There’s nothing worse than wasting time on a bad book.

Here are the three commandments you need to follow if you want to fit in here:


Read Old Books

If you’re feeling like you “have” to read the Top 10 list that’s because marketers engineered that feeling. Learn from the best, not the most popular.

Read Things You Disagree With

Learn the arguments and make up your own mind. If you read Marianne Williamson, then read Richard Dawkins. Decide for yourself what you think.

Read Slowly

Better to close-read 12 books a year than speed-read 40. Take your time. Great works should be indulged in, not sped through.

Happy Reading,


Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy


Rumored to be the book Mad Men was based on.


There are more lessons on business packed into this man’s story than any textbook on entrepreneurship.

This man set the tone for an entire generation of high achievers. No one has been able to replicate what he built and when you read it you’ll see why. His no-nonsense approach to doing business and advertising will have you gasping with “Holy $%^# did he actually write this??”

Remember, he’s famous for being insufferably arrogant (and rarely wrong). Plus, he’s a copywriter, which makes it a very entertaining read. You won’t be bored.


Sexism. (More pragmatic than offensive in tone, but still sexism). In 1988 (20 years after publication), he explains that women have a place in the workforce and even credits them with talent: “Don’t let men write advertising for products which are bought by women.”

If you have a weak stomach for 1960s boozing and business, you will get queasy. Worth it, though.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins


The immutable laws of advertising condensed into a deceptively quick read.


Ogilvy said that “Nobody should be allowed to anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times.” And I am inclined to agree.

If you’re wondering why you’re not selling as much as you should be, this book will explain. Hopkins shows where and how you are leaving a ton of money on the table if you don’t know these basic principles of selling.


Don’t be fooled by his simple tone and straightforwardness. There are enormous wisdom bombs in here that you will miss if you’re not reading carefully. Take your time with this one. It’s a short read, but it is packed with insights that will change your business forever.

Being Direct by Lester Wunderman


Lester Wunderman’s biography. Lester Wunderman: The guy you’ve never heard of who is responsible for #nbd things like AMEX credit cards, the toll-free 1-800 number, and the entire field of Direct Marketing.


You know the famous saying, “50% of my marketing’s working. Trouble is I don’t know which 50%.” Direct Marketing is the 50% that is working.

Mr. Wunderman is credited with inventing the field of Direct Response Marketing.

His story is a turn-of-the-century rags-to-riches tale, but the road to success is fraught will lessons that will make you pause and go “Why am I not doing this is my business?!!” He invented industries, manufactured demand, created markets, and harnessed the power of human nature in order to sell more. If you want to know how to attract and retain customers, you will enjoy this book.

It’s a remarkable tale of perseverance and business savvy.


Some parts are a little slow and…dry. If you’re not in the mood, it can get boring.

Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy


A semester on advertising, business, and selling from the real life Don Draper.


His lessons on business are timeless #facepalms ignored by 90% of businesses (especially marketers), like this one: “Make sure what you promise is important to your customer.

There’s a reason Ogilvy was considered the best. The crux of his philosophy is remarkably simple: “I don’t want you to tell me that you find it “creative.” I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

The book goes into detail on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to advertising that sells – with lots of examples (and pictures!).

The best part is Ogilvy is an insufferably arrogant British Man and the result is absolutely hilarious. “Any fool can fool can write a bad advertisement, but it takes a genius to take his hands off a good one. (p.67).”  There’s enough in here to keep you in business for 100 years.


If you aren’t inherently interested in this topic, you might miss the value packed into this little book. If you are, have your highlighter ready.

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares


The world’s greatest reference guide for acquiring customers. It’s like a textbook you want to read.


All the questions you’ve had, but were afraid to ask in public – this book answers them. Highly actionable, clarifying, and no fluff. You get a comprehensive in-depth look at the 19 different traction channels. It explains clearly and unambiguously how each channel leads to customers and gives detailed examples and case studies from real businesses.

TL;DR: Read this and you will be an expert in customer acquisition.


Focuses on tech startups, but the channels are relevant to anyone doing business and trying to make sense of the modern marketing landscape.

Purple Cow by Seth Godin


The book that explains why traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore (and tells you what does).


Did you know that the most famous “Teach the World to Sing” TV commercial for Coke sold nothing? And did you know people are still using that (and many other failed examples) as case studies to copy? Yeah. You want to read this book.

