Your Professional Bookshelf: 6 Must-Have Books


I’m a book lover. Paperback fiction. Historical non-fiction. Classics. Biographies. Self-help. Books in translation. Philosophy. You name it, I’ll read it. There are literally dozens of physical books waiting to be read on my bookshelf (to go along with the dozens that I have read but can’t bear to part with), and hundreds sitting patiently on my Kindle (if you don’t have an e-reader, get one).

The problem, however, is that I’m spoiled for choice. Too many books. I agonize every time I finish one and have to select the next to start. It takes forever.

See also: Books You Didn’t Read in High School but Should Have

With that in mind, I thought I’d pass on some recommendations to save you the agony. If you read only a few books this year for your career, make it these ones. And one final note - get paper copies. I love - no, adore - my Kindle, but sometimes you need an “old-fashioned” book. Something you can hold. Highlight. Fold down the corners. Flip quickly to a chapter. Carry it with you like a treasured friend.

Here’s Your Professional Bookshelf:

The Art of Learning

Written by former chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, the book systematically looks at learning. More specifically, he examines the best way to learn a new skill - any new skill - in order to quickly and efficiently become a master of it. Waitzkin himself was a chess champion (winning his first National Chess Championship at nine), and later turned his attention to the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan (in which he eventually won a world championship). Chess and martial arts. Two clearly separate, distinct skills that Waitzkin took to world-class standards within a short period of time.

Waitzkin himself sums it up nicely...“I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess. What I am best at is the art of learning.” This book demonstrates exactly how he did it. And how you can, too.  

The 4-Hour WorkweekThe 4-Hour Chef, and The 4-Hour Body

This one is kind of a cheat, as it’s three different books. But they are all written by the same author, Tim Ferriss, and all deal with his unique viewpoint and system for achievement. The “4-Hour Blank” has become synonymous with any system for quickly, easily, and completely mastering something. Ferriss has been an entrepreneur - earning $40,000/month as outlined in his first book (4-Hour Workweek) - as well as world-ranked and world champion at several other disciplines. Now, he spends his time pushing his limits and boundaries, and passing on his findings to his tens of thousands of fans and followers.

"The 4-Hour Workweek" looks at streamlining and improving your professional life. "The 4-Hour Body", in which Ferriss became what he calls “a human guinea pig”, examines our tired and antiquated beliefs about health and fitness (he experimented - and found - better systems and methods for weight loss, muscle gain, increased stamina, better memory, better sex, and better time management). "The 4-Hour Chef" chronicles his attempts at becoming a world-class chef. While cooking does play an important part in the text, it is the Ferriss System that is of more importance (he was inspired by Josh Waitzkin in this respect), and the book outlines effective and clever ways to learn anything, quickly and with minimal effort.  

The Art of Happiness

The previous two books primarily deal with ways to improve your professional life (learn new skills, master new techniques, streamline and organize effectively). “The Art of Happiness”, written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, explores your personal life, and how to find balance and happiness in an increasingly driven and stressful world. The Dalai Lama has famously - and repeatedly - said that happiness is the purpose of life. In his informal, real, and anecdotal style, he explains how to combat the anger, depression, anxiety, and fear that plague so many of us.

If we focus only on career, job, and ambition, everything else suffers. Keep yourself balanced. And happy.

Book Yourself Solid

There are many, many books written on the art of business. Many of them are good, and could probably provide everything you need from it. “Book Yourself Solid” by Michael Port is hands-down the best that I’ve read, and it’s geared specifically towards anyone that hates/dreads/resents/fears sales and marketing. If you consider them to be necessary evils in your professional goals and position, then I highly recommend the book.

Divided into four modules (Your Foundation, Building Trust and Credibility, Simple Selling & Perfect Pricing, and the Seven Core Self-Promotion Strategies), the book provides useful and actionable advice and steps for getting and keeping clients. If you’re an entrepreneur, or if your job involves selling and marketing in any way (which is basically every one of us), then Michael Port can make you better at it. Period.

The Elements of Style

Written communication, while changing and evolving in the world today (email, text messages, instant messaging), is still a necessary component in your professional tool belt. The ability to clearly, succinctly, and properly articulate your ideas via the written word has obvious advantages, and helps you stand out from the crowd, whether it is your resume and cover letter when applying for a job, or the big report you need to write for your biggest account. “The Elements of Style” first appeared in 1935, and it has enjoyed popularity and relevancy ever since. It’s an easy, fast read (likely only taking an hour or two from cover to cover). Read it. Study it. Keep it on or by your desk (ideally one at home and one at work). Use it.

The Art of War

A classic written over 2000 years ago by Chinese General Sun Tzu, the book explores (and is considered the first of its kind) military planning, strategy, and execution. It’s an interesting and historically significant book in its own right, but as a blueprint for modern business, it provides some exceptionally good advice. It examines elements of human nature, management (military, but still applies to the boardroom), the psychology of your “enemy” (or competition, in modern business terms), conflict resolution, and negotiation. Japanese businessmen apparently swear by it. 

There are other great books that everyone should read, but these represent the best of the best as applies to business.

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