Ten classic business books

Some things don’t change – including human nature and the basic principles of business. These ten best sellers have a timeless appeal and are recommended reading for managers at all levels.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu

These insights into military strategy from an ancient Chinese general contain some important advice for anyone involved in the competitive world of business. Sun Tzu discusses at length the qualities required of a leader and the importance of knowing yourself, as well as your enemy.

How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie

Written by a farmer’s son who became a highly successful salesman (though curiously failed in his attempt to become an actor), this classic self-help book became a best seller when it was published in the Great Depression and remains popular over 75 years later.  Carnegie recognised that the best way to change other people’s behaviour is to change your own. Business is based on human relationships and his plain honest advice still resonates today.

Awaken the Giant Within
Anthony Robbins

The world-renowned author and motivational speaker reveals techniques for self-mastery – or how to take control of your behaviour, emotions and finances and shape your own destiny.  Robbins is a leader in the science of peak performance and his techniques aim to help people unlock the power within to set goals, get motivated and achieve a higher level of success.

Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell

What makes some people achieve extraordinary success when other, often highly talented individuals fail to make an impact? In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell looks at figures ranging from Bill Gates to the Beatles and billionaire industriallists to analyse the key factors which have helped them get to the top. In many cases, the secret of their success is not quite as straightforward as it may seem. The book features concepts such as the 10,000-hour rule or the old principle that ‘practice makes perfect’. However Gladwell reveals that success is not all down to intelligence, ambition and hard work and that luck and cultural context play a part.

Jack and Suzy Welch

During his 20-year stint as CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch helped to make it one of America’s most respected companies. This book, co-authored with his third wife, outlines his approach to business. Nicknamed ‘Neutron Jack’ for his ruthless track record for making cost reductions and redundancies, Welch is not without his critics. Nevertheless the book represents a handbook for success by one of the best-known business figures of the 20th century.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey

A book about leadership rather than business, Covey’s book highlights the importance of old-fashioned values such as fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity.  The author, who died in 2012, believed that human beings were responsible for their own lives. His book urges readers to visualise what they want to achieve, then set about achieving it, building mutual co-operation and trust along the way.

The Essential Ducker
Peter Drucker

Drucker practically invented the field of management theory.  In constant demand from superstar CEOs, he delivered incisive advice from more than 60 years.  Drucker was always ahead of his time, and by the 1970s was already talking about “knowledge workers”, a good two decades ahead of everyone else.  While he wrote 30 books, this selection chosen by Drucker himself brings together his best work in one volume.

Who Moved My Cheese?
Spencer Johnson

One of the world’s best selling business books, this motivational tome takes the form of a parable and features two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two little people, Hem and Haw, as they go in search of cheese. The moral is that change happens, so learn to anticipate it, monitor it and adapt to change quickly – and even enjoy it!

The One-Minute Manager
Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Simple but effective advice that has been followed by managers worldwide. In addition to setting One Minute Goals, the authors recommend rewarding good behaviour with One Minute Praisings, and using One Minute Reprimands to point out and deter bad behaviour. They back their advice with studies in medicine and behavioural sciences to explain why it works.

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

What do long-lasting companies have in common? According to the authors of this book, it isn’t visionary leadership or a great product but rather core values. Companies like this may change their strategy and practices to adapt to changes but retain their core purpose. Drawing on six years of research, this book outlines principles for building an enduring company.

Last updated:
27 February 2019