Richard Branson Book Recommendations
For many reasons, self-made billionaire Richard Branson and books simply go hand in hand, especially when considering the numerous works written by and about him. Let’s keep in mind, we are talking about an individual who dropped out of high school at 16 years old and shortly thereafter decided to launch his own magazine.
“On one of my last days at school, the headmaster said I would either end up in prison or become a millionaire,” he remembers. “That was quite a startling prediction, but in some respects, he was right on both counts!”
Business experiences and reading have each played a profound role in shaping Richard Branson as a person, and furthermore, these favorite educational activities of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and profitable for that matter – approach he takes to life.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of the world’s wealthiest men to the pinnacle of financial success, we’ve compiled a list of 20 books that Richard Branson has read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Over a decade ago, Simon Sinek started a movement that inspired millions to demand purpose at work, to ask what was the WHY of their organization. Since then, millions have been touched by the power of his ideas, and these ideas remain as relevant and timely as ever.
Start With Why asks (and answers) the questions: why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?
The leaders who have had the greatest influence in the world all think, act and communicate the same way – and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.
Source: “Simon’s understanding that it doesn’t matter what you do, but why you do it is such an important lesson in life,” Branson says. “It gives us more meaning, more motivation and it helps us stay on the right path. I also think it’s critical to running a business and being a good leader.”
New Power by Jeremy Heimans
Why do some leap ahead while others fall behind in our chaotic, connected age? In New Power, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms confront the biggest stories of our time – the rise of mega-platforms like Facebook and Uber; the out-of-nowhere victories of Obama and Trump; the unexpected emergence of movements like #MeToo – and reveal what’s really behind them: the rise of “new power.”
For most of human history, the rules of power were clear: power was something to be seized and then jealously guarded. This “old power” was out of reach for the vast majority of people. But our ubiquitous connectivity makes possible a different kind of power. “New power” is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It works like a current, not a currency – and it is most forceful when it surges. The battle between old and new power is determining who governs us, how we work, and even how we think and feel.
Source: “If you want to understand how the world is changing, what’s really happening and how we can all find our way, this book could not becoming at a better time,” Branson explains.
Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel
We long for heroes and have too few. Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013 at the age of ninety-five, is the closest thing the world has to a secular saint. He liberated a country from a system of violent prejudice and helped unite oppressor and oppressed in a way that had never been done before.
Now Richard Stengel, the editor of Time magazine, has distilled countless hours of intimate conversation with Mandela into fifteen essential life lessons. For nearly three years, including the critical period when Mandela moved South Africa toward the first democratic elections in its history, Stengel collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and traveled with him everywhere.
In Mandela’s Way, Stengel recounts the moments in which “the grandfather of South Africa” was tested and shares the wisdom he learned.
Source: “Reading about Mandela’s life will make you realize that the goal is always bigger than you and impossible is just a word,” Branson believes. “I’ve never made business a separate category – the lessons you learn in your career can help you in other areas, and vice versa. It’s all living.”
The Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa
Costa pulls headlines from today’s news to demonstrate how accelerating complexity quickly outpaces that rate at which the human brain can develop new capabilities.
With compelling evidenced based on research in the rise and fall of Mayan, Khmer, and Roman empires, Costa shows how the tendency to find a quick solution – leads to frightening long term consequence: Society’s ability to solve its most challenging, intractable problems becomes gridlocked, progress slows, and collapse ensues.
A provocative new voice in the tradition of thought leaders Thomas Friedman, Jared Diamond and Malcolm Gladwell, Costa reveals how we can reverse the downward spiral. Part history, part social science, part biology, The Watchman’s Rattle is sure to provoke, engage, and incite change.
Source: “One of those rare books that one picks up and then knows within the first few pages is extremely important…extremely brave, spirited and well informed,” Branson says.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook and coauthor of Option B with Adam Grant. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TED talk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which has been viewed more than six million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.
Lean In continues that conversation, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can. Sandberg provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career.
She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment, and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women both in the workplace and at home.
Source: “As Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg has firsthand experience of why having more women in leadership roles is good for business as well as society,” Branson writes. “Lean In is essential reading for anyone interested in righting the injustice of this inequality.”
Limitless by Ajaz Ahmed
Dedication and patience are crucial to leading any organization. But the most enduring companies of the modern age have something else too: leaders who saw beyond the confines of business convention and into a different future. Leaders who didn’t just grow their profits,
There isn’t a magic formula for better leadership. But there is an enduring philosophy behind the most inspiring leaders in business,
Limitless is a celebration of the transformative power of thinking beyond conventional boundaries. Its fascinating true stories of the most audacious and accomplished business leaders remind us how the entrepreneurial spirit really does change the world for the better.
