How Do You Select which Business Books to Read? – Here’s How I do It

I present synopses of business books – at least one new title – every month. I’ve been doing this for 16+ years. Yesterday, I blogged about how I read a business book. Today — how do I select which books to read and present.

I think that selecting the right book is the hardest part of my job.

At the First Friday Book Synopsis, we have said for years that we choose from best sellers, and from books with a chance to make that list (national publisher; of some “import”). And, there have not been many best sellers we have missed over our 16+ years.

But, there are times I have selected books that never made any best-seller list. To state the obvious, there are some mediocre books that are best sellers; and some really valuable books that never make the list. So, “best seller” is a good clue about the worth of a book, but not the “final clue.”

And, the more I have read, the more I have agonized over this selection process.

Here are my “current rules” of book selection.

Each good business book, in one way or another, addresses one of these "bubbles." (Click on image for full view).
Each good business book, in one way or another, addresses one of these “bubbles.”
(Click on image for full view).

#1 – I look for books that will be useful to the business community. I have posted many times my “bubbles” on Healthy Organizations, (here again), and I am convinced that practically every business book deals with one of the issues illustrated in these bubbles in one way or another. It took me a lot of years to come to this model. And I have also come to understand that business people read books is search of some answer, some direction, for the issues they face. I look for books that will be helpful in their search for direction.

#2 – I look for books that are representative of the “Zeitgeist.” If people are talking about a book, there is a good chance it would help if you knew more about such books. In other words, if a book becomes part of the national conversation, I think we should cover it (again, our arena is business books). So, my colleague Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of Good to Great by Jim Collins shortly after it came out, and it is a book that is still talked about. I have presented synopses of all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and Outliers is still showing up on best-seller lists. I have also presented synopses of Lean In; Flash Boys; Steve Jobs and others that would fit in this category.

And, if you asked me which book is the “biggest” example of a book that became part of the Zeitgeist, it would have to be Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. When a phrase becomes part of the national vocabulary, as the phrase “lean in” has become, then that book has had influence far past its actual readership.

And, by the way, each of these books representative of the “Zeitgeist” have valuable, useful insight for the business thinker.

#3 – I look for books that push us forward. As I have often admitted, I am a big fan of Steve Jobs. He was the business leader that most “pushed us forward” in the years of my adult life. In Apple’s “Here’s to the Crazy Ones – Think Different” commercial, the phrase is actually used. From the ad:

Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

#4 – And, I look for books that explain the changing terrain of the modern business world – and broader world. I love books that, after I read them, I say, “now I get it.” The recent The Second Machine Age did that for me, but there have been many others.

Have we missed important, useful books at our event? Yep! Pretty much every week of my life, someone will say “have you read____?,” and I have to say no. Sometimes, I have to say, “I’ve never heard of it.” (I’m always embarrassed when that happens!).

But we’ve hit plenty of the useful, influential, important books.

But… you ask, “you still haven’t told me how you find such books.” I had these lines in yesterday’s post:

I do not read reviews, interviews, for the content of my handouts. I’m a text guy — I want to know what the book itself is saying, and I seek to deal only with the text of the book as I prepare my synopsis (and the handouts).

I do not “quote” reviews in my handouts, but I do read them before I make my selections. I look for good book reviews, and I go on search missions to find out about books coming out soon. (As usual, Amazon is part of my regular routine – they have a ”coming soon” feature for books, by category, that is a wonderful “heads up” source).

The reviews are everywhere. But, sometimes, a “big name” writes a review of a book. (For example, Malcolm Gladwell has a review of the new Think Like a Freak book coming out by the Freakonomics guys, up on the Amazon page).

I find book reviews everywhere – Amazon, yes, but I check the New York Times, and plenty of reviews pop up on Business Insider, and other places…

But, my first reviewer of choice is Bob Morris, who reads more books than you can imagine. He is a valuable contributor to this blog, and a Hall of Fame, Top 100 Amazon reviewer — and many of his reviews are available on his own blog. Click this link for a list of his book reviews on his blog.

(We send out e-mails about our monthly event, and if Bob has written a review of the book we are presenting, I always link to his review). If you have not discovered Bob Morris’ reviews, it’s time to take a look.

So, here ends my two days of posts how I do what I do. How I read a business book, and, how I select my books.

Good luck in your book searching and book reading.


Note: I also prepare “custom ordered” synopses for clients. If a client wants/needs a book synopsis for a specific reason, I am glad to prepare that and present it to his/her group.

15minadMost of our synopses from the First Friday Book Synopsis, with the comprehensive, multi-page handouts and the audio of our presentations, are available at our companion site,





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