes describes these comment threads. But not this one!

    3. reece

      I just finished Good to Great. Awesome book. Also, reading Purple Cow (Godin). One more business book I’d add to this list is Made to Stick.

  6. ErikSchwartz

    Moby Dick to understand and accept the necessary obsession.Sun Tzu to understand tactics. It helps keep you away from obvious blunders.

    1. fredwilson

      Excellent additions erik

    2. howlvenice

      Wow. I was waiting for someone to add Tsun Tzu. i use the knowledge I gained from this book every day.. and not just in business.

    1. fredwilson

      Hmm. I need to re-read it. That’s got potential

  7. Carl Rahn Griffith

    So many come to mind – here’s a couple:(Dame) Ellen MacArthur – Taking on the World … truly inspiring. We are capable of anything. Never give up.Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything … just to remind oneself how little we actually know (unless you’re a polymath – and I, sadly, am not one) – and to never forget the joy of curiosity.Agree re: Catch-22, David!

    1. fredwilson

      sometimes i wish we could turn this comment thread into a wikisuch a good list we are putting together

    2. David Semeria

      For me Catch-22 has always been a major, major, major source of inspiration!Garp’s another good one – not quite sure why – probably something to do with ploughing your own furrow.

      1. fredwilson

        Garp is one of my favorite books, but i never thought of it in thecontext of entrepreneurship

        1. David Semeria

          You’re right, the link is pretty tenuous – but as George Bernard Shaw said, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man” (because the reasonable man will just adapt to his environment, rather than the other way round).Garp’s not unreasonable, but he definitely sees the world in his own terms. And this attitude, I think, is apparent in many entrepreneurs.

    3. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingston Seagull … even though I didn’t really understand its greater meaning at the time, it helped me a lot, as a kid – my mother had just passed away after a long illness. The book had just come out and I read it dozens of times over the subsequent years.I still dip into the same battered copy now and then for inspiration.PS: this is why on my playlist, Neil Diamond’s soundtrack to the eponymous film often pops-up in-between contemporary indie bands, old punk rockers and electropop, lol!

      1. fredwilson

        that’s a good one carl

    4. David Semeria

      I forgot to mention that “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is a stunning book and really does remind us of how little we know. Case in point: last night I discovered my next door neighbour here at the beach has created a motor which runs on just pure magnetism. I told him that was impossible, and he laughed. Apparently the technology was invented in the 1930s, and my neighbour has a fully-functioning prototype – go figure!

  8. kevinselle

    I get a lot of inspiration from the “stories” and love them. I have trouble with the mechanics, would you consider a few recommendations to help in that area? Many thanks.

    1. fredwilson


  9. kevinselle

    Things like finding capital, proper registrations (state filings, taxes), business plans, budgeting. The “business books” that you mention in the post that you like. Thanks!

    1. fredwilson

      nope. i don’t know if you can find that stuff in books

  10. kevinselle

    Well…that is what I am learning. Sorry about the eagle putt.

  11. Susan

    Very wise! The subject of business is really just the subject of human nature. Those who master that will succeed.

  12. Dan Thornton

    My main inspiration tends to be biographies, but not necessarily business-related e.g. something like Rossi: MotoGenius by Matt Oxley which looks at all the elements which contributed to the personality and talent of a motorcycle hailed as the best of all time, and also how his team contributes to that success. Some great examples of how to keep things simple, how to be able to focus on absolute domination on the track but be completely relaxed away from it, and above all, etc…

    1. fredwilson

      I love biographies too. They are also stories. Just true stories. And very inspirational ones

  13. David Meiselman

    I would recommend all of James Clavell’s Asian series – Shogun, Tai-Pan, Noble House, etc. Not only do many of them make business seem exciting within a historical time and place, they also treat many of the themes that are required for success in business, such as thinking strategically, building relationships and partnerships based on mutual benefit, and dealing with threats from competition.

  14. Abhishek

    1) How about adding “Seabiscuit” here. Story of a legendary horse which can teach how you can overcome your disabilities and bad luck and become legend.2) I would also like to add “Mavericks at Work” here. It can be termed as Business book but it has many stories about maverick entrepreneurs, executive who turned their companies’ future.

  15. steveplace

    A good reading theme for entrepreneurs is to read biographies about people who were the absolute best in their field. This goes outside of business and into historical leaders, sports icons, stock traders… the more diverse set the better, then find the underlying threads within each person that led them to greatness in their field.

