The 20 Best Business Books of 2020Nov 24, 2020
2020 has been a crazy year and it’s understandable if reading business books has slipped down your priority list. It means you’ve probably missed on some of the gems in this list.
There are all types of books for everyone from casual readers to book devourers; case studies, step-by-step guides, and leadership advice. I’m on the devourer side and have learned from hundreds of business books in my life.
Ranking books is always highly subjective and I’ve come up with a simple formula to order these books. Like movies, the first people to review are super fans or know the creator personally. I account for that by giving extra weight to the number of reviews then normalize to give a score out of 100.
This isn’t a list of my favorite books but based on the views of the highly engaged readers of Goodreads.com. I hope you find something that resonates with you!
AP: Amardeep Parmar score (books are ranked from lowest to highest score)
GR: Goodreads.com rating and number of ratings
AZ: Amazon.com rating and number of ratings
(Please note that this story contains affiliate links but you can choose to simply google the titles instead should you wish to purchase elsewhere)
#20 Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers by John Kay and Mervyn King
AP: 48/ GR: 4.05 from 257/ AZ: 4.4 from 196
A little known fact about me is I worked as a Research Assistant in the Bank of England under Mervyn King. As a young economics student, he carried an almost mythical aura to me. Together with John Kay, this is a masterclass on why we should stop relying on mathematical models for everything because they all rely on assumptions. Garbage in and garbage out.
#19 Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say — And What You Don’t by L. David Marquet
AP: 53/ GR: 4.13 from 366 / AZ: 4.5 from 259
This book has an interesting take on some modern leadership advice, especially the rigid divisions between different types of people. Don’t aim to be a doer rather than a thinker, aim to be both. It rejects the idea of the strongman leader and gives examples to show why leaders should encourage people to speak up. It intuitively makes sense to adjust our style to match the situation.
#18 Your Next Five Moves: Master the Art of Business Strategy by Patrick Bet-David
AP: 54/ GR: 4.43 from 272/ AZ: 4.9 from 924
Unlike some of the case studies or theoretical books on this list, Patrick sets out a “how-to”. He guides you through knowing yourself, mastering your reasoning skills, team building, scaling up and power plays. He uses a wide variety of examples to keep things feeling fresh throughout the book including mobsters and philosophers.
#17 Billion Dollar Brand Club: The Rebel Startups Disrupting Industry Empires by Lawrence Ingrassia
AP: 55/ GR: 4.15 from 399/ AZ: 4.5 from 79
What a great clickbait title! Luckily it contains some insight too and focuses on the lesser-known stories of some internet consumer startups. The startups discussed are the kind of sexy stories many people hope their company will become. Yet we also see overhyped companies and what brought them down. For people who love case studies, this is a no brainer.
#16 The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time by Jim McKelvey
AP: 56/ GR: 4.20 from 387 / AZ: 4.7 from 139
Jim McKelvey may not be a household name but the company he cofounded, Square, will bring many more nods of recognition. His humility shines through this book and you feel much less patronized than books by other billionaire entrepreneurs. This feels like a hug rather than a whip at your back.
#15 How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz
AP: 56/ GR: 4.26 from 373/ AZ: 4.8 from 344
I am a huge fan of Guy Raz’s podcast so no wonder I loved this summary of everything he’s learned. He has interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs and is an expert at pulling out just the right anecdote to make his point clear. While other authors draw on their own experiences, Guy Raz has a deeper view that ignores some of the stories individual entrepreneurs have made themselves believe.
#14 Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller, J.J. Peterson
AP: 60/GR: 4.42 from 401/ AZ: 4.8 from 471
For newbie entrepreneurs, this is a great beginner’s guide to get you started. It answers all those questions you’re too embarrassed to ask and provides steps you can follow. It’s worth it for seasoned marketers as a refresher that can be flicked through whenever you hit a mental wall. You’ll notice Donald uses his own methods to sell himself throughout the book too!
#13 Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Fall of WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman, Will Collyer, et al.
AP: 61/ GR: 4.16 from 590/ AZ: 4.5 from 218
I remember when WeWork was being praised as the next big thing. It seemed to come from nowhere to become the dominant force in its niche. Yet it’s gone now and for any aspiring entrepreneur learning about failure is often better than success. It’s easier to work out why something didn’t work and avoid it than extracting the exact magic of why something is working. Cult of personality seems to be a common thread!
#12 How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes by Matt Ridley
AP: 61/ GR: 4.14 from 629/ AZ: 4.6 from 465
Matt wants to challenge our misconceptions in this book. We love to make someone a hero whereas, in reality, teams drive innovation forwards. There are other thoughtful lessons throughout the book and it’s a great read for anyone who considers themselves an innovator. It will stop them from running towards a dead end whilst convinced they are in the right.
