Every year, I read the top 2-3 new business books that have been published. Beyond that, I still prefer reading obscure books, titles that fly under the radar. Accordingly, here are 20 obscure business titles ranging from management to marketing to small business.
20 Great Books Possibly Forgotten
Instead of showing the titles in a long list, I’m going to break them up into categories. You will recognize a few of these titles, but most have been long forgotten.
Values and Principles
You don’t read Fifty Years With the Golden Rule by J.C. Penney, You soak in a few pages a day and keep rereading. You want this book by your fingertips.
When my oldest son was attending Harding University, he suggested the title The Wal-Mart Way by Don Soderquist. Great book, but one that gets overlooked by Sam Walton’s book.
I read Working Together by James P. Lewis after reading American Icon a few years ago. Working Together is the management process Alan Mulally used to support his turnaround efforts twice after he took the CEO role at Ford in 2008. It’s out of print, but you’ll be able to find a used copy for sale.
The Game of Work by Charles Coonradt was one of the first practical books ever published for small and mid-sized businesses on what to measure and how to measure non-financial data. I still love the book. It’s one that I used to give away during the early years of my consulting practice.
Managing by the Numbers is a bit dated too, but Chuck Kremer’s book was outstanding at the time. He and his co-authors were probably the first to teach how to read all three of the financial statements along with demystifying cash flow reporting and analysis. All of us with financial backgrounds should be historians. If you read this book, you’ll learn about the origins of the Mobley Matrix.
I need a Drucker book in this category. The Effective Executive is not an obscure title, but Managing for Results belongs in this section.
If I were a W-2 controller or CFO, every person in my department would be required to read Understanding Variation by Don Wheeler.
Everyone has heard of The E-Myth Revisited, right? But was it practical? Could you immediately systemize everything in your business afterward? If you tried, Philip Paul Beyer’s System Busters would have been the better pick.
I almost left off Built to Sell by John Warrillow, but when I give it to small business owners, they have never seen the title before. Every small business owner should read this the first day they start their business.
Memoirs and Bios
I love memoirs. Growing a Business by Paul Hawken ranks near the top in this category of obscure reads.
John McCormack’s Self-Made in America is just a bit dated, but still it makes this list.
The serious reader has heard of Father, Son & Co.: My Life at IBM by Thomas Watson Jr. I rarely see this title on top lists. Great book.
I have a signed copy of Gordon Bethune’s From Worst to First. In that book, you’ll see how he transformed a failing airline company by focusing on just three customer-centric metrics–and they did it without NPS.
Did you know big data existed in the 1940s? It did if you didn’t have computers. Ford’s Whiz Kids were doing with analytics back then what business journalists are writing about today. When it comes to data and analytics, there is nothing new under the sun, just better software.
I need more marketing titles in this section. My pick for this category is Doug Hall’s Jump Start Your Business Brain. I hate the title, but the three questions requiring answers are the best in forging a long-term marketing strategy. Read the first 3-4 chapters, and skim the rest.
Every food operator in the QSR industry has probably heard of Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service. I love this book, and every CEO and CFO should read this great treatise on customer service.
I’m a huge fan of Ron Baker and the work he does on The Soul of Enterprise podcast. My favorite title of his is The Firm of the Future. The book’s audience is for professional services firms, but it’s still a great business book in general.
How can I have a list like this and ignore personal finance? Sorry, you’ll not find Dave Ramsey in this corner. Instead, if you liked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you should love Investment Biker by Jim Rogers–loved it and hard to put down.
These next titles are hard to fit in a category above. Futurist Joel Barker is the author of Paradigms, a fun read. If you are ancient like I am, you may remember his paradigms video that many trainers used in the 1990s.
Craig Hickman wrote the Organization Game and The Productivity Game. At the end of a chapter, you have a decision to make. You have three choices. Whichever choice you take, you skip to that particular chapter. Yes, both are books where you can lose at the end. What a great way to learn about business.
Books Not Making the Cut
I’m an amateur historian when it comes to business books. I bought The Theory of the Growth of the Firm by Edith Penrose. Many college professors probably know of her work. I just bought the book in 2017, but I have not been able to read this book which was published in 1959.
Jim Collins wrote Built to Last and Good to Great, but Edwin Locke wrote The Prime Movers who was influenced by Ayn Rand. Collins writes like a marketer, but Locke writes like a professor. Still, his title is worth the read.
Now it’s your turn. Which obscure titles have influenced your career the most? I’d like to know.
Title Photo by Patrick Feller