    1. fredwilson

      Totally agree

      1. Nigel Walsh

        agreed – pick the folks you admire and work out how you get under the covers.

        1. Philip James

          Any of the books relating to Ernest Shackleton, the great polar explorer, (“South” or “Endurance”) are good examples of this.

      2. Elie Seidman

        iCon about Steve Jobs is fantastic

  16. davidroberts

    If its a book with a story that you are looking for then the best read of modern times has to be Hoppers “The Puritan Gift”

    1. fredwilson

      Added to my list. Thanks

  17. chrisdorr

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X (with Alex Haley), an inspirational story of hustling, education and transformational leadership.

    1. Sekou Murphy

      You’re the 3rd person I heard reco this book for entrepreneurs in the last week…

  18. goldwerger

    My additions:The Fountainhead (power of independent thinking, passion and conviction in one’s chosen path).Pillars of the Earth (meaning of true long-term planning and build up, and consequences today of irreversible decisions, designs and technologies chosen yesterday).Catch 22 (over-analyzing reality is pointless, seeking logic in every aspect of life is futile, and only way to cope with this chaotic thing we call “life” is with heavy dose of self-aware humor).

    1. fredwilson

      I do love the fountainhead too. It was hard for me to pick between the two books

  19. Farhan Lalji

    Excellent list so far.Only one I would add is a recent novel, The White Tiger by Aravid Adiga – great thriller where you can learn lessons about emerging markets, social entrepreneurship, and just all round being nice to people cause you never know how things may end up.

    1. fredwilson

      Gotham Gal loved white tiger. I need to read it

  20. Manu Kumar

    A few recommendations that are at the top of my list are:The Monk and the Riddle by Randy KomisarOutrageous Optimism: Wisdom for the Entrepreneurial Journey by Jack Roseman and Steve CzetliThe E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

  21. Darren Erik Vengroff

    I’d nominate Setting the Table by your Union Square neighbor Danny Meyer.…It’s technically a business book, but it’s much more interesting when read as a study in how and why people enjoy experiences, and how you can help them do so.

    1. fredwilson

      one of the few book reviews i’ve done on AVC…

      1. Darren Erik Vengroff

        Fantastic review. I always try to squeeze in a meal at one of Danny’s places when I visit New York.

    2. fredwilson

      There’s a link in this comment thread to a review I posted of that book a few years ago

  22. Rodrigo Mazzilli

    Jessica Livingston’s “Founders at Work” is the best book for entrepreneurs in my opinion.It has lots of interviews with founders where they share the moments of fear, hard work and success.It’s also a very inspiring book!

  23. Jonathan Bruck

    Fred you said “The point of this list is that there is way more insight to be gained from stories than from business books.” I would be curious to see a future post on the insights you have gained from the books above.

    1. fredwilson

      I’d have to do one on each. Which would require a re-read of each. Which I should do anyway

  24. iamronen

    I would offer this as a small anecdote for the relationship between entrepreneurs and investors. I have a 25th edition copy of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – and in the end there is a documentation of correspondence between James Landis (editor) to Robert Pirsig (author) at the beginning of their relationship. (keep in mind that over the ensuing years, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” would be rejected by 121 publishers, before being published by James Landis!). The following is from Mr. Landis to Robert Pirsig:”… I’m more interested and intrigued then ever and just want to say there’s no rush at this end – you should take your time and under no circumstances sacrifice art to haste for fear that my willingness to read your book will either diminish or be forgotten. I shall be here and ready whenever your manuscript comes in..”I wish that kind of wisdom to investors, and that kind of investor to entrepreneurs.Sidenote: a while back I indulged in applying Pirsig’s Quality (which is further developed in Lila – a sequel of Zen) to Twitter:

  25. jefflunsford

    Catch-22 (obvious. came to mind before reading that five others had recommended also)Dune (different worlds/different ways are completely viable; fierce warriors can adapt and win with inferior resources, dramatically different tools/weapons and under extreme conditions; ingenuity and passion trump a scaled establishment…)Foundation Trilogy (sweeping, trans-generational vision, think and operate orthogonally/out-of-phase with the masses)

    1. fredwilson

      Dune. Hmm. Might have to re-read it

  26. mrcai

    Siddartha by Herman Hesse is the most beautiful, inspiring book I’ve ever read. The lesson: you have to find your own way in life. siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning)

    1. fredwilson

      Oh god. I loved that book when I read it in college. I think it really impacted me

      1. GG

        What a good thread …Journey to the East also by Hesse is a great commentary on leadership – a bit hard to reread once you know the truth about Leo …

  27. dave

    Confederacy of Dunces — so you don’t take yourself or your company too seriously.Positioning, the battle for your mind — so you learn that it’s not about features, it’s about the gestalt.

