The 20 Top-Rated Business Books of 2021Nov 22, 2021
2021 hasn’t been the year we all hoped for but I’m hopeful 2022 will be brighter.
You might have struggled to find the time to keep up to date with the best business books this year so I’ve compiled this list for you. The current times are reflected in what people were reading with several corporate catastrophe books as well as books covering equality and the climate.
Ranking books is always highly subjective and I use a simple formula to order this list. Like movies, the first people to review are super fans or know the author personally. I account for that by giving extra weight to the number of reviews then I normalize the raw figures 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.
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. You can find the 2020 list here.)
#20 Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power by Brooke Baldwin
AP: 72/ GR: 4.2 from 260/ AZ:4.8 from 236
Brooke is a CNN journalist and explores the importance of women supporting each other. Now I’m not a woman but her advice has been well-received by many. It offers practical tips for women to work together to achieve their collective goals within an organization.
#19 Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe
AP: 74/ GR: 4 from 1387/ AZ: 4.4 from 130
If you’re looking for an upbeat book, keep scrolling. Sarah unleashes a strong critique of the way we look at work by exploring how we got to where we are. The central message is stop seeking to love what you do for money because it’s all part of the system. Whether you find that depressing or empowering is down to you!
#18 Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam by Vivek Ramaswamy
AP: 74/ GR: 4.17 from 538/ AZ: 4.8 from 1312
Potentially the most controversial book on this list though it’s not as aggressive as the title might suggest. Vivek argues companies across America are only taking stands on certain topics as a form of marketing rather than believing in what they say. If you think an advert is just to tick a box, you might be right.
#17 A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport
AP: 75/ GR: 3.95 from 2681/ AZ: 4.4 from 956
I confess I check my emails obsessively even though I know I shouldn’t. Emails were designed to be asynchronous but too many people expect instant replies. Cal offers a guide to change this damaging culture in your work and business.
#16 The Unfair Advantage: How You Already Have What It Takes to Succeed by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba
AP: 76/ GR: 4.12 from 1016/ AZ:4.4 from 336
This is the only book on this list where I have personally met one of the authors! So much business advice relies on a mantra of hard work and sacrifice but Hasan and Ali reveal unfair advantages is the secret. We all have something we can bring to a business that our competitors can’t. They provide a roadmap for exploiting your unfair advantages.
#15 The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale by Simon Clark and Will Louch
AP: 76/ GR: 4.23 from 549/ AZ: 4.4 from 243
An insane story. Simon Clark and Will Louch expose Arif Navqi who cheated investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Both Obama and Bill Gates were amongst his victims. Compared to other tales of massively fraudulently businessmen, Arif’s is relatively unknown but no less riveting.
#14 The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth about Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations by Robert Livingston
AP: 76/ GR: 4.42 from 206/ AZ: 4.8 from 109
The protests of the last few years have increased the importance of workplace equality and Robert Livingston’s book is a useful aid. He aims to open up conversations rather than shut them down. It’s a thoughtful read which is heartfelt rather than preachy.
#13 Ask Iwata: Words of Wisdom from Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s Legendary CEO by Satoru Iwata, Hobonichi, Sam Bett
AP: 77/ GR: 4.19 from 1071/ AZ: 4.8 from 1231
A short book with a collection of insights about the revolutionary leader who drove Nintendo between 2002 and 2015. He’s the man who chose to not compete with Sony and Microsoft on hardware and focus on creating games people loved instead. So many joyous moments in living rooms around the world have occurred because of his vision.
#12 An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang
AP: 79/ GR: 4.08 from 2946/ AZ: 4.4 from 701
You have to wonder if Facebook renamed itself to Meta just so history doesn’t immediately associate them to the stings like this. It won’t work. If you want to be up to date on how much the company has abused its power, read this.
