Ask VeraSage: The Anti-Reading List?

In my post on enlightened leadership I said leaders are readers, and that if you’re not reading at least 50 books a year, why would I want to follow you? After all, your mind is obviously closed off from exploring the world and expanding your horizons if you’re not an inveterate reader. How else are we expected to learn new things?

After reading my post, Mark Bailey, one of our Trailblazer firms in Nevada, wrote me the following email:

Dear Ron,

I know you aren’t Oprah, but if you have a moment I’d really appreciate a reading list. I read a great deal, but as one of my leaders I’m interested in what you read. Especially reading that relates to the tenets of the firms of the future as you’ve described them.

I enjoyed your comments on enlightened leadership.


Thanks for the question Mark, I’ve been meaning to include more book reviews in my writings, and perhaps in the future we’ll have a corner dedicated to what Team VeraSage is currently reading. Books are important to everyone of us, a great source of intellectual capital, not to mention inexpensive. In a letter to James Madison dated September, 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his thought-provoking and challenging book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, tells the story of the writer Umberto Eco, who possesses a library of over 30,000 books (mine, by comparison, is a little over 2,000). He separates his visitors into two categories: 1) Those who, upon seeing his library, exclaim, “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” Taleb explains the next category this way:

And the others—a very small minority—who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

…focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-resumes telling you what they have not studied or experienced…but it would be nice if they did. …Note that the Black Swan comes from our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises, those unread books, because we take what we know a little too seriously.

What a great explanation! My antilibrary gets bigger every year, and hundreds of books are staring at me right now, unread, taunting me with the knowledge they contain that may change the course of my life. My colleagues are also constantly reading and strongly suggesting books I should read, which I’ve learned to take seriously. Dan Morris and I want to launch a course on the Top 100 books you should read, which we think would be fascinating. So many books, so little time.

I have an extensive Bibliography in all of my books, and all but one book (The Firm of the Future) contains an extensive Suggested Reading list. You can find other book reviews here, in our Resources section, sorted by topic.

In addtion, at the risk of imitating Oprah, I thought I’d share with Mark and everyone else a (partial) list of the books I’ve read in 2006, and 2007 (so far). Since I wrote two books in 2006 (Pricing on Purpose and Measure What Matters to Customers), and one this year I just finished (Mind Over Matter), my reading tends to follow the topics I’m writing about. Hence, you’ll see a lot of titles dealing with intellectual capital, pricing, knowledge workers, measurements, etc.

Knowing that a list, in and of itself, would not be that valuable without some form of review, I’ve also put a number next to each book, on a scale of 1-6, defined as:

  • [1]—Ignore it.

  • [2]—Skim it, but only if you find a copy somewhere.
  • [3]—Worthwhile read, but only if you’re highly interested in the topic and/or the author.
  • [4]—Very good read, thought-provoking.
  • [5]—Excellent read, highly recommended.
  • **[6]**—Buy it now and put on top of your reading pile! You’ll never look at the world the same again, I promise. Don’t wait!

Keeping the above scale in mind, here’s my list from 2006:

  • Selling The Dream: Why Advertising is Good Business, John Hood [3]