    1. fredwilson

      Dunces – yes. Good choice dave

  28. Marian Gibbon

    Love this post and subsequent comments, completely agree about the value of business learning thru stories. Someone mentioned biographies, which I also devour. And travelogues too.One book in that vein that I would add is Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, an engrossing account of his overland trip from Egypt to Capetown, and then back, briefly, to Zimbabwe. I’d never thought of it as a business primer, before this post got me thinking about my favorite stories. It’s clearly a natural fit. Theroux starts his journey with a fixed purpose, but a loose plan of how he’ll arrive at his end goal. The obstacles and challenges he navigates along the way require patience, ingenuity, flexibility, and adaptability. He encounters people who want to help him, rob him, derail him, befriend him, are suspicious of him. And he must adapt to changing environments and cultures throughout.In addition to all of those natural business parallels, I think there’s great value in being prompted to think about the world beyond our borders. And Theroux wraps in his thoughts along the way on how Africa might effectively address some of the development challenges it faces. Turns out he’s an entrepreneur at heart. An inspiring, engaging non-business, business story.

    1. fredwilson

      Traveling is such an adventure. I am jealous just reading your comment. I may have to pick up that book

  29. Jason Grigsby, ☁4

    The list so far is a great one. Hard to top Plato and Machiavelli. Makes me thankful for my political science minor.So instead of suggesting a classic, I want to suggest something from left field. The best business book I’ve read recently was “Project X – Nissin Cup Noodle.” is a manga (Japanese comic book) retelling of the creation of Cup Noodle. It is a fun and inspiring tale told in a format unlike any other business book that I had read before.So much fun in fact that I was inspired to convert it into an Ignite presentation. More people should read this book. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Very cool. Gotta check that out. Hadn’t heard of it

  30. Sam Snyder

    Here’s a comprehensive list of books written by successful entrepreneurs and top business leaders & investors:

  31. Chris Yeh

    An oddball but interesting choice for young entrepreneurs: Jean-Christophe…It follows the life of brilliant musician as he struggles with the eternal issues in life. It made a huge impression on me when I read it at 19; the sheer volume of detail makes you feel like you’ve lived an entire life after finishing it.(For those who need another reference:

  32. kevinmurphy

    Given your tweet about your missed putt (couldn’t resist) I thought I’d add a book that was recommended to me which I reluctantly read.So… Golf is all about freeing the mind. This book is all about just that- “Golfing with God” by Roland Merullo. It is one of those books that you just keep reading but you are not quite sure why and then it falls into place, at least for me anyway.

    1. fredwilson

      I could use some help with my golf game. Will this provide that?

      1. kevinmurphy

        I do not know if it will help your golf game but it did mine. And, it can’t hurt.It is focused on the mind (no swing mechanics, no drills, no videos and no teaching aides!). Roland, among other things is a low single digit handicap…

        1. fredwilson

          My golf issues are almost all emotional. I don’t handle adversity well on the golf courseLike this lie I got on my tee shot on 17 this morning…

          1. kevinmurphy

            must admit, i did laugh when i saw the picture, sorry for your bad break. But in perspective that should have cost you one shot/hole (ex skins and doubles and other compounding bets you may have been involved with). I can honestly say that as many times as I have ended up in a spot like that there are at least as many times that I received a good break (bounce off of a tree into the fairway, rolled through a crappy bunker, skipped across the water, hit a putt nowhere near where I planned but it went in anyway).Gotta take the good with the bad in the game of golf or it will eat you alive. And we all seem to remember the bad more than the good breaks…Emotionally i always think that the shot i just hit is in the worst possible situation until i go see that it is or it is in better shape than i thought- which means I can only be pleasantly surprised- which usually adds up to positive thought during eighteen holes of randomness. Glad YOU were able to play this morning!!! : )

          2. fredwilson

            I started bogey, par, birdie and it was downhill after that. But I had fun

  33. Chris Yeh

    Oh, and if anyone wants to convert this into a wiki, PBworks will be happy to comp an upgrade to our highest-end product.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks chris. I’m hoping someone volunteers

      1. zburt

        Hi Fred,I put ’em up on a Wiki. Check it out here: http://entrepreneurialreads…Also, if you get a chance, I would love to hear what you think about my new website. It’s Hype Machine + Pandora + Hip Hop Music.http://www.hiphopgoblin.comIt helps listeners discover hip-hop mixtapes by both known and underground artists. People seem to really love it! Traffic is growing every day.

