Essential Books Jeff Bezos Recommends
For many reasons, self-made billionaire Jeff Bezos and books simply go hand in hand. To begin with, he catapulted his way to becoming the richest man on Earth after founding what started as an online bookstore named Amazon.
Researching the origins of this harmonious relationship takes us to the small town where his grandfather lived – a place he often spent time during childhood summers – and a tiny little Andrew Carnegie-style library where all the books had been donated by local citizens.
“This was a very small library, but it had an extensive science fiction collection, because it just so happened one of the residents of this 3,000-person town had been a science fiction fan, and donated their whole collection,” Bezos says. “And that started a love affair for me with people like Heinlein and Asimov and all the well-known science fiction authors that persists to this day.”
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired the world’s wealthiest man to the pinnacle of financial success, we’ve compiled a list of 20 books Jeff Bezos has read himself and would recommend to others.
This guide to Jeff Bezos’ favorite books was created with the help of interviews, articles, and one book in particular called The Everything Store by Brad Stone.
In his definitive biography of the Amazon company, Stone shares a list of books whose knowledge Jeff Bezos leaned on during the forming of Amazon. With that being said, Stone’s well-studied comments are commonly cited throughout our list.
Built to Last by Jim Collins
Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors.
They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day – as start-ups, as midsize companies, and as large corporations. Throughout, the authors asked: “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?”
Filled with hundreds of specific examples and organized into a coherent framework of practical concepts that can be applied by managers and entrepreneurs at all levels, Built to Last provides a master blueprint for building organizations that will prosper long into the 21st century and beyond.
Source: “My favorite business book is Built to Last,” Bezos revealed to Fast Company during an interview. As Brad Stone puts it, this famous management read explains how companies that succeed build environments where employees who embrace the central mission flourish.
Creation by Steve Grand
Working mostly alone, almost single-handedly writing 250,000 lines of computer code, Steve Grand produced Creatures, a revolutionary computer game that allowed players to create living beings complete with brains, genes, and hormonal systems – creatures that would live and breathe and breed in real time on an ordinary desktop computer.
Enormously successful, the game inevitably raises the question: What is artificial life? And in this hallmark among books Jeff Bezos recommends reading – a chance for the devoted fan and the simply curious onlooker to see the world from the perspective of an original philosopher-engineer and intellectual maverick – Steve Grand proposes an answer.
Source: “A video game designer argues that intelligent systems can be created from the bottom up if one devises a set of primitive building blocks,” Stone writes. “The book was influential in the creation of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the service that popularized the notion of the cloud.”
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
With its straightforward language and easy-is-better approach, Rework is the perfect playbook for anyone who’s ever dreamed of doing it on their own. Hardcore entrepreneurs, small-business owners, people stuck in day jobs who want to get out, and artists who don’t want to starve anymore will all find valuable inspiration and guidance in these pages. It’s time to rework work.
Source: “Unperturbed by conventional wisdom, Jason and David start fresh and rewrite the rules of business. Their approach turns out to be as successful as it is counter-intuitive,” Jeff Bezos remarked after reading the book.
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable than it was.
The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.
Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities.
In this revelatory book, Taleb will change the way you look at the world, and this second edition features a new philosophical and empirical essay, “On Robustness and Fragility,” which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan event.
Source: “The scholar argues that people are wired to see patterns in chaos while remaining blind to unpredictable events, with massive consequences. Experimentation and empiricism trumps the easy and obvious narrative,” Stone says.
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
In this classic bestseller – one of the most influential business books of all time – innovation expert Clayton Christensen shows how even the most outstanding companies can do everything right – yet still lose market leadership.
Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices.
Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, The Innovator’s Dilemma gives you a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
Source: Dilemma, Stone says, helped spur on the creation of Kindle and Amazon Web Services – two product lines that are quite far from Amazon’s original business. “Some companies are reluctant to embrace disruptive technology because it might alienate customers and undermine their core business,” he adds. “but Christensen argues that ignoring potential disruption is even costlier.”
Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton
Meet a genuine American folk hero cut from the homespun cloth of America’s heartland: Sam Walton, who parlayed a single dime store in a hardscrabble cotton town into Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world.
The undisputed merchant king of the late twentieth century, Sam never lost the common touch. Here, finally, in imitable words. Genuinely modest, but always sure of his ambitions and achievements. Sam shares his thinking in a candid, straight-from-the-shoulder style.
Source: “In his autobiography, Walmart’s founder expounds on the principles of discount retailing and discusses his core values of frugality and a bias for action – a willingness to try a lot of things and make many mistakes,” Stone writes. “Bezos included both in Amazon’s corporate values.”
Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones
In contrast with the crash-and-burn performance of companies trumpeted by business gurus in the 1990s, the firms profiled in Lean Thinking – from tiny Lantech to midsized Wiremold to niche producer Porsche to gigantic Pratt & Whitney – have kept on keeping on, largely unnoticed, along a steady upward path through the market turbulence and crushed dreams of the early twenty-first century.
Meanwhile, the leader in lean thinking – Toyota – has set its sights on leadership of the global motor vehicle industry in this decade.
Instead of constantly reinventing business models, lean thinkers go back to basics by asking what the customer really perceives as value. The next step is to line up value-creating activities for a specific product along a value stream while eliminating activities (usually the majority) that don’t add value.
Then the lean thinker creates a flow condition in which the design and the product advance smoothly and rapidly at the pull of the customer (rather than the push of the producer). Finally, as flow and pull are implemented, the lean thinker speeds up the cycle of improvement in pursuit of perfection.
Source: Noted in CNBC’s list of 12 books that shaped the way Jeff Bezos, now the world’s richest man, thinks about success.
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
The measure of the executive, Peter F. Drucker reminds us, is the ability to “get the right things done.” This usually involves doing what other people have overlooked as well as avoiding what is unproductive. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that mold them into results.
Drucker identifies five practices essential to business effectiveness that can, and must, be learned: managing time, choosing what to contribute to the organization, knowing where and how to mobilize strength for best effect, setting the right priorities, and knitting all of them together with effective decision-making.
Source: In an interview that aired on CNBC, a topic of discussion was books Jeff Bezos has recommended to Amazon’s top executives.
The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
His factory is rapidly heading for disaster. So is his marriage. He has ninety days to save his plant – or it will be closed by corporate HQ, with hundreds of job losses. It takes a chance meeting with a professor from student days – Jonah – to help him break out of conventional ways of thinking to see what needs to be done.
The story of Alex’s fight to save his plant is more than compulsive reading. It contains a serious message for all managers in industry and explains the ideas that underline the Theory of Constraints (TOC), developed by Eli Goldratt.
One of Eli Goldratt’s convictions was that the goal of an individual or an organization should not be defined in absolute terms. A good definition of a goal is one that sets us on a path of ongoing improvement.
Pursuing such a goal necessitates more than one breakthrough. In fact it requires many. To be in a position to identify these breakthroughs we should have a deep understanding of the underlying rules of our environment.
Source: “An exposition of the science of manufacturing written in the guise of the novel, the book encourages companies to identify the biggest constraints in their operations,” Stone explains. “And then structure their organizations to get the most out of those constraints.”
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?
Using tough benchmarks, Jim Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years.
How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world’s greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.
After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness – why some companies make the leap and others don’t.
Source: Back in 2001, Amazon was just four years old – struggling to get its footing after the dot-com bust. Looking to Collins for advice, Bezos phoned the author and eventually invited him over to visit the Amazon campus, Inc. Magazine documents.
Collins met with Jeff Bezos and Amazon executives and discussed the core ideas from his upcoming book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other’s Don’t, which was published later that year.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Here is Kazuo Ishiguro’s profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England.
Stevens, at the end of three decades of service at Darlington Hall, spending a day on a country drive, embarks as well on a journey through the past in an effort to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving the “great gentleman,” Lord Darlington.
But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness,” and much graver doubts about the nature of his own life.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…
When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
Source: “Nonfiction narrative, let’s see. Hmm. I’m a big science-fiction fan,” Bezos told Fast Company. “I love Dune. That’s not a nonfiction narrative, of course, but it would be cool if it was! (laughing)”
The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
Few books on software project management have been as influential and timeless as The Mythical Man-Month. With a blend of software engineering facts and thought-provoking opinions, Fred Brooks offers insight for anyone managing complex projects.
These essays draw from his experience as project manager for the IBM System/360 computer family and then for OS/360, its massive software system.
This lunch-sized heuristic draws from the work of National Medal of Technology-winning software engineer Frederick P. Brooks Jr. His Mythical Man-Month is a technical book that still sells 10,000 copies a year. Why? Because he makes the counterintuitive argument that small teams of programmers work better than large ones: after a while, bringing more people on just adds noise.
Memos from the Chairman by Alan Greenberg
Alan C. Greenberg, the former chairman of Bear, Stearns, and a celebrated philanthropist, was known throughout the financial world for his biting, quirky but invaluable and wise memos.
Make decisions based on common sense. Avoid the herd mentality. Control expenses with unrelenting vigil. Run your business at the highest level of morality. Free your motivated, intelligent people from the chain of command. Always return phone calls promptly and courteously. Never believe your own body odor is perfume. And stay humble, humble, humble.
Source: “[The book is] a collection of memos to employees by the chairman of the now defunct investment bank Bear Stearns,” Stone writes. “In his memos, Greenberg is constantly restating the bank’s core values, especially modesty and frugality.”