  • The Cult of Personality Testing, Annie Murphy Paul [4]
  • Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, Kevin Roberts [3]
  • How To Sell At Margins Higher Than Your Competitors, Lawrence L. Steinmetz, PhD [4]
  • Corporate Canaries, Gary Sutton [2]
  • Let Go To Grow: Escaping the Commodity Trap, Linda S. Sanford [3]
  • He: An Irreverent Look at the American Male, Florence King [3]
  • Half Time, Bob Buford [4]
  • Return On Customer, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, PhD [3]
  • Dealing With Darwin, Geoffrey A. Moore [2]
  • Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, Eugene O’Kelly [5]
  • Attention Deficit Democracy, James Bovard [3]
  • Impostor, Bruce Bartlett [3]
  • The Well-Timed Strategy, Peter Navarro [2]
  • How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Thomas E. Woods, Jr., PhD [4]
  • The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, Scott Gray [4]
  • Getting America Right, Edwin Feulner [3]
  • The Knowing-Doing Gap, Jeffrey Pfeffer [3]
  • The Professors, David Horowitz [3]
  • The Human Equation, Jeffrey Pfeffer [3]
  • In Our Hands, Charles Murray [5]
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini [4]
  • Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense, Jeffrey Pfeffer [4]
  • Latino Boom!, Chiqui Cartagena [3]
  • Creators, Paul Johnson [4]
  • Social Intelligence, Karl Albrecht [2]
  • Trapped: When Acting Ethically is Against the Law, John Hasnas [3]
  • The Party of Death, Ramesh Ponnuru [4]
  • Revolutionary Wealth, Alvin and Heidi Toffler [4]
  • Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity, John Stossel [4]
  • Managing Intellectual Capital in Practice, Goran Roos [3]
  • The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld [3]
  • The Knowledge Web, James Burke [2]
  • The Intellect Industry, Mark C. Scott [2]
  • White Guilt, Shelby Steele [4]
  • Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations, David Warsh [4]
  • The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States, Fritz Machlup [2]
  • Myself and Other More Important Matters, Charles Handy [5]
  • Godless: The Church of Liberalism, Ann Coulter [3]
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Third Edition, Thomas S. Kuhn [3]
  • The Hare and the Tortoise, John Kay [4]
  • Smarter Pricing, Tony Cram [4]
  • The New Organizational Wealth, Karl Erik Sveiby [4]
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Debacle, Henry N. Butler and Larry E. Ribstein [4]
  • Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, Ronald Reagan [3]
  • Pyramids are Tombs, Joe Phelps [3]
  • Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life, Richard Branson [3]
  • Thou Shall Prosper, Rabbi Daniel Lapin **[6]**

  • The Creative Economy: How People Make Money From Ideas, John Howkins [4]
  • Learning In Action, David A. Garvin [3]
  • The Origin of Wealth, Eric Beinhocker [3]
  • Information Markets, Robert W. Hahn and Paul C. Tetlock [3]
  • Knowledge and Decisions, Thomas Sowell **[6]**

  • Buried Treasure, Rabbi Daniel Lapin [4]
  • Juicing the Orange, Pat Fallon and Fred Senn [3]
  • The Long Tail, Chris Anderson [4]
  • Managing Knowledge Workers, Frances Horibe [2]
  • Working Knowledge, Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak [3]
  • Not a Suicide Pact, Richard A. Posner [3]
  • Corporate Memory, Annie Brooking [2]
  • Abolishing Performance Appraisals, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins **[6]**

  • The New Economics, W. Edwards Deming [3]
  • Lost Knowledge, David W. Delong [3]
  • America Alone, Mark Steyn [4]
  • How To Build and Manage a Family Law Practice, Mark A. Chinn [3]
  • Your Life Your Legacy, Roger Hamilton [2]
  • Econospinning, Gene Epstein [3]
  • The Strategic Management of Intellectual Capital, David A. Klein [2]
  • The Elegant Solution, Matthew E. May [4]
  • Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies, Nikos Mourkogiannis [5]
  • Einstein in the Boardroom: Moving Beyond IC To I-Stuff, Suzanne S. Harrison and Patrick H. Sullivan [4]
  • More Than A Numbers Game: A Brief History Of Accounting, Thomas A. King [4]
  • Building Organizational Intelligence, Jay Liebowitz [2]
  • Reaping the Benefits Of Knowledge, Jan Duffy [2]
  • Deja Reviews: Florence King All Over Again, Florence King [4]
  • Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary, Linus Torvalds [4]
  • Workforce Wake-Up Call: Your Workforce is Changing, Are You?, Robert P. Gandossy, et al. [3]
  • The Corporate University Handbook, Mark Allen, Editor [3]
  • The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Semler **[6]**

  • A Whole New Mind, Daniel H. Pink [4]
  • On The Wealth of Nations, P.J. O’Rourke [4]
  • The Economics of Knowledge, Dominique Foray [3]
  • The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World, John O’Sullivan [4]
  • The End of Commitment, Paul Hollander [3]