  34. Spencer Fry

    My favorite is Founder’s At Work.

    1. iHouse

      Mine too. A “Like” from meSocialize

  35. Mayson

    Peter Drucker’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation.Carol Dweck’s MindSet, subtitled: The New Psychology of Success.If I were a VC, I would buy copies of these for anybody I was funding…

  36. hv23

    I always recommend “zen mind, beginner’s mind”, by shunryu suzuki, as required reading to my friends. simple yet profound“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

    1. fredwilson

      Great quote

  37. Dave Pinsen

    When I was a business development guy for an early-stage start-up, the first outside V.C. investor had me read “Inside the Tornado” by Geoffrey Moore. I can’t say it was a huge help though. Regarding the books you mentioned above:I first read Atlas Shrugged after reading a few articles in the WSJ about successful entrepreneurs who mentioned it as an inspiration.The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a great book, but I would never have thought of it as a business book. It’s better, incidentally, than Chabon’s more recent novel (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) which was still good.BTW, if this new version of Disqus doesn’t automatically send me an e-mail after this post asking me to confirm registration (I’m guessing it won’t), that will be an improvement over earlier versions, as far as unregistered guests are concerned.

  38. timraleigh

    I would add the Bible, old and new testament. Some of the shit those folks got into and out of teaches you that success in life and business is not a straight path.

    1. fredwilson

      I can’t argue with this suggestion

  39. daryn

    I never got into Shakespeare — too much forced at me at an age when I wasn’t interested. I went to an amazing k-12, and it was a struggle to accept a 16th century playwright when we had so much other fascinating history and contemporary literature to learn.I’m a big fan of memoirs and biographies, they are probably 80% of what I read outside of tech books and cookbooks. I find most business books to be light reads that mainly reaffirm what I consider common sense, but I do enjoy them. Although a bit dated now, Cluetrain had a big impact on me at the time, as did The Nordstrom Way, but I agree there’s a lot to be learned indirectly through sources other than from what I’d categorize as the business self-help section 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Read the shakespeare histories. The whole henry series is amazing

  40. boblozano

    “The Red Horse” by Eugenio Corti, tremendous story of perseverance, maintaining your humanity when pushed to the breaking point. Originally in Italian, reads well in English translation.”Confessions” by St. Augustine of Hippo &, The search for meaning of a towering intellect. Widely considered the first western autobiography, written about 397. As a bonus it has some cool philosophical discourse on the nature of time.In any case I recommend both of these books for fellow entrepreneurs because 1) perseverance is a commodity, like pitching, of which you can never ever have too much, and 2) even as we build (hopefully substantial) companies from scratch, the ongoing search for the meaning of it all haunts us.

    1. fredwilson

      I rate tenacity at the very top of traits I look for in entrepreneurs

  41. mojo

    Essays — Michel de MontaigneThe Histories — Herodotus

  42. Yule Heibel

    I wonder if any of you have read Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms? (Here’s a NYT review by Nicholas Wade.) I’ve read it – hated the first half of it, then became very intrigued by the second half, and now am re-reading it with an eye toward what he says about innovation, and how his ideas might help me understand innovation today. Not sure I understand it all that well – all the numbers and charts (which the book is full of) tend to go over my head, but Clark’s ambition (to provide “A brief economic history of the world”) is compelling, for sure.PS: Re Machiavelli’s The Prince (which is excellent and a must-read) – I would also suggest Frederick the Great’s Anti-Machiavel (the link goes to an online version of the essay). Some great insights, for example why 18th century Holland was superior in democratic freedoms and economic advances over, say, Russia (Holland had people power, all Russia had was vast tracts of land: it’s the people, stupid!), which contradicts Machiavelli’s ideas that it’s all about power and conquering territories. IOW, there’s a fairly sophisticated understanding of what makes for modern societies in the Anti-Machiavel, which is kinda ironic, given how politically backward the German principalities – and the German nation (1870ff) remained until the country finally became a democracy (again) after WWII.

    1. fredwilson

      Yule – you should teach a course about these books!

