By the Book Leadership

Six leaders recommend the nonbusiness books that influenced them most.


We asked some notable leaders, what nonbusiness book has most influenced you?


Shelly Lazarus

Chairman and CEO
Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

By Alexander McCall Smith
Polygon, 1988

An African woman uses her father’s inheritance to set up a detective agency in Botswana.


“A completely charming and captivating novel that actually has a lot to suggest about client service and lateral thinking.”

Barry S. Sternlicht

Chairman and CEO
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay
Random House, 1989


A young boy’s coming-of-age story in pre-apartheid South Africa.

“The story of a young English boy in 1930s South Africa who finds himself an outcast at a young age, but through wit, grit, and a little mysticism, overcomes enormous obstacles to achieve greatness. His credo, ‘First with the head and then the heart, that’s how a man stays ahead from the start,’ is one I think of often. This book also demonstrates that no matter how large your ambitions are from the start, you can actually achieve more than your wildest dreams.”

Kim Clark

Dean of the Faculty
Harvard Business School


The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara
McKay, 1974

A historical novel revisiting the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of the soldiers and generals.

“This is an inspiring, powerful book about leadership. It taught me enduring principles for leading a group of people to achieve extraordinary things in the face of daunting challenges.”


Jonathan Grayer

Chairman and CEO
Kaplan Inc.

Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews — a History

By James Carroll
Houghton Mifflin, 2001

A former Catholic priest takes a provocative look at the history of anti-Semitism in the church.


“One of the profound insights here is that the marketing of history often differs significantly from the actual events. In order to really understand an organization, it’s important to know the true context in which decisions of the past were made.”

William C. Taylor

Cofounding Editor
Fast Company

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

By Barbara W. Tuchman
Random House, 1984


An analysis of four of history’s best-known governmental follies, from Troy to Vietnam.

“I read it 20 years ago, when it first appeared, and I reread it recently to help me understand how a bad idea — the Iraq war — could become such a flat-out disaster. Beautifully written, brilliantly argued case studies of how basically decent people can do really stupid things.”

Tom Stemberg

Staples Inc.


The Last Hurrah

By Edwin O’Connor
Little, Brown, 1956

Boston’s last old-school Irish-American mayor makes his final bid for election in the 1950s.

“It taught me a lot about Boston and its politics — important in that it helped me know enough about Boston politics to get our first few stores open there.”