The key to navigating these crazy times might be right under your nose. Reading can reduce your stress level by up to 68%, according to research by the University of Sussex. Beyond that, the right book can educate and embolden us for the hard road ahead.
We asked eight CEOs for their top recommendations. Read these books, they say, and you’ll be ready for whatever plot twist comes your way:
SuperBetter, by Jane McGonigal
“SuperBetter is a blueprint for getting through times of crisis with a gamer’s mindset,” explains Jill Wilson, founder and CEO of Robin Games, a developer and publisher of free-to-play mobile lifestyle gaming.
“The author is a game designer who battled through a serious concussion by making up a game for herself,” she says. “The book is a how-to guide for approaching your own obstacles in a gameful way.”
The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“You may have seen the novel coronavirus referred to as a ‘black swan event.’ This book coined the phrase,” says Ryan Macpherson, CEO of Coassemble, an online training tool.
“The book covers the psychology behind crisis and other unlikely events and why we don’t see them coming,” he says. “This is a book that will genuinely deepen your understanding of how crisis events happen, which plays a critical role in effectively communicating and empathizing with others during crisis situations.”
The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
“When things are looking dire here on earth, I think it’s good to reenergize, stretch my mind, and expand my perspective to the cosmic,” says Ian White, CEO and founder of ChartHop, an organizational management platform.
He chose this book because “it asks and occasionally answers existential questions about free will, destiny, and the meaning of life—with Vonnegut’s signature black comedy.”
The End Is Always Near, by Dan Carlin
“These are unprecedented times,” says Walter De Brouwer, cofounder and CEO of doc.ai, an AI company focused on medical research. “But imagine what it meant in the 14th century with the Plague or the Black Death, which killed half of the world’s population.”
“It took them 200 years to recover. They did not have a road map of tests, serology, plasma, therapeutics, vaccines. They did not even have an understanding of cells,” he says. “Imagine that hopelessness, that silence, the chaos, and the acceptance of it. Dan Carlin’s book brings perspective to our current situation by reminding us of history.”
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle
When Robert Mazzucchelli was building SportsEdTV, he gave a lot of thought to company culture and turned to this book for guidance. “The book offers many examples of great organizations—companies, sports teams, nonprofits—and how culture has influenced their growth,” says Mazzucchelli, who makes sure every new hire gets a copy of the book. “I’m reading it again now to remind myself not to let my guard down on culture as we hire new people after recently completing our Series A funding round.”
Blue Ocean Strategy, by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim
“Blue Ocean Strategy really taught me to be confident in creating competition within a thriving market,” says Michelle Cordeiro Grant, founder and CEO of Lively, a lingerie company that is retail and D2C.
“While I was brainstorming and building Lively, I really leaned on this book and its lessons on creating new space within current markets and how instead of fearing competition, our goal should be to make that competition irrelevant,” she says.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
“This is a brilliant story of resilience and determination,” says Kirill Bigai, CEO of Preply, a platform that teaches English. “The author started Loudcloud in 1999 and raised his first round in 2000, just before the tech bubble burst and the industry spiraled out of control,” he explains. “He saved the company from bankruptcy, turned things around by launching new products, and rebranded as Opsware. He finally sold it to HP for $1.65 billion in cash in 2007.”
“His guidelines on all aspects of steering a company—from how to lead during peace and war to how to change your workforce—are an evergreen blueprint for any crisis, any time,” he adds.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
Benny Silberstein, CEO of Payrix, an online payment platform, says although this book is well known, it’s worth revisiting now. “While we hear today designations of what constitutes an essential versus nonessential worker, returning to this book’s pages gives us a chance to reexamine the notion of what is most essential to each of our lives,” he says. That sort of mentality is especially helpful now, when we’re all juggling so much, and will serve us well beyond this pandemic.