Truly memorable books do more than just entertain or provide an escape from the mundanity of everyday life. They can be fundamentally transformative.
After a year of unprecedented change, we were eager to hear what books business leaders are giving to friends and family this holiday season. From celebrity memoirs to timely reads on social justice to entrepreneur essentials, here’s what they recommended:
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, by Ijeoma Oluo
“This year, I’m reading Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo,” says Ellen Pao, cofounder and CEO of Project Include. “We still need to understand and learn about our history and how our systems work. It’s important to examine the huge costs of change, to see what they look like over time, and who pays them. Even if you don’t want to believe it yourself, you should read Mediocre to understand how the newest generation of workers thinks, how they perceive our past, and what they want our future to look like.”
How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton Christensen
“For a holiday gift, my pick would be How Will You Measure Your Life?” says Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread. “The book makes you realize the really important things in life are family and friends.”
Chaudhary also recommends Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, by Scott Galloway. “It is the embodiment that, for decades, nothing happens and then, there are times when decades happen in a week, like during the pandemic,” he says.
Cracking the PM Career, by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro
“As a longtime product manager and product thinker, I’m always interested in how to establish product design practices and organizations,” says Marissa Mayer, cofounder and CEO of Sunshine. “And the fact that, in this book, I get to hear the stories of many friends and people I’ve worked with is an added bonus.”
Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
“As a gift this year I choose Untamed, by Glennon Doyle, because she encourages us all to live our lives unapologetically and more authentically,” says Jennifer Hyman, cofounder and CEO of Rent the Runway.
More Myself: A Journey, by Alicia Keys
“I’m gifting Alicia Keys’s More Myself: A Journey,” says Kara Goldin, cofounder and CEO of Hint Water. “[It contains] so much inspiration from a person who believes she is still learning. We all have it inside of us [to succeed]. We just need to believe it!”
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
“[This book] is a favorite because it takes a fact-based, historical view of race and racism, leading up to modern day, with invaluable insights and perspectives on the how and why of where we are,” says Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business. “Systemic racism and social injustice are crises in and of themselves, and they prevent us from realizing our fullest potential. We owe it to ourselves and to humankind to address biases—both conscious and unconscious—with compassion, empathy, and action.”
A Knock at Midnight, by Brittany K. Barnett
“I bought multiple copies of A Knock at Midnight and Untamed to share with those I love,” says Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, cofounder and CEO of PromisePay. “At the center of these books are women who are leading their lives with purpose, courage, and authenticity. I want that freedom for all of those I love.”
This New Ocean, by James M. Grimwood, Charles C. Alexander, and Loyd S. Swenson Jr.
“This New Ocean is a book that continues to find its way to my bedside table,” says Coulter Lewis, CEO and founder of lawn care company, Sunday. “It’s more or less the definitive history of space exploration from Galileo to the space race. It’s an incredible read because it really defines what it means to have ambition. What NASA and these astronauts were trying to do was not only dangerous, but nearly impossible. But through dedication, perseverance, and a sheer will to succeed, they figured it out and made history.”
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“One of my favorite books that I read this year that would make a great gift is We Should All Be Feminists by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,” says Priscilla Tsai, founder and CEO of skincare brand Cocokind. “This is a short read that is an adaptation of her TED Talk, and it introduces and celebrates feminism so powerfully—whether you are a woman or a man. I thought this book essay articulated so beautifully why we need to transform the current gender constructs that are not elevating women and serving society.”
Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
“Every year or so, I reread Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One,” says James Park, CEO of Fitbit. “I read it again this year, and it [continues] to give me a lot of inspiration.”