I had an interesting discussion with a client the other day and they asked me to name my three favorite books. I stammered a bit and then coughed up one title, but said I had to get back to them no the other two. Picking just three is tough for me and I suspect for many people who like books.

So, here’s the challenge I want to issue to you dear blog reader and anyone else you want to tell. Name your 3 favorite books (business or not) and post the titles and authors in the comments. Warning: You must stop at 3, no honorable mentions – I can assure you my books 4,5,6 were tough to keep off this list, but that’s the point.

    My favorite 3 books:

  • Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott – 1994 – One of the best books on writing by a writer who can make the tiniest detail drip with light and anguish.
  • The Practice of Management – Peter Drucker – 1954 – The best marketing book I ever read. Drucker would still be ahead of his time.
  • The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success – Deepak Chopra – 1994 – Where The Secret got the secrets. My first introduction to quantum physics.

Yes, I own hardcover firsts of all!

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Bootstrapping Your Business – Gianforte
    Bird By Bird – Lamott (Definitely agree)
    The Big Moo – Various

  • 1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    A classic story of youth and the world

    2. Made to Stick – Dan and Chip Heath
    Obvious but great content with application in every industry

    3. Purple Cow – Seth Godin
    I don’t care what color it is. I want to be remarkable

  • Dave

    1) Selling Retail- John Lawhon

    2) Discipline of Market Leaders- Treacy & Wiersema

    3) 22 Laws of Branding- Ries & Ries

    All marketing/ business– great reads- lots of insight. 22 Laws of Branding is like Marketing for Dummies, but it’s so simply stated, it’s a great tool.

  • I’m leaving out John Jantch’s “Duct Tape Marketing” and John Battelle’s “The Search” in order to avoid accusations of conflict of interest. 😉 The 3 that leaves me with:

    Master of the Senate, an LBJ biography by Robert Caro — wonderful history and a guide to negotiating from a master!

    Wisdom of the Crowd, James Surowieki. It helped me understand why Web 2.0 publishing approaches (such as Digg or Metafilter or Newsvine) are better at organizing content than traditional editorial boards.

    Independence Day, Richard Ford. A novel every parent should read, lest you end up as clueless as Frank Bascombe!

  • Scott Sparks

    1. Leap: A Revolution in Creative Business Strategy by Robert Schmetterer

    2. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

    3. Thought Particles by Roy H. Williams

  • Love the site. Here are our top choices…

    1. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

    2. Marketing Metrics: 50 + Metrics Every Executive Should Master by by Paul Farris, Neil Bendle, Phillip Pfeifer & David Reibstein

    3. Mavericks at Work by William Taylor & Polly LaBarre

  • A lot of good books here. Mine–

    Alexandria Quartet – Durrell

    Burr – Vidal

    A Clearing in the distance = Rybcyzynski

    When are you going to do the favorite albums?

  • Bird by Bird is a great inspirational book

    And anything by Drucker is a must read.

    Great to hear your recommendations and lottery picks

  • My current Top 3 would be Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout, Citizen Marketers by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, and Life After the 30-Second Spot by Joe Jaffe. Having said that, I have just started Made to Stick and am enjoying it, and am planning to start reading Duct Tape Marketing soon.

  • John Jantsch


    I need names here! What are your top 3?

  • My 3 Favorites are:

    Secret Formulas from the Wizard of Ads- Roy H Williams – One of the most intriguing and well written marketing books.

    Understanding Comics – Scott Mcloud- Learn how to communicate effectively by breaking down patterns in a limited amount of space.

    A Poem a Day – edited by McCosker and Albery – You write how you read. Poets are masters at communication thoughts in a few words and in unusual ways.

    Coming up with 3 was tough though. Especially without including my own books 😉

  • Hi John – great post. Here are my three favorite right now:

    *Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston

    *The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

    *Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

    Hard to stop but these are John’s participation rules! 🙂

  • I only read one book really last year but read it about 10 times. It was my own What Sticks, which I call Marketing’s Inconvenient Truth, since it sheds light on how bad marketers and agencies are at developing advertising that works. Really, it is a disaster. It was my attempt to do an intervention on the industry.