The world changed with the rise of TV and radio and the internet and distribution….and now we have too much and no one is paying attention. So, how do you get people’s attention? The book answers that question (spoiler alert: You need a Purple Cow).

TL;DR: If you want to understand how marketing works in a world where everyone is distracted and no one is paying attention, read this book.  


Purple Cow is written in typical Godin-style, conversational, top line, and arguably oversimplified. But that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s an especially important read for anyone who still thinks the old approach to marketing works (hint: it doesn’t). This book will change the way you think about everything. #paradigmshift

Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz


The bible for copywriting.


If you want to be a persuasive writer, you need this book. Forget ads, I was convincing my husband to agree with me within days of reading this book. And that’s because “the copywriter’s primary job is to know his market. He has to know more about that market than the market knows about itself.” 

In other words: This book is about understanding people.

You can think of it as a manual for understanding human desire. Specifically, for capturing human desire and channeling it into the appeal in your ad.

The author, Eugene Schwartz, was a mail direct response copywriter in the Mad Men days. This book is his guide to writing effective ad copy that sells. It has tons of examples form the 1950s (many of which are shockingly offensive because…it was the 50s).

If you’ve ever heard people refer to market sophistication and awareness levels (hi MindValley) this is where they got it from.

I re-read it almost every year.


For serious nerds only. This is a tough read. Not a beginner book. It’s dense and will be hard to get through if you’re not inherently interested in this topic.

Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom


Exposé on how companies manipulate us into loving them and buying more. But with science. Neuroscience. #nerdalert


If you’re on the fence about whether “branding” actually works, this will tip the scale.

Lindstrom’s done a ton of research in the field with some pretty big brand names. He takes you behind-the-scenes as he exposes their manipulative tricks and explains why they work. Some will surprise you; others will trouble you (like how the addition of sweat bubbles on a photo of a can of soda can dramatically increase sales or how music influences your purchase behavior in stores).

He sensationalizes the “manipulation and deception” angle a bit for the sake of controversy. Most of what’s in here isn’t bad, it’s smart and generally good business practices (like giving samples of your clothes to celebrities with social influence, for example).

(PS: This is the second book to a companion, Buy-ology, but this one is better. And includes as much as the first + some.)


It’s not a book on “branding.” It’s about how the brands we create influence everything from our purchase behavior to our beliefs about the world.

My Life in Advertising by Claude Hopkins


A time machine to the turn of the century. You get to step out, walk around, and feel what it was like to sell to the masses, invent markets, and do business in the early 1900’s.


Things that are “old hat” today came from this guy. He pioneered sampling, using ads to secure distribution, and (this one is huge) how to manufacture demand for a product. The best part: This man predated all the studies on influence and persuasion, yet he details truths about human nature that have been validated by science nearly 100 years later.

Oh and household brands like Palmolive, Pepsodent, and Goodyear are only “household brands” because of him.

Get your highlighter out. I couldn’t put this one down.


A lot has changed since the time this book was published (1927). You’ll notice back then people paid attention to ads. Still, the appeals he uses are relevant today, even in a crowded marketplace where no one is paying attention. The genius is in his approach. Notice how he thinks about solving each business problem and how he thinks about “mass markets” and ordinary “simple” people. Those are the takeaways you’re looking for.

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink


A fascinating look at the psychology of why we buy, how we eat, and why we eat (that we aren’t aware of).


I’ve gifted this book the most because it is jam-packed with useful insights into psychology, human behavior, and persuasion.

Even if you’re not interested in food, the studies Wansink outlines will blow your mind. He shows you how emotional food really is and how susceptible we are to things like social forces or our environment when it comes to what and how we eat.

You’ll learn details like how music influences how you eat, the effect of menu labeling on order options, how pricing effects value perception, how your senses deceive you, and more troubling truths about human nature when it comes to food.


It will change how you eat.

On Writing by Stephen King


Half memoir, half tactics, and all fantastic.


You won’t be able to put this thing down once you start. It doesn’t read like a pedantic “how to.” It’s a story. Told by your best friend who is trying really hard to be honest with you about the fact that you’re probably not cut out for this. Still, he gives you the tools you need to improve as a storyteller, with tons of examples of what works, what doesn’t, and why when it comes to literary style, syntax, story structure, grammar, etc. But mostly you get brutal honesty.