  43. Gerald Buckley

    “Mastery” is a super book. Highly recommend it.

  44. Mike Millar

    Can I suggest “The Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder. Incredibly easy to read and, to my mind very good in terms of when to delegate and when to get your hands dirty .As there is a fairly philosophical bent to the thread to this, Thomas Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” – the reason people talk about paradigm shifts. Not for any entrepreneurial reasons but to counter balance Kuhn, Popper’s “The Open Society” – also interesting as a balance to Plato.

    1. fredwilson

      Great suggestion. I love Kidder’s book. First it is a story. Second it captures the passion of engineers who are driven to ship a revolutionary product. Great read

  45. ShanaC

    Understanding Media, By Marshall McLuhanDiscipline and Punish (Trying to get through this one) By FoucaultAristotle’s PoliticsUnderstanding Comics by Scott McCloudLocke, Hobbes, and Rousseau, so that one understands social contract theory.The Second SexWalden, selectionsSelections of Marx and Engels.Inferno, DanteThe Bible,Plato,The list goes on…And I second a lot that has been written here. I think I might write up a post how b-schools might want to think up a year long liberal arts curricula, ala the classic UChicago, St. John’s, or Columbia core. It seems it still is necessary to ask the questions of what is power, what is humanity, what is money, what is love, what drives us, what make us, well us.

    1. fredwilson

      Excellent idea shana

  46. alexismichelle

    Excellent thread, enjoying everyone’s suggestions (and am glad to say I’ve read several already!). A couple additions:1) The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry (Kathleen Flinn): I think there are an awful lot of life lessons to be learned in the kitchen, so I generally get a lot of out books about chef’s and food, I recommend this one in particular because in addition to kitchen lessons, it is a story of tenacity, and following one’s dreams (not to mention its set in Paris, at Le Cordon Bleu :).2) The Four Agreements (Miguel Ruiz) and/ or the Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu): Both of these books depict ways of thinking and being that if incorporated can lead to an absolute sense of centeredness and calm, both of which are (in my opinion) essentially to being an effective leader amidst the tumult of starting a company.

    1. fredwilson

      Great additions. I sure hope someone wikifies this thread

      1. Leisa

        Warren Bennis had this wonderful piece in his book, which is useful for any in sizing up any undertaking and his/her fitness for it. It’s something that I share with young people embarking on their careers, and even colleagues finding their current situation a struggle. A nice piece for some focused introspection. (I wandered in here from Tim Knight’s blog to see the new ‘disqus format!).On Becoming a LeaderWarren Bennis1989, Perseus BooksHow can you best express you?The first test is knowing what you want, knowing your abilities and capacities, and recognizing the difference between the two.The second test is knowing what drives you, knowing what gives you satisfaction, and knowing the difference between the two.The third test is knowing what your values and priorities are, knowing what the values and priorities of your organization are, and measuring the difference between the two.The fourth test is – having measured the differences between what you want and what you’re able to do, and between what drives you and what satisfies you, and between what your values are and what the organization’s values are – are you able and willing to overcome those differences. (pp 123-127)

  47. Leisa

    I’d offer this selection for entrepreneurs: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred LansingIt’s about leadership and tenacity under the most extraordinary of circumstances.

    1. fredwilson

      Yeah. That’s been mentioned a few times. Talk about tenacity

  48. Chris Waldron

    Reading The Great Gatsby in high school taught me a lot about social class. My family grew up poor and I despised money and success. It was the first time I realized that I could do something good with money. That book motivated me to do well to get into college.

    1. fredwilson

      Then it taught you something important. Money for money’s sake is shallow. But you can do amazing things with it. I grew up an army brat and knew nothing about money. But I’ve learned a lot about it in the past 20 years

  49. zburt

    Hi Fred,I put ’em up on a Wiki. Check it out here: http://entrepreneurialreads…Also, if you get a chance, I would love to hear what you think about my new website. It’s Hype Machine + Pandora + Hip Hop Music.http://www.hiphopgoblin.comIt helps listeners discover hip-hop mixtapes by both known and underground artists. People seem to really love it! Traffic is growing every day.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for wikifying this thread. I’ll blog itI don’t know if I can evaluate your new web service very well but I’ll let my friend anil dash know about it since he’s into hip hop

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Ta-Nehisi Coates has an open thread every day on his Atlantic blog. You should mention your website there. Coates seems to have drifted away from hip hop somewhat in recent years, but he (or his readers) might find your site of interest.I’m not a fan of that genre, but I like your site design though. Looks clean and functional.

