Credit: John Keatley

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have said that they read every single night and credit much of their success to their reading habits. So, what books do people like this recommend?

'How To win Friend & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie

Written in 1936, this book has influenced countless people over the decades. It’s so influential that Time Magazine called it the 19th most influential book of all time. Carnegie’s work has become the blueprint for so many self-help books that now it might seem quaint, even outdated. As a result, its usefulness has since been argued.

Many today agree that there are useful insights into human relationships but is no substitute for actual knowledge. Sinclair Lewis wrote that the book teaches people to “smile and bob and pretend to be interested in other people’s hobbies precisely so that you may screw things out of them.”

Scathing, but Warrant Buffet has been recommending it for years and it is hard to argue with a man as successful as he is. Regardless, it offers useful insights but should be thought of as a jumping off point rather than the only thing you should/need to read.

'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson

It hardly seems necessary to discuss why a Steve Jobs biography is on this list. Written by former Time and CNN writer, Walter Isaacson, this authorized biography is based around interviews conducted over the period of two years between Jobs and Isaacson. Detailing his entire life, this book provides insights into Jobs’ thinking and gives readers some insight into who the man was and why he was so successful.

When Jobs’ direct competition, Bill Gates, recommends this book you have to at least be curious. On top of that, fellow billionaire, Ray Dalio, also recommends it. Even if you aren’t interested in an entrepreneurial career this book will be interesting just given that it’s about one of the most interesting men in recent memory.

'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro

Jeff Bezos has said that this is one of his favourite books, and whenever he reads it, he can’t help but come away and think that he just spent 10 hours living an alternate life where he learnt something about life and regret. This is very useful not just in business but for life in general.

Empathy is very useful in creating and maintaining relationships and learning how to better empathise with others can do wonders for one’s relationships. Even if that doesn’t interest you, the book has won a Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in literature and has been listed by BBC News as one of the 100 most influential novels of all time. So, you know, it’s probably pretty good anyway.

'Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind' by Yuval Noah Harari

Voracious reader, Bill Gates, is on this list again. Sapiens has been listed by Gates as among his ten favourite books and has been recommended by known-robot Mark Zuckerberg. It has, however, been somewhat controversial for scholars with relevant expertise.

Regardless of the scepticism, it has been accepted that it is at least good that people are taking intellectual interest in these subjects but that the book should be thought of as a starting point. Sapiens is great if you have any interest in the history of humanity and how we got to where we are now. It can teach one about global trends and better understand why things the way they are allowing you to think bigger and innovate.

'Stalingrad' by Antony Beevor

Richard Branson called this his favourite book in his own 2006 book, ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It’, but in a 2016 blog post placed it at number 24 on his top 65 books to read in a lifetime list. It may have dropped the ranks a bit in Branson’s rankings but that doesn’t change the fact that the book a multi-award-winning historical account of the Battle of Stalingrad that tackles themes of egoism and its trappings. This is great for a businessperson as it can help one to understand when their ego is getting in the way and ways to avoid it. It’s looking to the past to create a better future.

'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger

This is Bill Gates’ favourite book; he has stated that he read it when he was 13 and has stayed as one of his favourites ever since. It’s no wonder given Catcher in the Rye’s status as a literary classic.

Many people might have read this in a high school English class but may not have taken away from it what Gates took away from it. What he finds so interesting about the novel is the exploration of adolescence and adulthood. The book, Gates said, “acknowledges that young people are a little confused, but can be smart, and see things that adults don’t.” It reminds readers not to lose that inner child and get completely lost in the hustle of everyday. Think outside the box, think like a kid sometimes, and generate ideas that could change the world.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

Oprah Winfrey has been quite vocal about her love of To Kill a Mockingbird. Winfrey loves the book so much she wanted to have author Harper Lee on her show but Lee, in fact, was one of the only people to ever turn down Oprah for an interview.

What Winfrey loves about Mockingbird is the main character, Scout. “Even at 10,” Winfrey wrote for The Guardian, “she knew who she was and believed in herself, and was learning about this whole world of racism in such a way that I could feel myself also experiencing it – my eyes were opening as hers was.” It’s important to be confident in yourself and understand others to effectively succeed in this world. 

'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Now, no matter your opinion on Hilary Clinton, one thing you can’t deny is that her favourite book is one of the greatest novels of all time. The Brothers Karamazov, is a Russian novel that touches on themes of morality, faith, and free will.

What Clinton loves about this book is what it taught her about the “dangers of certitude.” Clinton believes that “one of the greatest threats we face is from people who believe they are absolutely, certainly right about everything.”

It’s important to remember that we humans are fallible and make mistakes. Even though we might believe something is 100% correct, it’s also possible that it may not be. To succeed, one must remember that you can and will make mistakes. The trick is to learn from them and not be immovably stubborn.

'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

J.K Rowling said she “met herself” in Jo March from Little Women. Jo March is loosely a stand-in for author Louisa May Alcott and many women have aspired to be like her. Alcott and her sisters had to support their family by working at an early age as teachers, seamstresses, governesses, domestic helpers, and sometimes as writers.

Writing was an emotional outlet for Alcott. But times were not good and during the 1850s, with no work and no prospects, she contemplated suicide. What Alcott and Jo March did was find solace in their work and their love of their family and partners. This book, and Alcott herself, teaches one about perseverance and meeting adversity head-on, something that should be obvious to any who wish to succeed.

'Moby Dick' by Herman Melville

Moby Dick is another classic that has been recommended by numerous successful individuals from Barack Obama to Steve Jobs. It tackles themes of knowledge and fate applicable across all kinds of careers. It is a stark reminder of what obsession can do to a person, making one blind to the world around them.
While Captain Ahab is a compelling character that teaches readers about drive and determination, it is also a warning about these attributes completely consuming a person. Any kind of career needs a balance between work and life. Who knew that Moby Dick of all things would teach us about work/life balance? Don’t be discouraged by the whale taxonomy chapters either, you can skip those if they are really bothering you.