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
For a dramatically different approach to failure, look at aviation. Every passenger aircraft in the world is equipped with an almost indestructible black box. Whenever there’s any sort of mishap, major or minor, the box is opened, the data is analyzed, and experts figure out exactly what went wrong. Then the facts are published and procedures are changed, so that the same mistakes won’t happen again. By applying this method in recent decades, the industry has created an astonishingly good safety record.
Syed argues that the most important determinant of success in any field is an acknowledgment of failure and a willingness to engage with it. Yet most of us are stuck in a relationship with failure that impedes progress, halts innovation, and damages our careers and personal lives. We rarely acknowledge or learn from failure – even though we often claim the opposite. We think we have 20/20 hindsight, but our vision is usually fuzzy.
Source: When asked for a book recommendation on Twitter, Branson responded, “Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed – it’s about understanding that the only way we learn, grow and succeed is by trying things.”
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day-and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution.
One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution-a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land.
Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
If human beings disappeared instantaneously from the Earth, what would happen? How would the planet reclaim its surface? What creatures would emerge from the dark and swarm? How would our treasured structures – our tunnels, our bridges, our homes, our monuments – survive the unmitigated impact of a planet without our intervention?
In his revelatory, bestselling account, Alan Weisman draws on every field of science to present an environmental assessment like no other, the most affecting portrait yet of humankind’s place on this planet.
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Tracy Kidder’s magnificent account shows how one person can make a difference in solving global health problems through a clear-eyed understanding of the interaction of politics, wealth, social systems, and disease.
Profound and powerful, Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes people’s minds through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.”
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Millions of words have poured forth about man’s trip to the moon, but until now few people have had a sense of the most engrossing side of the adventure; namely, what went on in the minds of the astronauts themselves – in space, on the moon, and even during certain odysseys on earth. It is this, the inner life of the astronauts, that Tom Wolfe describes with his almost uncanny empathetic powers, that made The Right Stuff a classic.
1984 by George Orwell
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thought crimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching.
A startling and haunting novel, 1984 creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
An orphan living with his older sister and her kindly husband, Pip is hired by wealthy and embittered Miss Havisham as a companion for her and her beautiful adopted daughter, Estella. His years in service to the Havishams fill his heart with the desire to rise above his station in life. Pip’s wish is fulfilled when a mysterious benefactor provides him with “great expectations” – the means to be tutored as a gentleman.
Thrust into London’s high-society circles, Pip grows accustomed to a life of leisure, only to find himself lacking as a suitor competing for Estella’s favor. After callously discarding everything he once valued for his own selfish pursuits, Pip learns the identity of his patron – a revelation that shatters his very soul.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.
The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship – and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
Source: “Whilst ultimately a story of hope, it is also a damning indictment of a system still characterized by discrimination, error, and unimaginable cruelty,” Branson shares.
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Because in the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion – most of what we’re consuming today is no longer the product of nature but of food science. The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American Paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.
With In Defense of Food, Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pollan’s bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution – a #1 international bestseller – that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”
From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.
Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?
Abundance by Peter Diamandis
Since the dawn of humanity, a privileged few have lived in stark contrast to the hardscrabble majority. Conventional wisdom says this gap cannot be closed. But it is closing – and fast.
In Abundance, space entrepreneur turned innovation pioneer Peter H. Diamandis and award-winning science writer Steven Kotler document how progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, synthetic biology, and other exponentially growing technologies will enable us to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have in the previous 200 years. We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every person on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.
Trailblazer by Marc Benioff
Benioff gives readers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of one of the world’s most admired companies. He reveals how Salesforce’s core values – trust, customer success, innovation, and equality – and commitment to giving back have become the company’s greatest competitive advantage and the most powerful engine of its success.
Because no matter what business you’re in, Benioff says, values are the bedrock of a resilient company culture that inspires all employees, at every level, to do the best work of their lives. Along the way, he shares insights and best practices for anyone who wants to cultivate a company culture positioned to thrive in the face of the inevitable disruption ahead.
Source: “Trailblazer is an urgent and compelling book for anyone in business who yearns to fulfill a higher mission in the world,” Branson says. “Marc’s powerful and poignant stories of leadership remind each of us what we can achieve when we abandon ‘business as usual’ and make our values the driving force of our work.”
Originals by Adam Grant
Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.
Learn from an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, an analyst who overturned the rule of secrecy at the CIA, a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him, and a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy but saved Seinfeld from the cutting-room floor. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.
Source: “After launching hundreds of businesses – from airlines to trains, music to mobile, and now a spaceline – my biggest challenges and successes have come from convincing other people to see the world differently,” Branson acknowledges. “Originals reveals how that can be done and will help you inspire creativity and change.”
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light – these were John Steinbeck’s goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.
With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way, he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers.
If you enjoyed this guide to books Richard Branson recommends reading, be sure to check out our list of 20 Inspirational Books Jeff Bezos Recommends!