summer reading list 2017 business

The summer is upon us once again. If the sun lounger or hammock is calling you, but you fancy reading something that’s both relaxing and useful this summer, check out my 2017 reading list.

This is a combination of new business books and golden oldies I’ve been rereading; guaranteed to help make your vacation enjoyable and constructive!

1. The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World by Brad Stone

Brad Stone wrote an excellent biography of Jeff Bezos and the whole Amazon rollercoaster which I reviewed here. He’s back in 2017 with his newly-released book on the leviathans of Silicon Valley. With the recent dramatic events at Uber, it’s a timely publication.

As Stone points out, getting into a stranger’s car, or walking right into their home, would have seemed crazy even just a few years ago. Uber, Airbnb and companies like them are changing the very perception of ownership and disrupting laws, governments and even normality while they’re at it.

Stone writes engagingly and his research is painstaking. What I enjoyed most about The Upstarts is that Stone has really gone underneath the covers of these businesses to bring out their failures as much as their successes. You get a very real sense of what it’s like to be a part of these rapidly-evolving companies.

2. Walt Disney The Biography by Neal Gabler

Whether it’s the classic Mickey Mouse cartoons, or this summer’s Cars 3 movie, there’s something incredibly special at the heart of Disney. How did the magic get there? What was Walt Disney himself like? And how has the company transformed itself from a tiny cartoon studio to one of the planet’s biggest businesses?

Neal Gabler’s biography tells Disney’s story in fascinating technicolor. From the origins of a cultural giant, through to an obsession with customer experience (Walt wandered around Main Street USA in the park picking up cigarette butts himself) there’s something for everyone in this great book. There’s a detailed review I wrote of Gabler’s book here.

3. Grit by Angela Duckworth

Want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.

How well you do (at anything) will be driven by your persistence and grit, not your talent and luck, claims psychologist Dr Duckworth in her excellent book. Her work stems from research she undertook at West Point to try and predict which cadets would do best in their class, and which would drop out. It turned out that IQ and physical prowess were no match for sheer determination to keep on trying. Grit is the key. When you fall down, what goes through your head? That’s what makes the difference.

For me, this chimed with cognitive psychologist Guy Claxon’s learning power work; something I’m glad to see is being increasingly taught in schools. The concept of “I’m not good at that” is increasingly being taught as “I’m not good at that, yet” which is an incredibly constructive way to think about life, and business, in general.

4. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

My abiding love of Tim continues to know no bounds. His latest book gathers together the learning from the hundreds of interviews he’s done for his podcast. It’s full of gems from businesspeople like Malcolm Gladwell, Tony Robbins and Marc Andreessen but also top performers in myriad other fields like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Foxx, Joe de Sena and Jocko Willink (who I follow on Twitter to terrify me into going to the gym – highly recommend!)

This is less a story and more a very long tasting menu of tips, ideas, takeaways, things to read and ideas to implement. Having listened to most of the podcasts this book is based on, I’ve often found myself looking back through online notes to remember a tip or book someone suggested. This is a really handy guide to the whole thing, with a ton of extra guidance thrown in.

5. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

I reviewed Nike founder Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog in more detail here. It’s got to be my favorite book of 2017 so far. It’s engaging, enthralling, dramatic and deeply learned. Plus, it’s a real page-turner, so if you’re only packing one book, take this!

Nike is one of those ubiquitous brands that I happily wear but knew nothing about, before I read this book. Phil Knight himself was not familiar to me. If I’d had to guess at Nike’s story prior to reading this book, I’d have guessed at a well-funded company run with an iron fist and a founder with a strong marketing pedigree. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Nike was born of a love of running, and strong and hard-earned knowledge of finance.

This book is as much a story about Knight’s personal and emotional journey as it is about what it takes out of everyone (and what it gives back along the way) to strap yourselves to a moonshot like Nike. Highly recommended. A moving and fascinating book.

If you’ve already read these books and are looking for more ideas, check out last summer’s reading list here.

What are you reading this summer? Let me know in the comments!

2 replies
  1. J Franks
    J Franks says:

    Great list! I’m looking forward to reading a few of these. I’m going to reread Thinking Fast and Slow too.

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