A Reading List for the Entrepreneur in Training

November 27, 2018
Derek Lidow
Livermore, Calif

Any time I read about the success of Hertz Fellows, especially those who choose to launch their own enterprises, I’m immediately curious (one of many lasting impacts of being a Fellow). What inspires these young entrepreneurs? How did they decide that their innovation is worthy of investment? Do they have strong mentors?

In my courses at Princeton, where I teach entrepreneurship and design thinking classes, we consider these questions regularly, and the answers to those and many other questions led me to compile a list of essential texts on the topic. Below are 18 books that will transform how you think about entrepreneurship, creativity, and leadership — from the autobiography of Sam Walton to the history of the sugar industry. These books have helped me — and my students at Princeton — a lot over the years, so I hope they help Hertz Fellows, too.

ReWork (Jason Fried)

Jason Fried has de-hyped entrepreneurial action and describes the critical role basic common-sense plays in enabling someone to lead a real startup.

People Skills (Robert Bolton)

The classic book that describes how people work together and how anyone can productively improve their relationships with those around them.

The Introvert’s Edge (Matthew Pollard)

This new book is extremely useful for anyone that feels the slightest anxiety in social situations. The book is particularly valuable since we all need to understand how to sell ourselves and how the half of us that are introverts have no excuse for not getting out there.

The Art of Strategy (Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff)

A brilliantly accessible description of how to use game theory to improve outcomes in everyday life.

Zig Zag (Keith Sawyer)

This is the best book for learning the skills that you can practice to be more creative.

Made in America (Sam Walton)

Sam Walton’s is only entrepreneurial autobiography that I have found honest and introspective enough that it can serve as blueprint for a role-model of the thoughts and actions of an entrepreneur.

Wedgewood (Brian Dolan)

Josiah Wedgewood pioneered many business processes we now take for granted, like marketing and research and development. I think he’s the single most impactful entrepreneur of the modern age of entrepreneurship and business.

Walt Disney (Neal Gabler)

Gabler has written the single most interesting and complete biography of an entrepreneur. You get to understand how Disney thought and how his relentless pursuit of artistic perfection completely revolutionized the entertainment industry – and actually bankrupted him once and almost again several times.

Mr. Selfridge (Lindy Woodhead)

Selfridge invented many aspects of modern retail and marketing. His biography is an easy and compelling read because both his personality and business exploits were larger-than-life, and they were also often brilliant.

The New New Thing (Michael Lewis)

The up-close biography of serial entrepreneur Jim Clark (Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon) as he acquires the startup bug navigating an emerging Silicon Valley. The details on how Clark successfully and unsuccessfully created teams of people dedicated to build his dreams is remarkable, spell-binding, and mind-blowing.

Founders at Work (Jessica Livingston)

Verbatim interviews with 32 founders (or almost founders) describing candidly why and how they did what they did. The next best thing to having been able to spend a day together.

Sweetness and Power (Sidney Mintz)

This history of the sugar industry is fascinating and certainly very detailed, but you get a sense of how entrepreneurs entice us to want new things—things that may not really be good for us or our fellow man.

The Evolution of Useful Things (Henry Petroski)

This is the history of how practical things were designed and it’s full of surprises. I find it helps me think of new things, so this is one of several books I reread every ten years or so.

The Innovators (Walter Isaacson)

The famed Steve Jobs biographer describes in this book the essential background history to the personal computer. The history of the computer is filled with interesting characters and also demonstrates how many brilliant people must first lay the technical groundwork for the products and services we take for granted.

Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital (Carlota Perez)

Professor Perez describes how technology and finance are inexorably linked and how when financiers take control of technology it quickly leads to economic trouble. This is the book for anyone that wants to understand the big picture of how technology impacts our economy.

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (Peter Bernstein)

This is an easy and insightful read about the history of risk and how the understanding of risk has greatly enhanced global well-being.

The Path Between the Seas and the Great Bridge (David McCullough)

Nobody writes more interesting and vibrant histories than David McCullough as he brings to life the bigger-than-life personalities that proved so critical to these big projects. The Great Bridge is about the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, at its time the biggest construction feat man had ever attempted. The Path Between the Seas is about the building of the Panama Canal, but also about the technical and medical breakthroughs (e.g., identifying the cause of Malaria) that made the feat possible. The books make entrepreneurs feel like they can accomplish anything.

From Know-How to Nowhere: The Development of American Technology (Elting Morison)

This is a forgotten classic that describes the emergence of both the technical and entrepreneurial competence that has played such an essential part in our American story. It is another of the books I reread every ten years or so.

P.S… and don’t forget to check out my latest book, Building on Bedrock: What Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Other Great Self-Made Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us About Building Valuable Companies. This book focuses on when you should take the leap and whether entrepreneurship is even the right thing for you―as a founder, co-founder, or investor.