And here’s my list so far in 2007:

  • Hope Is Not A Method, Gordon R. Sullivan and Michael V. Harper [3]

  • The Theory of the Growth of the Firm, Edith Penrose [2]
  • Mavericks At Work, William Taylor and Polly Labarre [4]
  • The Definitive Drucker, Elizabeth Haas Edersheim [4]
  • The Little Book of Plagiarism, Richard A. Posner [3]
  • Ever Wonder Why?, Thomas Sowell [4]
  • Mind Set!, John Naisbitt [3]
  • The Big Three In Economics, Mark Skousen [4]
  • The Enemy At Home, Dinesh D’Souza [4]
  • Micromotives and Macro Behavior, Thomas C. Schelling [2]
  • Milton Friedman: A Biography, Lanny Ebenstein [3]
  • Introctrination U., David Horwitz [3]
  • Left Luggage, C. Northcote Parkinson [2]
  • Boomsday, Christopher Buckley [3]
  • The Halo Effect, Phil Rosenzweig **[6]**

  • The Science Of Success, Charles G. Koch [4]
  • The Soulful Science, Diane Coyle [3]
  • The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, Robert P. Murphy, PhD [3]
  • More Sex is Safer, Steven E. Landsburg **[6]**

  • A Man of Letters, Thomas Sowell [5]
  • Strictly Right, Linda Bridges and John R. Coyne, Jr. [3]
  • Freedomnomics, John R. Lott, Jr., PhD [5]
  • New Ideas from Dead CEOs, Todd G. Buchholz [4]
  • Competing on Analytics, Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris [4]
  • Five Minds for the Future, Howard Gardner [4]
  • The Economic Naturalist, Robert H. Frank **[6]**

  • A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell **[6]**
  • The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb **[6]**
  • Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite, Paul Arden [3]
  • Bully Boy, Jim Powell [4]
  • Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom and the Making of History, John Patrick Diggins [3]
  • What Were They Thinking?, Jeffrey Pfeffer [4]
  • Monty Python and Philosophy, Gary L. Hardcastle and George A. Reisch, Eds. [3]
  • A Failure of Nerve, Edwin H. Friedman [3]
  • Human Instinct, Robert Winston [2]
  • Mobilizing Minds, Lowell L. Bryan and Claudia I. Joyce [3]

Of course, if you want more context on why I graded any book the way I did, don’t hesitate to contact me.

I’d love to hear what you are reading, or have read, that changed your outlook, or your life.


  1. Linda Kay says:


    Since I’m not sure how many life-altering books I can read in succession, I was hopeful that you would rank your list again. To make it a little easier, I have separated the books rated a “6” from the rest.

    Thou Shall Prosper, Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    Knowledge and Decisions, Thomas Sowell
    Abolishing Performance Appraisals, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins
    The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Semler

    The Halo Effect, Phil Rosenzweig
    More Sex is Safer, Steven E. Landsburg
    The Economic Naturalist, Robert H. Frank
    A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell
    The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    I’m excited about reading some of your picks! Great idea to share the information.


  2. Hi LInda,

    Great question. Here’s the order I’d suggest you read the books you picked:

    Thou Shall Prosper, Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Semler
    Abolishing Performance Appraisals, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins
    The Halo Effect, Phil Rosenzweig
    The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    The two books below are excellent if you enjoyed Freakonomics, the best-selling economics book by Steven Leavitt. They are academic explorations of economics, but are written in clear, everyday language. Landsburg is one of my all-time favorite authors, and he’s written other works (Fair Play and The Armchair Economist).

    More Sex is Safer, Steven E. Landsburg
    The Economic Naturalist, Robert H. Frank

    A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell is deep, but if you ever wanted to know why two people can look at world completely differently, there’s no better book than this. Sowell is another of my favorite authors, and has lots of books, some easy, some quite academic.

    Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions is quite deep, very academic, not his easiest read. I’d only read it if you enjoyed the one above.

    Of course, if you don’t like any of these books, I take no responsibility! Bless his heart…

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