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The Reading Lists of Top CEOs: Books That Inspire and Motivate

In the ever-evolving world of business, CEOs constantly seek new sources of inspiration and knowledge. As we step into 2024, it's intriguing to delve into the reading habits of some of the world's most successful CEOs. These leaders often turn to books for new ideas, strategies, and insights into leadership and personal development. Here’s a comprehensive look at 15 books that are on the reading lists of top CEOs, each offering unique perspectives and invaluable lessons.

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1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day

Recommended by Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, finds great value in this novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Set against the backdrop of post-WWI England, the story follows Stevens, a dedicated butler, whose reminiscences reveal a life filled with dignity, professionalism, and a poignant sense of regret. Bezos’ recommendation highlights the book’s profound exploration of life’s complexities and the choices we make.

2. The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

A favorite in the business world, this book is a practical guide that lays out a clear framework for achieving strategic goals. It offers actionable steps for effective execution, emphasizing the importance of focusing on wildly important goals, acting on lead measures, keeping a compelling scoreboard, and creating a cadence of accountability. It’s a must-read for CEOs looking for a structured approach to business strategy execution.

3. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime

Robert Iger, the former CEO of Disney, shares his experiences and lessons learned during his tenure at one of the world’s most iconic companies. The book is a treasure trove of insights on leadership, decision-making, and the power of storytelling in business. Iger emphasizes values such as optimism, courage, and fairness, providing a blueprint for successful leadership.

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow

In this groundbreaking book, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explores the two systems that drive the way we think: the fast, intuitive, and emotional system, and the slower, more deliberate, and logical system. Kahneman’s insights into human decision-making and problem-solving are invaluable for CEOs navigating complex business landscapes.

5. Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos by Jeff Bezos and Walter Isaacson

Invent and Wander

This collection offers a unique look into the mind of Amazon's founder, Jeff Bezos. It compiles his most impactful writings, speeches, and interviews, providing insights into his approach to business, innovation, and leadership. The book is a compilation of Bezos’ thoughts and philosophies, charting his journey and offering valuable lessons for aspiring leaders.

6. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, recounts the formative days of his startup and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands. The memoir is an honest and candid look at the challenges and triumphs of building a global brand, highlighting the importance of perseverance, passion, and innovation.

7. The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael D. Watkins

The First 90 Days

This book is particularly useful for new CEOs or anyone transitioning into a leadership role. Michael D. Watkins provides strategies for the critical first 90 days in a leadership position, focusing on how to successfully navigate the transition and lay the groundwork for future success.

8. The Age of AI: And Our Human Future by Daniel Huttenlocher, Henry A. Kissinger, and Eric Schmidt

The Age of AI

Recommended by Ginni Rometty, former chair and CEO of IBM, this book delves into the implications of artificial intelligence on our future. The authors, leading thinkers in technology and policy, explore the ethical and practical challenges posed by AI, offering insights that are crucial for leaders in an increasingly tech-driven world.

9. The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

The Earned Life

Marc Rosen, CEO of JCPenney, recommends this book for its insights on personal and professional fulfillment. The authors discuss the importance of living a life aligned with one’s values and making impactful choices that lead to a fulfilling and regret-free life.

10. Chup: Breaking the Silence about India’s Women by Deepa Narayan


This book addresses the cultural norms and challenges faced by women in India. Narayan provides a comprehensive look into the societal pressures and expectations that shape the lives of Indian women, making it a crucial read for leaders interested in understanding and addressing gender issues in a global context.

11. Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle over Technology and Prosperity by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson

Power and Progress

Recommended by Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this book offers a historical perspective on how technology has shaped prosperity and societal advancement. It explores the dynamic relationship between technological innovation and economic growth, providing valuable insights for leaders navigating the tech-driven business environment.

12. The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees by Ben Mezrich

Brian Doubles, President and CEO of Synchrony, suggests this book for its captivating narrative of the 2021 GameStop short squeeze. Mezrich provides an engaging account of how a group of amateur traders challenged Wall Street, offering lessons on the power of collective action and the changing landscape of the financial world.

13. Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind by Andy Dunn

Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind

Ariela Safira, Founder and CEO of Real, recommends this memoir for its honest and raw look into the startup world. Dunn shares his personal journey with bipolar disorder while launching his startup, providing a unique perspective on the mental toll and challenges of entrepreneurship.

14. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Recommended by Hassan El-Houry, Group CEO of National Aviation Services, this book challenges common misconceptions about the state of the world. Rosling uses data and analysis to offer an optimistic perspective on global issues, urging readers to adopt a more fact-based worldview.

15. Human Work in the Age of Smart Machinesby Jamie Merisotis

Alisa Miller, co-founder and CEO of Pluralytics, finds this book insightful on the future of work in an era increasingly dominated by AI. Merisotis discusses the evolving role of human skills and creativity in the workplace, offering a thoughtful perspective on how leaders can prepare for the changes brought by smart machines.

These books, recommended by top CEOs, cover a diverse range of topics from leadership and innovation to technology and societal issues. They offer invaluable insights and lessons for anyone interested in understanding the complex world of business and personal development as seen through the eyes of successful leaders. Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur, a seasoned executive, or simply someone interested in the art of leadership, these books are a valuable addition to your reading list.


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