A Reading List for the Entrepreneur in Training
listed in Fellows
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
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
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
This is the best book for learning the skills that you can
practice to be more creative.
Made in America (Sam
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.
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
Walt Disney (Neal
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
Mr. Selfridge (Lindy
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
The New New Thing
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
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
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 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.
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.