    Greg at gregstuart.com

  • John Jantsch


    What about all time? I read my book about 10 times too but by then I was sick of it.

  • I like the idea of 3. Yikes how to choose. How about 3 that are not obvious.

    William Bridges: Managing Transitions.

    Jane Dutton: Energize Your Workplace.

    Pema Chodron: When Things Fall Apart

    Take 3,

    David Zinger

  • 1. Mans Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

    2. Creating Customer Evangelists, Ben McConnel and Jackie Huba

    3. Radical Edge, Steve Farber

  • My all-time favorite books for entrepreneurs (other than my own, “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, “which I shamelessly and tactlessly mention here) are:

    Rules for Revolutionaries, Guy Kawasaki

    Permission Marketing, Seth Godin

    Swim With The Sharks, Harvey Mackay

    Read these all – they will open your eyes.

    (And then, when the startup life seems overwhelming, read “The eMyth Revisited” by Michael Gerber)

  • Rod

    My trio:

    Selling the Invisible – Harry Beckwith

    Growing Your Business – Mark LeBlanc

    The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity – Catherine Ponder

  • Wow…painful

    Lamb–Christopher Moore

    It’s Not About the Bike–Lance Armstrong

    Small is the New Big- Seth Godin

  • Here are my three:

    The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

    Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

    Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

  • Tough question, but here goes:

    The Ultimate Success Secret – Dan Kennedy
    (such a simple concept, that’s so far reaching)

    Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
    (prose at it’s best. compelling novel, that made me hang on every word)

    The Book Theif – Marcus Zusak
    (historical fiction, narrated by death…)

  • Great idea for a post.

    1) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature – A.H. Maslow

    2) Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics, and Everyday Life by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff

    3) Co-Opetition : A Revolution Mindset That Combines Competition and Cooperation : The Game Theory Strategy That’s Changing the Game of Business by Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff

  • These are somewhat awkward and obscure but I enjoyed them. They also happen to be the most recent three books I’ve read.

    1) Mergers & Acquisitions from A to Z Andrew Sherman and Milledge A Hart.

    2) NLP Carol Harris

    3) The Psychology of Selling Brian Tracey

  • John Jantsch

    You know I didn’t think of this at the time but I’ve just destroyed my list of books I want to read – so many great recommendations – now what!!!!

  • Joe

    Good to Great by Jim Collins

    Death By Meeting by Patrick M. Lencioni

    One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard

  • Well, you did say “business or not,” and I’m not in love with many business books, so . . .

    Nickel and Dimed – Barbara Ehrenreich

    A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove – Laura Schenone

    Swallowing Clouds – A. Zee

  • A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving
    Still, years later, the best book I’ve ever read.

    Mavericks at Work – LaBarre and Williams
    More current and pretty breakthrough in it’s thinking/presentation. I loved this book.

    Olgivy on Advertising – David Olgivy
    Twenty-five years later and he’s still right.

    It’s interesting how fast number one came to me and how much of a struggle it was to get to two and three… It’s also been a little revealing to see how many of the books listed above we’ve all read. Will definitely pick up Bird by Bird; thanks for the recommendation!

  • What a challenge. It sent me to my bookcase to see if I could finger only 3. That ended up in 3 hours of cleaning out my book case of those books that might make the least useful 3. Yes, you will get your Top Three from me and a thankyou gift for showing me how to clear out more than 100 business books that were done before the Internet and I haven’t referenced.

  • The Tipping Point – Malcom Gladwell
    The World is Flat – THomas Friedman
    The Operator – Tom King

  • Have you read Deepak Chopra’s Book of Secrets – much more detailed regarding the concepts in 7 Spiritual Laws.

    My other two,

    Jack Canfield The Success Principles
    Boethius – Consolation of Philosophy

  • Never Come Morning – Nelson Algren

    Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

    EndZone – Don DeLillo

    (All work and no play etc.)

  • Bonnie

    Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
    The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy
    Sophie’s Choice- William Styron

  • Anwer K. Qureishi

    Hug Your Customers – Jack Mitchell
    One – Richard Bach
    One Man’s Wilderrness – Keith/Proenneke

  • Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress Free Productivity – by David Allen

    Finding Flow, The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life – by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment

    GREAT post!