Data-Driven Marketing by Mark Jeffery
In the new era of tight marketing budgets, no organization can continue to spend on marketing without knowing what’s working and what’s wasted. Data-driven marketing improves efficiency and effectiveness of marketing expenditures across the spectrum of marketing activities from branding and awareness, trail and loyalty, to new product launch and Internet marketing.
Based on new research from the Kellogg School of Management, this gem among books Jeff Bezos recommends reading is a clear and convincing guide to using a more rigorous, data-driven strategic approach to deliver significant performance gains from your marketing.
Source: “[This is] a guide to using data to measure everything from customer satisfaction to the effectiveness of marketing,” Stone writes. “Amazon employees must support all assertions with data, and if the data has a weakness, they must point it out or their colleagues will do it for them.”
The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen
The authors of The Innovator’s Solution identify the forces that cause managers to make bad decisions as they package and shape new ideas – and offer new frameworks to help create the right conditions, at the right time, for a disruption to succeed. This is a must-read for all senior managers and business leaders responsible for innovation and growth, as well as members of their teams.
Source: In an interview that aired on CNBC, a topic of discussion was books Jeff Bezos has recommended to Amazon’s top executives.
The Blind Watch Maker by Richard Dawkins
In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins crafts an elegant riposte to show that the complex process of Darwinian natural selection is unconscious and automatic. If natural selection can be said to play the role of a watchmaker in nature, it is a blind one – working without foresight or purpose.
In an eloquent, uniquely persuasive account of the theory of natural selection, Dawkins illustrates how simple organisms slowly change over time to create a world of enormous complexity, diversity, and beauty.
Source: Bezos delivered a message of utmost importance in the last paragraphs of his final letter to Amazon shareholders, which was released just a few months before he stepped down as CEO. Perhaps a bit intimidatingly, it was a 215-word passage from The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins, which Bezos calls “extraordinary.”
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
It was a dark and stormy night – Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”
A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time.
A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.
Source: “I remember in fourth grade we had this wonderful contest – there was some prize – whoever could read the most Newbery Award winners in a year. I didn’t end up winning,” Jeff Bezos admitted to the Academy of Achievement. “I think I read like 30 Newbery Award winners that year, but somebody else read more. The standout there is the old classic that I think so many people have read and enjoyed, A Wrinkle in Time, and I just remember loving that book.”
The Hobbit & The Lord of The Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure.
They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.
The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the dwarf; Legolas the elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-volume masterpiece is at once a classic myth and a modern fairy tale – a story of high and heroic adventure set in the unforgettable landscape of Middle-earth.
Source: “I was always a big fan of science fiction – even from when I was in elementary school, reading various things and loved, of course, The Hobbit and Tolkien’s trilogy that follows on from that,” Jeff Bezos said to the Academy of Achievement.
The Culture Series by Ian M. Banks
The Culture series is a science fiction series written by Scottish author Iain M. Banks, which was released from 1987 through 2012. The stories center on The Culture, a utopian, post-scarcity space society of humanoid aliens, and advanced superintelligent artificial intelligences living in artificial habitats spread across the Milky Way galaxy.
In Excession, Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen has been selected by the Culture to undertake a delicate and dangerous mission. The Department of Special Circumstances – the Culture’s espionage and dirty tricks section – has sent him off to investigate a 2,500-year-old mystery: the sudden disappearance of a star fifty times older than the universe itself. But in seeking the secret of the lost sun, Byr risks losing himself.
Source: “Happy to announce that Amazon Studios is adapting Iain M. Banks’ amazing Culture series – a huge personal favorite – as a TV series. Can’t wait!” Jeff Bezos once tweeted.
Invent and Wander by Jeff Bezos
There aren’t really any research-filled or plot-laden books by Jeff Bezos himself, however, in this collection of Bezos’ writings – his unique and strikingly original annual shareholder letters, plus numerous speeches and interviews that provide insight into his background, his work, and the evolution of his ideas – you’ll gain an insider’s view of the why and how of his success.
Written in a direct, down-to-earth style, Invent and Wander offers readers a master class in business values, strategy, and execution: the importance of a Day 1 mindset, why “it’s all about the long term,” what it really means to be customer-obsessed, how to start new businesses and create significant organic growth in an already successful company, why culture is imperative, and how a willingness to fail is closely connected to innovation.
The Everything Store by Brad Stone
This guide to books Jeff Bezos recommends reading wouldn’t be complete without a proper shout-out to Brad Stone’s The Everything Store.
Amazon.com started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices.
To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now.
Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon.
Compared to tech’s other elite innovators – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg – Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.
The Everything Store is the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read.
If you enjoyed this guide to the books Jeff Bezos recommends, be sure to check out our list of 20 Inspirational Books Elon Musk Recommends Reading!