  50. sachmo

    Wow…Shout outs to: – Man’s Search for Meaning- The Tao Te Ching- Dune- WaldenI think the single best book an entrepreneur can read is The Alchemist.”Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible to realize their Personal Legend…there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth… To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.”Coolest thing about the book – Paulo Coelho was hardly known by anyone before he wrote it. It is now one of the best selling books in history (by any living author). It became sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy for him personally.I’d also recommend The Book of Five Rings and The Chuang Tzu. Both are excellent in their own right.

    1. fredwilson

      Great comment and suggestions

  51. Sandy Mckinnon

    Digging back a bit – Candide by Voltaire and Don Quixote by Cervantes are both excellent and funny (to get the madness of the world in perspective (nothing new under the sun).Crime and Punishment – by Dostoyevsky (for the internal turmoil stuff.Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson (his Baroque cycle trilogy are hard work by ultimately rewarding)- and if you have to read on Philosophy book – the Metaphysics as a guide to morals by Iris Murdoch (benefits from her novelist style but is no less profound for that).

    1. fredwilson

      Snowcrash is our guidepost at usv. Shh. Don’t tell anyone

      1. Sethop

        One of my all time faves. I’m at least somewhat curious as to how you use it as a guidepost 🙂 Certainly a book ahead of it’s time…and the only one I’ve ever started again from the beginning the moment I finished it. After finishing it the second time I gave it to one of my mates and said “you have to read this”. He finished it as fast as I did, and said “Can I loan this to Jennifer?” (his gf, who’d done her honours thesis on Gibson’s cyberpunk novels) who read it and suggested we give it to another mutual friend…and I finally got it back after it’d been read by 14 people in our social group…I started my own little snowcrash “virus” 🙂

        1. fredwilson

          A lot of what we invest in and how we look at the future comes from that book

          1. Dave Pinsen

            That was a great book, but are you serious about its influence on your venture capital business? I never thought about it, but maybe someone at Harris & Harris read Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, and that prompted the firm’s move into nanotechnology and tiny tech investments.

          2. fredwilson

            I’m serious enough

          3. Dave Pinsen

            Interesting.Coincidentally, there’s a science fiction writer named Michael Swanwick, and today — for the second time in less than a month — I found out that one of his tech ideas had essentially become reality. I’m about to blog about it. Maybe a V.C. needs to start reading Swanwick?

          4. fredwilson

            I think so

          5. Sandy McKinnon

            As a vision of a near future dystopia, I think Snowcrash’s prescience is awesome – it nails google earth – and so much more… See with Diamond Age – as a current IT VC and a lapsed Nanotechnologist – the suspension of disbelief was just too much – I do think the vractor meme has legs wrt Twitter and social media communication – but the self-replication stuff broke too many physics laws (and lapsed into magic).Still, both are better than Vinge’s Rainbow’s End – which I found contrived… Hey as well as movies we should do poetry 😉 – and nothing better than a boy’s own IF by Rudyard Kipling 😉

  52. TanyaMonteiro

    for some reason I was drawn to share “Father, Son & Co.” My life at IBM and beyond by Thomas J. Watson Jr and Peter Pertre.

  53. James Andrews

    “Thick Face, Black Heart” by Chin Ning Chu. Wonderful book that I read in my early years as a sony music exec. It’s about applying ancient Chinese military wisdom to business and life. Great book and I later befriended Chin Ning and brought her to Sony Music to speak

  54. martinowen

    Marquez’s Los cientos annos de soler -One hundered years of solitude. A remarkable story on so many levels, however I am always reminded by the gypsies who visited Macondo bringing new ideas – all too often adopted but mistakenly – the ice seen as cool building material, the telescope to make people appear further away. However there is underlying theme of complexi, sometimes paradoxical societal stasis and change.I want the product I bring to market to have a profound effect; to change business models in its sector; to make the world a better place. Dream big. Marquez’s magic realism encourages that.

    1. fredwilson

      Another amazing book that made me see things differently

  55. Tereza

    Julius Caesar — on how not to manage a ‘board’, and the dangers of misaligned interests. Shakespeare is structural perfection.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s why shakespeare is still so influential after so many years. His work will last forever

  56. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

    Funny, I’ve been working on a post re: books I read that I haven’t gotten around to finishing and the vast majority of them are not business books. When I taught entrepreneurship at UT, three books that I made required reading (well one I gave them all as a gift) were The Alchemist, The Monk And The Riddle, and Siddhartha.Business is only as good as the humans involved and as we all know humans range from genius to quite fallible at times.On another note, I hope you make it to SXSW this year!

