The 15 best business books of all time

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Understand some of the most important business milestones and theories of the last 100 years.
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Anaele Pelisson/Business Insider

There are some books that never stop selling, and which the world’s most influential people recommend across generations.

We’ve gone through our existing “best-of” lists and others to determine which business histories and management and investing guides have been most critically acclaimed.

We stayed away from academic books and biographies, and by limiting ourselves to just 15 titles, the final list is not exhaustive.

But if you familiarize yourself with these 15 books, you will be left with a thorough understanding of some of the most important business milestones and theories of the last 100 years.


‘Barbarians at the Gate’ by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

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HarperBusiness

“Barbarians at the Gate” is a genre-defining book, proving that in the right hands, a business story that may seem too complex or arcane to anyone outside of Wall Street can become a gripping and relevant tale.

Burrough and Helyar take extensive reporting on the contentious $25 billion leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco in 1988 and make it read like an epic drama about limitless greed at the expense of employees.

“Barbarians at the Gate” is considered the best business book ever written by former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, New York Times and CNBC report Andrew Ross Sorkin, and MarketWatch columnist Jon Friedman.

Find it here »


‘Den of Thieves’ by James B. Stewart

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Touchstone

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart defined a style that’s been often imitated: the business investigation as thriller.

“Den of Thieves” follows how some of the biggest power players on Wall Street in the ’80s let avarice lead them to insider trading, and how federal authorities finally nailed them.

Find it here »


‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ by Clayton M. Christensen

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Harvard Business Review Press

“The Innovator’s Dilemma” is required reading for Silicon Valley, and received praise from late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, explains that the more successful a company becomes, the more difficult it is for it to innovate.

Since it was first published in 1997, it has inspired countless entrepreneurs to disrupt industries, as well as avoid being disrupted once they achieve success.

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‘Too Big to Fail’ by Andrew Ross Sorkin

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Amazon

“Too Big To Fail” is the definitive story of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. It’s so intricately reported that Sorkin can confidently lend cinematic quality to his scenes.

It won him the presitigious Gerald Loeb Award for excellence in financial journalism.

Find it here »


‘Liar’s Poker’ by Michael Lewis

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W.W. Norton & Company

Michael Lewis is one of the biggest names in journalism, but before he was a writer, he was an aspirational young bond trader.

After four years at Salomon Brothers, at the height of the Wild West days of loosely regulated Wall Street, Lewis left finance and decided to write a tell-all of his experience.

It’s a hilarious and smart firsthand account that also serves as a time capsule.

Find it here »


‘The Intelligent Investor’ by Benjamin Graham

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Amazon

Bill Ackman is one of many of finance’s most influential investors who cite “The Intelligent Investor” as a book that changed their lives.

Written by Warren Buffett’s mentor and published in 1949, it’s an in-depth introduction to value investing.

Graham’s book teaches you to take the long view in investing for maximum gains, and exercise control over impulsive trades that everyday gains and losses inspire.

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‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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Amazon

Taleb coined the term “black swan,” which refers to events that are virtually impossible to predict but become endlessly rationalized in hindsight.

He argues that systems most closely tied to predictive models are those that are most vulnerable to collapse in the case of a black swan event.

The importance of Taleb’s theories is demonstrated by how passionately people have argued for and against them, but one of most significant fans of “The Black Swan” is Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who said it changed his worldview.

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‘The Essays of Warren Buffett’ by Warren Buffett, edited by Lawrence A. Cunningham

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Amazon

Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett is arguably the greatest investor in history – and he’s also a talented writer.

Buffett said this is the book he autographs the most. It’s a collection of some of his best annual shareholder letters, together offering a glimpse into Buffett’s investing philosophy, as well as what he wants his legacy to be.

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‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’ by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

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Portfolio

American energy company Enron was among the most highly praised companies in the world in the late 1990s. Then, in late 2001, an intricate conspiracy of fraud and insider trading at the very top of the company unraveled, and the $63 billion company declared bankruptcy.

Drawing upon hundreds of interviews, McLean and Elkind give a definitive account of what went down.

Warren Buffett, not one to liberally praise business books, called it “well-reported and well-written.”

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‘Lords of Finance’ by Liaquat Ahamed

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Amazon

First published while the world was living with the effects of the last financial crisis, “Lords of Finance” argued that the heads of central banks who met after the first World War had a larger impact on the Great Depression than had previously been understood.

Ahamed shows that a few people can indeed have world-changing power, and that at this level human fallibility can be devastating.

The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010.

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‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

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HarperBusiness

Over the course of five years, Jim Collins and his research team studied 28 elite corporations to determine what separated great from merely good companies.

The resulting management book is the opposite of anecdotal fluff prevalent in the genre.

And it’s made an impact since it was first published in 2001 – Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Vodafone chairman Gerard Kleisterlee, and EY senior partner Mark Otty name it as a major influence.

Find it here »


‘When Genius Failed’ by Roger Lowenstein

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Random House

“When Genius Failed” is the story of the downfall and subsequent bailout of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management.

At its height, LTCM had $100 billion in assets under management, and its reputation was boosted by a leadership team that included respected economists, including two Nobel Prize winners.

Lowenstein shows, however, that no level of intelligence is impervious to disastrous gambles driven by greed.

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‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries

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Amazon

Ries first proposed his “lean startup” approach in 2008, and codified it in his 2011 book.

Startups that follow these guidelines experiment and discard failures ruthlessly, pivoting to a new angle if necessary. These ethos can also be applied to mature companies.

Billionaire tech investor Marc Andreessen called it “A must-read for every entrepreneur” and former GE CEO Jeff Immelt required all of his managers read it.

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‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman

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Amazon

Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his foundational work in behavioral economics, the novel blending of psychology with economics.

His 2013 book is a thorough yet accessible introduction to his ideas – ideas that explore how humans do not always make rational decisions, and are driven by unconscious biases and impulses.

Nassim Taleb said it’s as world-changing as Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams.”

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‘Reminiscences of a Stock Operator’ by Edwin Lefèvre

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Wiley

First published in 1923, “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator” is a fictional but highly accurate look at life on Wall Street in the early 20th century.

For decades, investors have remarked at how it’s stood the test of time, and former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan called it “a font of investing wisdom.”

Find it here »