#11 Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone
AP: 80/ GR: 4.15 from 2676/ AZ: 4.5 from 1008
Brad’s earlier book on Amazon, “The Everything Store”, was a huge bestseller in 2013. A lot has happened in the last eight years and that’s the subject of this book. It covers all the major events in detail with an often positive lens but Brad doesn't avoid the difficult questions.
#10 My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future by Indra Nooyi
AP: 81/ GR: 4.4 from 808/ AZ: 4.7 from 288
As someone of Indian heritage, Indra’s ascent to Pepsi CEO was a landmark for many in my community, especially for women. Her story is far more relatable than many other founders because she doesn’t try to create a sense of aura around herself. It’s a great read for anyone who wants to understand the decision-making process for someone at the top of a huge global company.
#9 Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon by Colin Bryar, Bill Carr
AP: 82/ GR: 4.27 from 2028/ AZ: 4.6 from 1227
What’s great is Colin Bryar and Bill Carr both have over 20 years of Amazon experience. They break down the culture and the principles which have led to the company’s huge success. It’s an overwhelmingly positive book because of the history of the authors but one which has many practical lessons for entrepreneurs.
#8 The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell
AP: 82/ GR: 4.34 from 1558/ AZ: 4.7 from 434
WeWork tried to be a sexy company but in reality, they were a low-margin office rental company. The hype around them was overblown and the fall was fast. $47 billion in 2019 to under $3 billion in 2021. Who can keep their eyes off a car wreck? It might help you to not fall for a similar delusional founder’s charisma in the future.
#7 The World For Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources by Javier Blas, Jack Farchy
AP: 82/ GR: 4.42 from 995/ AZ: 4.7 from 569
Commodities are big business but the average person doesn’t understand how the physical trade works. The people who control the trade of chemicals like cobalt, bauxite, and alumina have far more power than could ever dream of. They can choose to support or topple national governments.
#6 This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by Nicole Perlroth
AP: 85/ GR: 4.38 from 2362/ AZ: 4.6 from 1647
The dark side of the explosion of the importance of technology. Businesses of any scale are going to need to start paying greater attention to security as the wars of the future will be held online. A reminder to anyone in the SaaS world to make sure their code has no loopholes even in MVP.
#5 Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
AP: 86/ GR: 4.36 from 3497/ AZ: 4.6 from 671
Oliver aims this book at people obsessed with productivity. He reminds them the average human only has 4,000 weeks. Do you want to spend it crossing off meaningless tasks from your to-do list? For entrepreneurs, it makes you think about your mission rather than just short-term thinking. I love Oliver’s style which is full of nuance.
#4 Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX by Eric Berger
AP: 89/ GR: 4.52 from 2694/ AZ: 4.8 from 2057
Everybody loves writing about Elon Musk but few had the access Eric did. He is the senior space editor at Ars Technica and reported on SpaceX for over a decade. In Liftoff, he summarises everything including all of his direct interviews with Elon himself. If the innovation behind the space race fascinates you, you’ll love this.
#3 How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates
AP: 91/ GR: 4.18 from 26881/ AZ: 4.5 from 7714
If you’re surprised by a book about climate being so high up then you haven’t been paying attention. Rather than just telling everyone to consume less, he accepts the developing world needs the energy to lift people out of poverty. He wants the businesses of the world to focus on clean energy instead.
#2 Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam M. Grant
AP: 94/ GR: 4.25 from 33231/ AZ: 4.6 from 6991
Adam Grant appears to have the Midas touch with yet another bestseller. His core argument here is you should always challenge why you think the way you do. He uses famous examples from history to illustrate how people didn’t have the right answer the first time around but adapted to achieve success.
#1 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
AP: 100/ GR: 4.59 from 18563/ AZ: 4.7 from 3089
It seems this year, people love reading about companies behaving badly! Few companies in recent memory have created more tragedy than Purdue Pharma. They intentionally triggered an opioid epidemic to increase their profits. The story is riveting and it’s a handbook of what you shouldn’t do in your own business.