The 15 Best Business Books I Read in 2015

By Chris Fralic

“Read the best books first,” Thoreau wrote, “or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

I’m pleased to share the fifteen books that I enjoyed the most in 2015 — they made an impression on me, and I think they’re worth reading (or listening as I usually do). They’re mostly business books, and mostly released in 2015, but there are a few exceptions. For your consideration…

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts — Becoming the Person You Want to Be — Marshall Goldsmith
Marshall is the CEO coach of the stars, with the likes of Alan Mulally of Boeing/Ford among his clientele. He offers his latest insights and wisdom about being self aware, and what drives and triggers behaviors — and how to change them.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unforeseen Forces that Stand in the Way of Inspiration— Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

Might be the best book ever written on managing the creative process. If you think it’s mostly luck and can’t be replicated, the success of Disney Animation after the Pixar acquisition with Ed Catmull at the helm is good evidence to the contrary. Here’s some great trivia: Ed Catmull’s University of Utah college classmates included Alan Kay (Smalltalk, Dynabook, Apple), John Warnock (Adobe) and Jim Clark (SGI, Netscape).

The Wright Brothers— David McCullough

This detailed story of why and how Oliver and Wilbur Wright taught the world to fly is eye-opening. As in his other biographies, McCullough tells the human stories behind one of mankind’s major technological accomplishments, and the hundreds of tests and years of work that led to the single “eureka” moment. I also highly recommend The Great Bridge and 1776 by McCullough.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX,and the Quest for a Fantastic Future — Ashlee Vance

Arguably the greatest entrepreneur of our generation, this is the most comprehensive story to date of Elon Musk and is worth a read. In 2015, First Round asked over 500 startup CEOs which current tech leader they admire most. Elon swept with 22% of the vote.

The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing— Conor O’Clery

A fascinating book on multiple levels. The first is how Feeney hustled to create and grow Duty Free Shops and found General Atlantic among the many business feats that helped him quietly become a multi-billionaire. And the second is the tale of how he started giving it away quietly and purposefully while still alive. Feeney, who wears a $15 Casio watch and travels coach, was part of the inspiration for Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and The Giving Pledge — a legacy that runs through to Mark Zuckerberg and a new generation of philanthropists today.

Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door— Brian Krebs

Inside story of the sophisticated world of spam and cyber attacks and the people and organizations behind them. It gets into the psychology and methods and relationships behind the people who send it, the few but enough who click and buy, and the rest who are unwittingly part of the system.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath— Ted Koppel

Extremely well researched and written account of how utterly unprepared we are for 1) cyber attack on our aging and now Internet-connected power systems, and 2) what would happen if there was a weeks- or months-long outage of a major grid. It’s not pretty.

Television is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age— Michael Wolff

If you’re slightly interested in the shift from Old to New Media, or how traditional dollars are turning into “digital dimes” and the psychology of companies making or hoping for the shift, this is your book. Internet historians will also enjoy his 1998 book Burn Rate.

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture— David Kushner

Fantastic history of two central characters in the development of video games in the 1990’s — a front row seat with John Romero and John Carmack through Doom and Quake and beyond, and all the technical breakthroughs and relationship/startup breakdowns. It reads like a real-life superhero origin story.

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Other People Help— Amanda Palmer

Part memoir, part manifesto, all extremely honest — Amanda Palmer turns my favorite 2013 TED Talk into a book that showcases the power of asking and giving and connecting. I’d highly recommend the audio version read by the author.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind— Yuval Noah Harari

Not a quick read, but a uniquely detailed long and almost contrarian view of the history of our species — it rattles around in your head for a long time after you finish it.

Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions — Peter F. Drucker, Frances Hesselbein, Joan Snyder Kuhl

This is a quick read, with updated perspectives from contributors like Mike and Kass Lazerow on the famous five questions Peter Drucker asks: What is our Mission? Who is our Customer? What does the Customer Value? What are our Results? What is our Plan?

Marissa Mayer and the Fight To Save Yahoo!— Nicholas Carson

It’s not about the recent headlines, but it’s worth a read for the history of Yahoo! and the story of the early days of Google where Marissa began her career.

The Salmon of Doubt— Douglas Adams

If you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or any of his books more than once, you will love this homage of stories and personal insights into the author Douglas Adams.

Gratitude— Oliver Sacks

The famous neurologist’s beautiful parting gift to readers — an uplifting, extraordinary epitaph. “My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

This has been a follow up to my 2014 post that, according to Amazon Associates, caused over $10,000 worth of purchases to be made, so be forewarned that it might cause you to buy something. All my Amazon Affiliate proceeds have and will go to charity, but it’s fun to track the conversions. Happy reading and listening!

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.” — Charlie Munger