How To Evaluate If a Business Book Is Worth Your Time

You don’t have to read the latest and greatest business book to be successful. Instead, learn how to identify if a book is worth your time — or not.
business book decision
Are you wasting time reading business books that aren’t relevant? Here’s how to determine if a book will actually benefit your business. (Photo: Shutterstock/Rawpixel)

The market for business books is flooded with thousands of options, and every week there seems to be a hot, new “must-read” publication for business owners.

With so many voices giving advice about how to run a business, it can be tough to narrow down the reading material you actually want and find books that will actually benefit your business.

So what are the best ways to navigate your reading choices? Follow these four guidelines to make sure your next book pick is stellar.

Don’t limit yourself to books in the “business” section

Some of the best books to help improve your business don’t focus on business, but on personal fulfillment and lifestyle choices. Skills such as building relationships, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals and determining life priorities (to name a few) are all valuable and transferable to the business world.

Will Hoekenga is the editorial advisor for the Hardbound app for iOS, which creates 5-minute illustrated summaries of bestselling nonfiction books.

“We want business books to make us more effective at our jobs in some way,” he said. “That’s why it’s so easy to get stuck reading books about specific ‘business-y’ topics and skills, like sales or time management. But we often discount the fact that getting better at our jobs is about way more than what we associate as typical business skills. It’s also about things like empathy and understanding what makes people tick.”

For his personal recommendation, Hoekenga suggested Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.”

“You probably won’t find it in the business section, but it has some fascinating insights into human behavior and the forces that shape our decisions,” he said. “Sometimes the books that make you more effective at your job are about a lot more than just business.”

Value the “right” recommendations

When getting recommendations or reading online reviews for a potential book choice, it’s important to take into account who is providing the the review — and why.

Amazon reviews in particular have a particular downfall, said Hoekenga. While great ratings from large numbers of people are promising signs, “If a book came out in the last 10 years or so, there’s a good chance that securing positive Amazon reviews was one of the author’s and/or publisher’s top priorities. That means the bulk of the book’s reviews are often seeded by the author’s biggest fans, who might view it through slightly rose-colored glasses.”

So how does Hoekenga find the best books for him?

“I pay special attention to recommendations from people I admire, whether they’re friends, interviewees on podcasts, TED speakers or any other source. When you can find sincere, unsolicited praise from smart people whose opinions you value, you’re on the right track.”

stack of books with glasses

Regardless of how informative a business book is, without follow-through on your part it will be a pointless read. (Photo: Shutterstock/carballo)

Make sure it passes the test of time

Hoekenga: “I tend to not read many business books right when they come out. Time is a great filter for business books. If it came out at least five years ago and people are still talking about it, that’s a good indicator.

“Mediocre books make their way to bestseller and ‘best of’ lists all the time, but it’s usually pretty difficult for them to stay there for years and years. While focusing on classics can make you late to the party on great new books, it’s your best bet when you’re looking for a sure thing.”

Related: Best Business Books: 50 Small Business Owners Share Their Picks

Focus on finding a long-term resource

According to Charlie Feehan, partner at business advisory firm Abacus Advisors, the key to finding a good business book is to evaluate its long-term usefulness.

“Most business books are written to sell books, not necessarily to help,” he noted. “Therefore, they posit interesting theories and ideas about the meaning of life and all things along with it.”

The danger of these books, he said, is they end up reading more like a novel and don’t provide practical advice.

“You read it and say, ‘Wow wasn’t that interesting.’ Then you put it away, and you don’t necessarily act on it.”

Feehan advised business owners look for books full of useful, actionable information, such as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (He said he’s on his fifth read right now.)

Related: 7 Things Successful Entrepreneurs Don’t Do

When business owners don’t gain much from a book, it’s because they aren’t actually applying the strategies and insights the book offered, he explained.

“The business books that I think are the most valuable are the ones that I continue to go back to. From an entrepreneurial perspective, the one that I go back to every time is ‘The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It,’ by Michael E. Gerber… It’s a fascinating book about what happens to entrepreneurs when they start something and then when the business grows. It takes you through the whole process, and it’s a way I continue to help my clients with. It’s a way my partner and I continue to design our own business around.”

But without follow-through on your part, noted Feehan, any business book — regardless of how informative it is — will be a pointless read.

“It’s only right for us because we stick with it,” he said.

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