#11 Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol
AP: 70/ GR: 4.28 from 918/ AZ: 4.6 from 458
Don’t worry this isn’t actually rocket science though it is the field Ozan worked in. Ozan presents structures and ways of approaching problems to help with everyday leadership decisions. The greatest show of Ozan’s intelligence is the examples he uses which are well beyond what most of us are familiar with. Yet he explains them in a way we can all understand. In a meta-way, that’s one of the aspects I will study most from him.
#10 Facebook: The Inside Story by Steven Levy
AP: 70/ GR: 4.09 from 1118/ AZ: 4.4 from 133
Steven had access to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg for several years to deliver this definitive guide to Facebook’s history. It’s packed with examples of Facebook’s culture and not all of it reflects well on the company. What’s great about this book is it isn’t out to tear down Zuckerberg or make him look like a hero. You’re given the stories and able to make your own mind up.
#9 The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter H. Diamandis
AP: 80/ GR: 4.25 from 1552/ AZ: 4.7 from 826
Peter Diamandis has a B.S. in molecular genetics, an M.S. in aeronautics and astronautics, and a Harvard Medical School M.D. He’s a prodigy who went on to become a successful entrepreneur by pushing the frontier of tech with Zero Gravity. Here he explains some of the most exciting inventions and innovations being worked on right now which could be part of our daily lives soon. For anyone who loves tech, this is a must-read.
#8 Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter by Curtis Jackson (50 Cent)
AP: 80/ GR: 4.44 from 1261/ AZ: 4.8 from 2944
Yes, this is by the rapper behind In Da Club and Candy Shop. His public persona might put people off this book but they’d be missing out on a treat. Curtis has developed into a successful entrepreneur and director after his music career. His voice throughout the book is fantastic, he explains the lessons he has learned without coming across as preachy.
#7 Upstream by Dan Heath
AP: 82/ GR: 4.20 from 1857/ AZ: 4.6 from 544
Upstream is a simple idea, inside of waiting until problems flow downstream to us, we should step up and meet them before they get out of hand. It doesn’t feel like a new idea but the examples used are refreshing and it’s an easy read.
#6 No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier
AP: 82/ GR: 4.12 from 2022/ AZ: 4.4 from 230
Sarah is a journalist and through engaging with Instagram insiders, she has provided the most insightful look into the company so far. It covers the founders and their influence but also what happened when Facebook came knocking. This isn’t written in a self-help style, it’s more the actual story of the company for people to make their own conclusions. It doesn’t shy away from the controversy of moderation either.
#5 Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction by David Enrich
AP: 85/ GR: 4.01 from 2697/ AZ: 4.6 from 1225
The title has added Donald Trump for attention but really it’s a plunge into Deutsche Bank’s complex history. This isn’t light reading but for people with a particular interest in the finance industry and how one of the world’s largest banks came into being. It’s also a great guide to how you don’t want management to act when short-term profits are emphasized.
#4 No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer
AP: 86/ GR: 4.33 from 1910/ AZ: 4.6 from 984
Reed provides a sneak peek behind the unconventional culture of Netflix and how it helped them become so successful. He focuses on the almost stereotypical perks of trendy Silicon Valley startups such as unlimited vacation time. What’s great is Professor Erin’s influence which means there’s some focus on what didn’t work and how they adapted to continue growing.
#3 The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson
AP: 87/ GR: 4.66 from 1339/ AZ: 4.7 from 590
Naval Ravikant is one of the entrepreneurs I follow most closely for his commitment to living the right kind of life now rather than burning out chasing money. This isn’t a traditional book and it’s best read in parts rather than from cover to cover. Ravikant’s thoughts are the kind where you read a page then need a few days to ponder the idea before returning to read more.
#2 Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual by Jocko Willink
AP: 93/ GR: 4.49 from 2227/ AZ: 4.9 from 2791
Jocko is a former Navy SEAL commander turned author who has seen staggering success. He’s converted the lessons he learned in the military into tips we civilians can learn from. Surprisingly, it’s not promoting a hierarchical view as I expected but encourages leaders to include their followers in their decision making. This way they feel ownership too and together they can get through everything.
#1 The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
AP:100/ GR: 4.51 from 2878/ AZ: 4.7 from 2066
Surprised at the number 1? I was too but Morgan’s short book is packed full of knowledge readers have loved. This isn’t a hustle porn book thankfully and Morgan is focusing on money as a tool to get the most out of your time, instead of time as a tool to get the most money. A key lesson for entrepreneurs is to not move the goalposts when you reach your target or you’ll never stop chasing happiness.