    1. fredwilson

      Only if they move it forward a weekYou’ll note that your books have all been mentioned in this threadAmazing how we are coming together around a couple dozen essential reads

      1. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

        Yes, you should do another post on the dozen or so essential reads as put forth by your readers.If things change re: SXSW and you can fly in for a day to sit on a one hour panel, let me know. Alternatively, if you can recommend someone else at twitter who will be here, that would be great as well. I’m thinking of reaching out to Seth Godin, who doesn’t know me at all, but I have read (and very much enjoy) his blog for quite some time.

  57. danmartin

    Patrick Lencioni’s library is an absolute joy & must read. Patrick’s “leadership fables” are quick to digest and deep with valuable lessons applicable to any level of any organization. Highly recommended:

    1. Aaron Klein

      I just searched this page for Lencioni and you beat me to the punch.I discovered his books later than I wish I had. The two best ones, imho, are The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.For some reason, I seem to learn better from fiction than your typical “textbook” business book.

  58. Guest


  59. William Mougayar

    A couple of marketing classics by Al Ries & Jack Trout which are foundational marketing stuff:- Positioning: The Battle for your Mind (the title says it all)- Marketing Warfare (It outlines the 4 key Strategies: Offensive, Defensive, Flanking & Guerilla)And 2 other war strategy classics:- On War, by Karl von Clausewitz , or- The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

  60. PKafka

    Want to start a separate list for movies and/or TV? In all seriousness, let me suggest two food-themed ones: Big Night, and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. On the latter, I’m not a knee-jerk Anglophile, but make sure you see the Brit ones, not the extra-stupid Fox version (…. B

    1. fredwilson

      I suppose we could do this for all media. Thanks for the suggestions peter

    2. Derek Skaletsky

      So agree on the Kitchen Nightmares — even agree more with you on the BBC version. So good. A bit embarrassing to admit, but I actually started blogging lessons learned from each episode last year! Here’s an example: http://phase2strategy.typep

      1. PKafka

        Not embarrassing at all! I thought about doing the same thing — or at least writing a single post about it — but never did it. Good for you!

  61. werwer


  62. Dax Brady Sheehan

    “Get Rich” by Felix Dennis, Awesome rules for the hustle and for big business I highly suggest we toss that one in the list.

  63. CS

    RE: “I can’t believe a right-wing book like ATLAS SHRUGGED showed up on this blog”I can’t believe a crunchy granola bleeding heart is reading this blog! Seriously? What a silly statement regarding “Atlas Shrugged”, I can’t believe you have even read it……

  64. Haynes

    I am reading The Soul of a New Machine now and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

  65. David Semeria

    Here’s a great one: “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time”. by Dava SobelIt’s a classic story of invention, entrepreneurship and, above all, persistence.

  66. Roosevelt Islander

    A great series of novels about 19th Century industrial capitalism in the post Civil War Era is Theodore Dreiser’s Financier Trilogy composed of The Financier, The Titan and The Stoic based upon the life of Charles Yerkes – the Gordon Gekko of his time.

    1. fredwilson

      Hmm. Sounds like my kind of books. I’ll check them out

  67. Jim Kovarik

    Glad to see some of my favorites listed above. Soul of the New Machine my hands down favorite – read about a dozen times – incredibly inspiring.Catch 22 – brilliant. Milo Mindbender. I’ll be no-one can guess the opening line.Atlas Shrugged – pretty good but I prefer The Fountainhead.

  68. Jim Kovarik

    that should’ve read “I’ll BET no one can guess the opening line of Catch 22″agree that Founders at Work is excellent as well

  69. Travel, Wine and Web

    The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our LivesAfter reading this book the entrepreneur will realize that randomness plays more of role in our lives (start-up) than we realize.

  70. Jorge Barba

    To add to the list I would add these gems which are tactics told through stories of Napoleon, Alexander The Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and Musashi to name a few.- The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene- The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene- Hide a dagger behind a smile

  71. Guest

    My top 3 entrepreneurship books:- The Making of an American Capitalist (Buffett bio)- Hard Drive (Bill Gates bio)- The New New Thing (Jim Clark bio)Also, a huge fan of “Poor Charlie’s Almanack” and Phil Fisher’s “Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits” – investing books, but full of wisdom on how companies last and trends come and go.For fiction, “Pere Goriot” by Balzac.

