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10 Books That Inspire Today’s Leaders

The next time you’re looking for inspiration, pick up one of these books that motivate top executives and thought leaders.

Ever wonder which titles line the bookshelves of today’s leaders and up-and-coming entrepreneurs? The books they gift to colleagues or reference for inspiration when times get tough? We reached out to a dozen CEOs, business executives, and thought leaders in industries from fashion to food to find the books that have stayed with them as well as what they’re reading now. (You’re welcome.)

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The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz several of the leaders we talked to said this book was a must-read for entrepreneurs.


“I have gifted this book several times because it is one of the grittiest, most realistic books on entrepreneurship. And I enjoy picturing Ben Horowitz rapping,” says Elizabeth Chabe, CEO and founder of High Touch Courses, a startup focused on spreading digital literacy globally.

“I LOVE this book and I love Ben Horowitz for writing a book that entrepreneurs can go back to over and over when they want to be reminded that this shit is hard and that it’s a common experience,” says
Kathleen Wright, founder of Piece & Co, a Chicago-based company connecting global artisans with brands that source socially responsible products like J. Crew and Tory Burch.

“This is the one book I’ve read that accurately describes what it’s actually like to start a company. It’s hard, it’s scary, and it’s natural to go through big ups and downs,” says Raaja Nemani, cofounder and CEO of BucketFeet, a company that pairs art and footwear.

Chabe also says The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs inspired her to change course from law school to her current path. “You can’t read this book without wanting to change the world.”

Wright credits World Poverty and Human Rights by Thomas Pogge for “lighting a fire in my belly to join the fight against global poverty and help find solutions.”

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Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich “Mezrich’s fact-based account of students using their math skills to gain a competitive edge while gambling in Vegas is “the simple-to-understand-but-difficult-to-execute message that anything is possible as long as you’re persistent, smart, and lucky,” says Dan Kim, founder and chief concept officer of frozen yogurt chain Red Mango. “Those have been my three mottos when it comes to work: don’t give up, know as much as you can about what you’re working on, and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”


Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
by Tony Hsieh


“When you read this book, it’s impossible not to feel the adrenaline and get a tiny but impactful taste of what it was like to start and grow Zappos. From idea inception to Vegas, it’s so interesting to see inside a company that has built a company culture and brand that has scaled,” says Katia Beauchamp, cofounder of beauty products subscription service Birchbox .

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz “[The book] really redefines the whole notion of ‘how to network’ in a more authentic way. It’s all about finding common ground with the people you meet serendipitously. Our Live in the Grey philosophy says, ‘make your friends your colleagues and your colleagues your friends,’” says Maneesh Goyal, founder of Live in the Grey, an online community offering resources for blending personal and professional lives.

Bone Games: Extreme Sports, Shamanism, Zen, and the Search for Transcendence by Rob Schultheis “This was the first book to establish a link between flow states and action/adventure sports. It contains some of the foundational ideas that led to both (of my books) West of Jesus and Rise of Superman. Also, Schultheis is an amazing writer, so this book was also one of the first times I realized that the storytelling techniques from New Journalism could be applied to science writing,” says Steven Kotler, New York Times bestselling author and cofounder of the Flow Genome Project.

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Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior by Mike Leach and Buddy Levy


“I like reading about historical figures like Geronimo and Churchill because these are people that had to act to preserve entire cultures that were under imminent danger and their accounts provide much better leadership, management, and life lessons than books written for business management,” says Naithan Jones, cofounder and CEO, AgLocal, an organic meat delivery subscription service.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott “Anne Lamott and Joan Didion are two of my favorite authors. I’m a fan of non-fiction work and I appreciate the honesty and accessibility of their writing styles. Bird by Bird is a must-read for anyone that wants to be a writer or has writer’s block,” says Porter Gale, marketing expert and author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth.

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz “This is a beautiful book about maximal productivity/living through working in rhythms. [Loehr] used to be a coach to some of the world’s top athletes, and then realized that the same fundamentals for maximizing athletic performance also work for ‘corporate athletes.’ This book changed my relationship to both energy and time, and helped me build key life routines that I value to this day,” says Justin Rosenstein, cofounder of online collaboration tool Asana.

About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in Entrepreneur.com, Reuters.com, Today.com, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, BlogHer.com and Fox Business.

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