It’s been six months since we started sending weekly book briefings, with critical summaries of the latest business and management releases. We’ve now published 24 of them (you can see them all here), which makes this a good moment to take stock of the standout books, themes, and takeaways.
We started sending these briefings because last fall some of our readers told us producing high-quality overviews of books would be really valuable to them—and a subscriber survey again this spring reinforced our sense that people find these useful. (We are seeking more feedback—see below.)
So what have we learned from reading an estimated 6,000-plus pages of the latest business and management offerings?
First, there is definitely a formula for a good business book. Hemingway’s counsel “Show the readers everything, tell them nothing” rings largely true—the best books are heavily supported throughout by anecdotes, case studies, and research findings. If you’re looking to write a business book of your own, I’d recommend Adam Grant’s Think Again as a model in this regard. The Art of Business Wars by David Brown is all stories, 27 of them—and while its connecting theme isn’t fully convincing, the tales make it a compelling read.
There’s also maybe a formula for a business book title: 25% of the books had the words “work” or “working,” while 13% had “leading” or “leadership” and 13% included “how” in their titles. Someone might want to write “How Leadership Works”—that title doesn’t appear to yet be taken.
Second, so many of these books are focused on helping us overcome our blind spots and weaknesses. Katy Milkman in How to Change makes the convincing case that our emergence from the pandemic is a particularly good opportunity to make changes we want in our lives and work, from losing weight to combating procrastination. There’s a particular focus in this crop of books on how to improve decision-making, as in Framers and Think Again. Among the techniques that stand out is Julia Galef’s recommendation in The Scout Mindset that when you realize you were wrong and someone you disagreed with was right, you should reach out to them and let them know.
Third, the guide to leadership for this next chapter of work still needs to be written. The pandemic disrupted assumptions about what leadership and work should look like. And the books helpfully suggest that a lot of the basics still apply—for example, as Jim Clifton and Jim Harter argue in Wellbeing at Work, every worker should get feedback at least once a week. In Leading at a Distance, James M. Citrin and Darleen DeRosa describe how some CEOs embraced video calling as a way to efficiently connect with more employees.
But it does feel like we’re on the verge of a revolution in the workplace, amid unresolved inequities and racial tensions, ongoing mental health issues and worker demoralization, and different dynamics for newly decentralized and fluid workplaces. These concerns, which will be especially intense during the return to the workplace, are key preoccupations of Reset Work and we’re looking out for books that make sense of how to best understand and tackle them.
Moving on to some recommendations and other notes...
Best gifts for colleagues and friends:
- Just Work by Kim Scott—Anecdotes and practices from this book stuck with us for weeks afterward, including Scott’s arguments for writing 600-word codes of conduct and for disclosing everyone’s salaries to their colleagues.
- Think Again by Adam Grant—This is a highly readable, convincing guide on how to reassess our opinions and get more things right, avoiding the human tendency to hang on to old assumptions even when they’re wrong.
- Work: A Deep History by James Suzman—Suzman brings a remarkably different perspective to questions around why we work, and what we can expect if automation progressively strips us of our jobs.
- The Conversation by Robert Livingstone—It’s a valuable survey of the sociology and psychology research around race that can equip white readers especially to understand their biases and privilege, whatever their intentions and values.
- Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr—The first 151 pages of this book explain practices used by Amazon—such as the famous six-page memos—for how to work differently or improve how your team or your organization operate.
- How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates—Gates’ book is a very clear guide to many of the levers that exist to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and if you’ve ever considered a career transition, it’s instructive to read about Gates’ approach, having made his own shift from software CEO.
Best gifts for a graduate:
- Unapologetically Ambitious by Shellye Archambeau—This is a compelling, unflinching story of the career of someone with unusual self assurance, organization, and drive looking to share the key factors behind her success.
- Futureproof by Kevin Roose—Make sure to not skip the five-page appendix, where Roose shares his own goals based on the book’s nine rules for being happy and successful amid the spread of automation. The goals are very thoughtful and specific.
- Just Work by Kim Scott—It’s perhaps a rough welcome to the workforce to give a graduate a book about all of its indignities and inequities. But Just Work should also give them confidence to push back against workplace injustice and provides tactics for eliminating it.
Most-read book briefings on our site:
- Leading Without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi
- Think Again by Adam Grant
- Listen Like You Mean It by Ximena Vengoechea
- Fifty percent of the books we covered were written by a female author, and 21% had a BIPOC author. We track these statistics to be sure we’re featuring books from writers of diverse backgrounds, and are actively looking to increase that. One frequent critique we had of the business books was that the protagonists of the stories they recounted skewed white and male, and the authors didn’t fully acknowledge the weight of gender and racial bias in the workplace. We’re hoping to see more business books featuring examples from outside of the traditional white executive class, and foregrounding the context of race and gender inequities.
- We’ve earned $54.45 in Amazon referral fees when readers purchased books after clicking on links in the email. We earned $5.80 in referral fees from Bookshop.org. We appreciate the support!
We’re interested in hearing what your favorite books are to recommend. Here’s a short survey to tell us what they are and to share any suggestions for making these briefings more useful.
And, yes, we did read every page of every book.
You can read all of our book briefings here.
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.