  72. Daniel Sevitt

    Here’s a couple from left field. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Lolita by Valdimir Nabokov – American classics that plumb the depths of humanity and teach us to embrace what we are and reject what we must never become. Also worth taking a look at American Tabloid by James Ellroy, Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, Plainsong by Kent Haruf and Watchmen by Alan Moore, just because.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a great list of books. Not sure I totally buy the entrepreneurship connection for many of them though

  73. Cindy Gallop

    Separate to all wider-ranging literary analogies/metaphors etc, if you want a practical, pragmatic, common sense yet highly inspiring and motivational read, that makes you jolly well get on and DO IT – the definitive guide for all entrepreneurs is ‘The Art of the Start’ by Guy Kawasaki.

  74. Cindy Gallop

    In the literary analogy corner – ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding (for lessons in leadership, teambuilding, and how attempting to rally a motley crew of individuals around a common goal that would appear to benefit everyone can all go horribly wrong….)

    1. fredwilson

      I like this suggestion better than the prior one

  75. Tom Limongello

    Kavalier and Clay, Atlas Shrugged both not on kindle!

    1. fredwilson


  76. javajames

    It would be cool if these could be categorized into books that are actually written for entrepreneurs and for stories that have entrepreneurial lessons.

    1. fredwilson

      Yup. This thread drifted as it went on like most threads

  77. Kim

    Atlas Shrugged is an instruction manual for misfits, crimianals, thugs you know the type, the capitalists. Bernie Maddof level of thuggery requires constant re-reads of Ayn Rand – the greats assclown of all time.

  78. javajames

    If we were to categorize the different entrepreneurial books, what categories would you use? This is not easy because entrepreneurs wear so many hats and posess many qualities. But, if we wanted to pick 5 categories or less for entrepreneurial books, what would they be? I’ll post mine later.

    1. javajames

      Mine would be: Case Studies, Motivational, Leadership, Technical, Stories(Fictional)/LessonsNot that everything neccesarily fits into one of them or only one of them, but thats what I came up with based on this thread.

  79. Derek Skaletsky

    I will add one a bit off topic. Stephen King’s best work: ON WRITING. He calls it a Memoir on the Craft and it’s f’ing great. It’s not about business…it’s about becoming an artist in your craft regardless of the insurmountable odds and challenges (who would have bet that a broke, no-name writer working on a mediocre typewriter, from his two room trailer home would become the most prolific genre author in the world…not even Fred would have made that investment!)I recommend it whenever I can.I would also recommend a more traditional book, FIRST BREAK ALL THE RULES.Next topic: Movies for Entrepreneurs!! I’ll get it started with just a few:GODFATHER IIHUDSUCKER PROXYBRAVEHEART and of course…THE JERKSeriously, though, the best move for entrepreneurs was a small documentary called AMERICAN MOVIE. Watch it. You won’t be sorry…

    1. fredwilson

      I knew we’d get to movies at some point

  80. jengroff

    I would include a couple of sci-fi books in that list, since there is often great vision and creativity to be found in such books (key qualities for an entrepreneur): Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” come to mind.

    1. fredwilson


  81. Harinath Pudipeddi

    Here is my list. I need to update a lot more, but still a good beginning 🙂

  82. Virus Protection

    Thanks for the great list of books guys! Really appreciate the effort!

  83. Sekou Murphy
  84. benjaminjtaylor

    A belated comment but my Amazon order just arrived! Thanks for the list! I’ll add my suggestions to the wiki.

  85. JenH

    Just read the pre-release of KIDPRENEURS “Young Entrepreneurs with BIG ideas” (my kids loved it!)http://www.Kidpreneurs.orgLoved it!

  86. cc

    Somewhat trite list, IMHO.

  87. brett821

    Finding Your Zone – Michael Lardon – a sports psychology that teaches you how to excelRogue Warrior – Richard Marcinko – bio of a navy seal

    1. fredwilson


  88. Dave Pinsen

    Man’s Search for Meaning I would recommend to anyone, whether they’re in business or not.

  89. fredwilson

    Art of war has to get onto my list. Great suggestion by several people today

  90. fredwilson

    I love that book. Also where the wild things are and the little prince