If that’s not convincing enough, this excerpt from the forward should do it: “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” (page ix)

(Note: It’s not short. But you will be glad. I didn’t want it to end.)


Not a book on copywriting. A book on writing. Specifically, storytelling. The real kind, not the metaphorical kind Godin and Gary V refer to all the time.

This is not about influencing behavior (though you could argue it’s about influencing feelings. After all, your readers should feel something after reading you. Otherwise, what are we doing here?)

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday


Required reading for anyone who uses the internet.


Ryan Holiday clears his conscience in this tell-all from his life as a media manipulator, aka: Someone who controls the news cycle and uses it to make money, at the expense of integrity, reporting, and facts.

He explains how media is having a renaissance in yellow journalism (basically, lying to sell things) thanks to the internet. The current business model has everyone is chasing clicks and impressions in order to get paid, which leaves content susceptible to exploitation and manipulation (aka: “we’ll do anything for a click”).

Holiday figured out how to exploit this in order to get his clients press and spread misinformation for the sake of controversy and PR. He lays it all out and you’ll be shocked at how you’ve been complicit in this conspiracy too.


You’ll become “that person” at dinner who informs everyone of what you just learned. Also, the book gets a little repetitive half way through, but the message is important enough that it’s worth repeating for emphasis.

No B.S. Direct Marketing by Dan Kennedy


Fantastic introduction to direct response marketing for small-to-midsize businesses.


The tenants of direct response used to rule the advertising world till the advent of TV and branding and other less-trackable forms of marketing became popular. Dan Kennedy resurrects the basics for you in a highly palatable easy-to-read book for lay people who aren’t marketers.

Direct response (DR) marketing is marketing that sells. Contrast that with brand marketing which (today) is about “awareness.” The idea behind DR is that your marketing should pay for itself. It should be trackable, measurable, and generate ROI. (These are the principles laid out by Ogilvy, Hopkins, Wunderman, Schwartz…but applied to today).


SPAMMY. It feels spammy. All copywriting and DR books written after 1980 feel spammy. It’s their trademark. Still, this man knows what he’s talking about. Find the lessons underneath the icky-feeling you have before you dismiss it.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk


A book on selling in the connection economy, disguised as a social media book.


Say what you will about Gary V, the guy knows his stuff. Most social media books are useless and outdated the moment they hit shelves. This one is different. And that’s because Gary V outlines a way of looking at the world, your business, and your customers that has utility far beyond social media.

The idea is simple: Find a way to add value first, then ask for the sale – hard.

He highlights timeless principles of listening to your customer, showing up where they’re already hanging out, and speaking to them in a way that they can hear you. There are also fun pictures.

TL;DR: You’ll never think about sales the same way again.


Yes, there are things that are dated (like # of FB users or EdgeRank). But if you get stuck on those things you’re missing the point. You want to pay attention to the approach he is recommending. Don’t get lost in the tactics.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini


The seminal book on persuasion that everyone and their mom recommends (with good reason).


If you’ve ever wanted to know how to influence someone’s behavior, opinion, or beliefs, this is the book.

Most of today’s popular books on persuasion and sales are rip offs of this guy. The reason this is the “seminal” text everyone goes back to is because this stuff works. It’s not enough to know the “hacks” you read on Joe Shmo’s blog, you need to understand why those hacks work. This book explains that in frightening and fascinating (but still palatable) depth.

TL;DR: Don’t just watch the RSA animate – read the book.


It doesn’t read as nicely as the memoir style storytelling (after all, Cialdini isn’t a copywriter), but don’t be deterred. Worth pushing through for the “ah ha” moments it will inspire for your sales.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers


How Derek Sivers accidentally grew CD Baby to $22 million


You know the “It’s either hell yes, or no” principle? That came from this book. So did, every other non-intuitive principles for running a business, like:

  • Don’t take investment (“By not having money, you never waste money.”)
  • Confidently exclude people
  • Don’t try and make money

Derek’s philosophy is a manifesto for the next generation of entrepreneurs who see business as a way to help others. Afterall, “It’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have.”


You can finish this book in an hour. I recommend drawing it out and reading one two-page chapter a day and letting the lesson marinate.

Note: These are Amazon affiliate links. Meaning, if you buy a book through the links on this page, I get a teeny tiny commission from Amazon.