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10 CEOs share the books they’re giving this holiday season

Leaders at companies like PayPal and BetterUp share their top book recommendations.

10 CEOs share the books they’re giving this holiday season
[Source photo: Weekend Images Inc./Getty Images]

The end of 2021 is a good time to take a breather after another tumultuous pandemic year. In addition to gathering with friends and family, many of us will use the holiday break to dive into a new book or two.

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We asked 10 CEOs and founders to share their favorite reads from the past year. Consider a few of the below for your last-minute gifts—or to expand your own reading list:

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, by Sean Carroll

“One of my favorite reads this year was Something Deeply Hidden, by Sean Carroll, with whom I’ve had the opportunity to speak on my Never Stand Still podcast,” says Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal.

“The book presents one fascinating concept after another, and I think it is an essential read. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the implications of the Many Worlds and entanglement, and the fact that our reality is always an infinite set of connected possibilities. It’s really blown my mind. The deeper you dive into quantum mechanics, the more it challenges you to keep an open mind about everything.”

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Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez

“I have always been an avid reader, and I believe great fictional works need to be gifted forward. Love in The Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez, is one such novel,” shares Claire Spofford, CEO of women’s clothing brand, J. Jill. “Márquez brings to life unapologetically flawed characters grappling with love, aging, and death. It’s a timeless masterpiece in which readers can explore the human condition through beautifully written prose.”

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

George Nichols III, CEO of American College of Financial Services shares, “The Warmth of Other Suns is a wonderful book about the migration of Black [people] to the Midwest, Northeast, and West between 1915 and 1970. The history and statistics are very interesting, and the more powerful story is the biographies of real people whose lives were forever changed.

The book presents a contrast and provokes thought as we now look to ‘go home to the South.’ What will we find? How will we feel? I went through that thought process when I considered, ‘Could I return to Kentucky knowing who I am now?'”

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The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

“I love the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, and have gifted it many times,” says David Rawlinson II, CEO and president of Qurate Retail, Inc., which is home to QVC and HSN.

“It is a gorgeous and deeply researched work of fiction set in North Korea that brings to life a completely different reality–both through its historical account and in its exploration of the personal, inward experiences of the characters throughout the book.”

On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know How to Use It, by Roman philosopher Seneca

“The life we live is a function of how we spend our time. Your number one responsibility as a CEO is to spend and invest your time—and your team’s time—strategically and wisely,” says CEO and cofounder of BetterUp, Alexi Robichaux.

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“In today’s fast-paced and achievement-oriented world, it’s easy to believe that simply we don’t have enough time to accomplish everything we need to do. Seneca counsels us to think differently, placing us in the ‘driver’s seat’ of our own lives, chiefly by illuminating the ways in which we can more wisely invest our time: ‘So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short. . . . Life is long if you know how to use it.'”

Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, by Tiffany Dufu

“As we navigate this intersectional reckoning, with gender equity as a key issue, we need more women to know that it’s okay for them to drop a ball or two in order to achieve what they need in life,” says DeNora Getachew, CEO of DoSomething.org.

“Tiffany’s quotes [speak to our times], such as: ‘Women have to stop doing this. We have to stop letting other people hijack our journeys.’ Her quote [later in the book] is also salient: ‘If you want something you’ve never had before, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done before in order to get it.'”

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Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight

“I think it is the most incredible story,” says David Segal, founder of DavidsTea and cofounder of Firebelly Tea. “We think of Nike as this overnight success, when in reality it took over a decade for Phil to even be able to quit his day job! He put his house on the line and his entire livelihood for that business—talk about operating under pressure. So many lessons from how to adapt when a supplier throws you a curveball to the power of being present and making people feel special.”

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As if Your Life Depended On It, by Chris Voss with Tahl Raz

“This is the best negotiating book I have ever read (and I have read a lot). I couldn’t put this book down,” shares Joe Spector, CEO of Dutch and a cofounder of Hims & Hers. “The examples Chris provides surrounding negotiation are riveting and extremely applicable to situations both big and small in the workplace.”

The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, by Dorie Clark

“I’m always trying to make time for long-term, strategic thinking, and encouraging any executive I know to do the same,” shares Lindsay Kaplan, cofounder of executive network, Chief. “I recently read Dorie’s book and found it inspiring and practical—which is a rarity.”

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Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now, by John Doerr

Tim Murphy, CEO of non-toxic cleaning-products company Branch Basics, recommends venture capitalist John Doerr’s latest release. “Everyone is talking about climate change, but John Doerr offers an actionable, real, and inspiring plan to get us to net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s a must-read for anyone building a business today.”

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About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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