How to Choose a Business Book

All leaders should be reading (or at least skimming) business books.  Most business books can be absorbed in a couple of hours, and yet most leaders can’t find the time or don’t know which book they should even be reading.  There certainly is no shortage of books to choose from – if you google “business & leadership books” at Amazon, you get 5,683 recommendations!

Here are my (not very sophisticated) tips for buying a business book…

  • Know what you want. Obviously, if you really know your subject, you don’t need my help. Just go to Amazon and type in a topic like servant leadership or workforce planning, and you’re good to go. You’ll still have lots of choices, but you’re most of the way home. That being said, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but want to stay up on the latest thinking, try one of these suggestions:
  • Read reviews. Check out Business Week, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or other publications for reviews of popular business books that are captivating a national audience. Let the experts guide you to the best books.
  •  Pay attention to what’s hot. Speaking of a national audience, keep your ears open around the water cooler at work and let your peers guide you to the best books. If it’s a must-read, you’ll probably hear about it. Then, it’s up to you to decide whether you “just have to read it” to be part of the in crowd.
  • Read a summary of the book. If you don’t want to own or read the entire book, there are several excellent summary services that will give you a thorough understanding of the book’s concepts. Some of the best include businessbooks.com, bizsum.com, and Soundview Executive Book Summaries.  All of these services offer a pretty thorough synopsis of the book, and this is a good way to buy CDs or podcasts for that commute time, too.
  • Look closely at other people’s book shelves. That’s right – be a snoop! Perfectly acceptable at the office, and completely borderline at Saturday night’s house party. If you’re that desperate for a good business book, sneak off to the den on your way back to the kitchen for more wine, and see what your friends are reading.
  • Go back to Amazon and graze. Got a few minutes to kill? Type away – they have lots of ways to narrow your search, and the descriptions and reviews are getting better all the time.
  • Go to the bookstore. Here you’ll find only the biggest sellers. If they have more than 10 copies of a single book, chances are it is finding a consistent audience, and might be right for you.
  • Read outside the box. Sometimes, historical novels, biographies or other non-fiction works become a “business book” phenomenon. See Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals as exhibit A.

No matter how you find them, I hope you’re trying to read about 3-4 business books a year. I find that it stimulates my thinking, and sometimes you really do need to keep up with the topics in your field.  If you only read a few each year, read 2 books in your specific area of expertise (marketing, finance, etc.) 1 nationally-recognized book (think Gladwell or Friedman), and one general leadership book.  And don’t be afraid to step out and try new authors – sometimes that’s where the really new ideas are. Happy reading!