The best books every CEO should read

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.” – Charlie Munger At getAbstract, we’ve spent the last twenty years reading and summarizing the best business, leadership, and non-fiction books in existence (over 18,000 to be exact). Our goal […]

The best books every CEO should read

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.” – Charlie Munger

At getAbstract, we’ve spent the last twenty years reading and summarizing the best business, leadership, and non-fiction books in existence (over 18,000 to be exact). Our goal is to deliver the most important insights in a compressed format for individuals and entire organizations.

Why do we do create book summaries? It’s simple – we want to save you time, help you learn faster, and help you discover your next favorite book that you won’t want to put down.

We thought it would be useful to create a list of our favorite books for CEOs. We hope this collection helps you kickstart a new round of learning.


Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

First up on the list, we recommend Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. In this book, you will learn why a “good strategy” is not about vision or goals, but instead, it’s about a carefully researched and well-thought-out action plan designed to meet a challenge.

What makes a bad strategy and how can you avoid it? You will learn this as well. Rumelt builds a compelling case that “bad strategy” is a form of magical thinking that dodges problems and sets unrealistic expectations. If you are looking to level-up your strategic thinking as CEO, we strongly recommend this book.

Deep Work

Deep Work by Cal Newport was among the most popular book summaries on getAbstract last year and is an excellent read on a style of working that has become more and more necessary and valued with the rise of knowledge work.

Deep work is professional work that requires extended periods of intense focus and concentration. Newport argues that deep work is a key activity of the knowledge worker, while shallow work is the activities that will be automated away in the future. As CEO, understanding deep work can help you improve your productivity, but also help your teams be more productive.

The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth DisciplineThe Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge is one of our favorite books of all time on creating a learning culture. As more and more industries transition to “knowledge work”, it’s critical that employees be constantly learning as a group. In fact, this is key to the sustainability of the organization over the long-term.

In order to make this transition, organizations will need to master five disciplines, including a very important discipline that integrates all the others, called systems thinking. An organization that learns faster than competition will be much more resilient over the long-term.

The Effective Executive

The Effective ExecutiveNext up on the list, we recommend The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. As you may already know Drucker is one of the most popular management writers of all time – his most popular book may be The Effective Executive. In this book, you will learn the importance of being effective as an executive.

Specifically, you will learn five key habits for increasing your effectiveness, including the importance of making meetings productive, ensuring that your actions benefit the organization, and more. If you’d like to be more effective at work, this book is worth the read.

Competing Against Time

Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) recommends Competing Against Time, by George Stalk. Stalk builds a compelling case that timing is central to how a business should function. In this book, you will learn about why organizations underestimate the importance of timing and what you can do to build your organization in a way that priorities speed, especially when it comes to delivering value to the customer. We recommend this book if you want time to work in your favor.


Leadership & Self Deception

Next, we recommend Leadership & Self Deception, by the Arbinger Institute. This book may change how you think and behave (both personally and professionally). Presented as a series of conversations between two businessmen, one acting as a mentor to the other, the book walks you through the kinds of events that put you “in the box” of self-deception.

In this book, you will learn what self-deception is and how it distorts reality. Additionally, you will learn how to recognize when you are in the “box” of self-deception and most importantly, how to get out! As a leader, this book is worth your time.


A key piece of building a great place to work is finding, identifying, and hiring the right people. That’s why we recommend Who, by Geoff Smart & Randy Street. As you may already know, hiring the wrong person for a particular role can be incredibly expensive (up to 15x their salary). In this book, you will learn a systematic, repeatable method for hiring the right people using a “scorecard”, based around the mission, the desired outcome, and the competencies needed.

If you want to find and hire the right people for a role, you need to read this book. We use this process here at getAbstract for hiring.

The Speed of Trust

Next up, we recommend The Speed of Trust, by Stephen Covey and Rebecca Merrill. In this book, you will learn about why trust is important to the health of your organization, how to develop trust, and what to do when trust is broken.

In particular, the authors recommend thirteen behaviors to establish trust, including: “straight talk”, demonstrating respect, creating transparency, and more.



A list of recommendations for CEOs should probably include some recently published books, right? That’s one reason why we recommend Principles by Ray Dalio. “Principles” was released in late 2017 and provides a fascinating outlook on how Bridgewater & Associates (one of the world’s largest hedge funds) operates its business.

While some of the practices at Bridgewater are controversial, the principles outlined are well-grounded and rational. I found that I wanted to write down my own “principles” after reading this book. We enjoyed learning more about the unique business practices at Bridgewater centered around radical transparency and creating an idea meritocracy. This is definitely worth a read.

Only the Paranoid Survive

Next, we recommend Only the Paranoid Survive, by Andy Grove. This book highlights Andy Grove’s career at Intel, with a special focus what he calls “strategic inflection points.”

Put simply, these are periods of extreme change for an organization in which the impact is ten times bigger than what you might expect. Grove shares a few examples of when this happened at Intel. We enjoyed the part of the book where the author highlighted the primary drivers of change.

If you want to learn how to navigate disruption, this book is for you.

Monetizing Innovation

Finally, we recommend Monetizing Innovation, by Madhavan Ramanujam and Georg Tacke. If you want to learn about pricing and packaging, this is one of the best books you will find. The authors present sound reasons why you shouldn’t design a product or service until you’ve learned what customers want and how much they are willing to pay. Additionally, you will learn the primary reasons why new products fail.

Finally, you will learn how to bundle products, avoid knee-jerk reactions, and develop a better understanding of how to price your next product or service.

Wrapping up

We hope these books were useful. If you want digital access to over 18,000 summaries to help you discover your next favorite book, you can sign up here. Interested in access for everyone in your company? Feel free to reach out!

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