  • My favs:

    -If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. I heard about it through Guy Kawasaki’s blog, and found it to be utterly invigorating to read. Kind of a poetic take on Anne Lamott’s hilarious Bird by Bird (which is a fav too, but you said we could have 3)

    -The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a nice, slim book which summarizes some Toltec wisdom in a very interesting way.

    -Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck. As a coach, I have referred this to hundreds of clients. Martha is not your typical fluffy self help writer, she is wickedly funny, very practical, and has a wonderful perspective on life.

  • It looks like most of the “posters” are preternatural readers, and asking for a top three, regardless of category, is unusually limiting. Noted that most responses are related to marketing, which begs your question.

    1. The Bible – Ok, 66 books in one volume.
    2. The Effective Executive – Peter Drucker
    3. Grapes of Wrath- John Steinbeck

  • Tibor

    there are many as all of u have
    but at the first sight:

    Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo
    Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose
    Sun Tzu – The Art of War

    Greetings from Hungary!

  • John,

    This is a terrific post and comment thread. It’s always fascinating to me to see what books have provided inspiration to others.

    Here are my top 3:

    1> “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking” by Andy Sernovitz.
    The advertising and marketing worlds are going through fundamental change, and this book is the how-to manual to survive (and thrive). I heartily recommend this book for anyone who wants to not only understand influencers, blogs, and viral marketing, but also come away with enough ideas and case studies to actually get started right away after reading the book.

    Disclaimer: I used to work for Andy at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. But I’m still a huge fan, and have alrady bought copies to give to friends.

    2> “Selling the Dream” by Guy Kawasaki. This is the first book I ever read that talked about corporate evangelism. It inspired me for years, and still continues to do so to this day.

    3> “The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur” by Randy Komisar.
    A truly wonderful gift of a book about dot.coms, VC’s, and the soul. It was initially recommended by the soulful Evelyn Rodriguez. I only wish I had this book when I covered the dot.com boom-bust cycle in Chicago in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and met entirely way too many “Lennys”.

  • Anne

    When you say favorite book…do you think people would actually read some of their choices when they are – vacationing on a beach – after a long day at work – or on a lazy Sunday?? Those are places I would want to read my favorite books instead of common sense marketing books.

  • mudds

    Interesting reads…

    Baudolino – Umberto Eco
    In Praise of Slowness – Carl Honore
    Voltaire’s Bastards – John Ralston Saul

  • John Jantsch

    Michael and all,

    This has been a great thread – way beyond my expectations, the funny thing is how few books get repeated and how few of these books I’ve read! (except of course the Bible, but I’m Catholic so I had that read at me, does that count?) I do plan to check out some new ones.

  • 3 books, and only 3 books, John? Tough stuff!

    OK, here are my top 3 of recent memory:

    1) Made to Stick – Dan and Chip Heath
    If you’re a storyteller, this is a great book to help you tell better stories.

    2) How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
    A classic book with a classic message. Be interested in people, and they will find you interesting. Simple stuff really.

    3) Now Discover Your Strengths – Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton
    This is the best book on management I’ve ever read, and a great one for all of us to remember to focus on what makes us all great…our strengths, NOT our weaknesses!

  • 3 books. Whew. Tough.

    * All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy

    * 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    * Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Hard copies of all. Portions of each book still take my breath away.

    More later.

  • There’s a few I considered in the previous comments and many I’ve added to my reading list (thanks for the ideas!) Here’s my top 3:

    1. The Answer to How is Yes, by Peter Block. It’s helped me both in business and in my volunteer work.

    2. The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathon Haidt. Just read it and am already looking forward to re-reading it.

    3. Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robins. It keeps me grounded and is a book I seem to pack on every trip I take to get re-grounded.

    1. Hardcover 2. Library 3. very well worn paperback.

  • 3 Books Everyone Should Read…By Category
    Over at Duct Tape, John challenged his readers to list their 3 favorite books…which is remarkably hard (mine ended up being Lamb, Lance’s book, and, since it’s a business blog, Small is the New Big.). HOWEVER, since this is my

  • ben

    Atlas Shrugged
    House of Leaves
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance