Josh Kaufman, author of the forthcoming The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, believes that you don’t need to get an MBA to understand and succeed in business. Instead, you can self educate yourself at a fraction of the cost by reading the best business books that cover all the business basics.
What’s peculiar about his list of the 99 best business books? You’ll find nothing by Jim Collins, the most successful business book author of our generation whose “Built to Last” and “Good to Great” are two of the best-selling books of all time, or Tom Peters, whose In Search of Excellence collaboration with McKinsey colleague Bob Waterman, ushered in the popular era of business books. There’s not a single business book by leadership guru Warren Bennis. Nor is there a single title by such well-known academic authors as Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, Michigan’s Noel Tichy, Harvard’s John Kotter, Bill George or Rosabeth Moss Kanter. No CEO biographies–not Andy Grove, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, or Tom Watson Jr.
Why? “There is an incredibly wide gulf between a popular business book and a useful practical business book,” insists Kaufman, who says he has read thousands of business books in the past five years. “It’s easy to see the popularity of Good to Great. It’s an inspiring book and it makes people feel good. So the word is spread. I’m looking for useful books that teach fundamental principles of how business functions and how you can do it better. A lot of the most popular books don’t deliver well on that premise.”
Instead, Kaufman says he prefers what he believes are more pragmatic titles, such as Essentials of Accounting. “If you want to learn the basics of accounting, there is no better book,” he says. “It teaches you accounting by having you create financial statements. It is incredibly dense and it takes work to get through. It’s not a page turner. But if you do it, you’ll learn accounting.”
Well, yes and no. There are quite a few glib and overly commercial books on his list, along with texts that you would only buy if a professor insisted that it was necessary for a class. And there are other books that would have made better magazine stories.
Here’s a selected portion of Kaufman’s 99 best business books by category.
ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE
Accounting Made Easy by Mike Piper
The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Finance by Robert A. Cooke
How to Read a Financial Report by John Tracy
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff
Principles of Statistics by M.G. Bulmer
Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies by Nikos Mourkogiannis
Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chain Kim and Renee Mauborgne
Green to Gold by David Esty and Andrew Winston
Seeing What’s Next by Clayton M. Christensen, Erik A. Roth, and Scott D. Anthony
First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter
Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen
Hiring Smart by Pierre Mornell
The Essential Drucker by Peter Drucker
All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun
Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker
Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
The Knack by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham
Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim
Bankable Business Plan by Edward Rogoff
Tribes by Seth Godin
Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan by Jayme A. Check et al
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.