My younger brother called me the other day with a big idea—an invention that came to him when he was housebound due to a knee injury. His creative and entrepreneurial energy was infectious. It reminded me of so many of the books I’ve read over the years. I knew by the steps he was taking already that he was onto something.
And while starting the process of bringing forth a new big idea is one of the most exhilarating things in the world, I also knew how lonely stepping out on a big idea can feel. How the inevitable setbacks and rejections can turn the exhilaration into terror. How the roadblocks can make you wonder if going for a big idea was the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, and if maybe you should just have kept your head down.
Reading books by and about entrepreneurs who believed in and went for big ideas made all the difference for me. They gave me hope. They provided me with actionable strategies that brought some of my biggest and most difficult ideas into reality.
Below are the best books for entrepreneurs I shared with my brother—some of my favorite books of all time. I hope they give you an extra boost to make your next big idea a reality, too. At the very least, I hope they serve as both reminder and proof that your ambition and audacity are beautiful things, and that your ideas are worth pursuing.
Best books about entrepreneurs
By Pat Williams
Pat Williams gave me a framework to understand how to look at someone’s story of achievement and pull out lessons that you can apply to your own big ideas. It’s a framework I now use in most of my writing. It’s also a fascinating look at a man who successfully executed a lot of big ideas.
By Sophia Amoruso
Sophia Amoruso’s journey to building her online retail company offers important insights into the nitty gritty of growing a business through engaging storytelling. It also made me feel like Anne Hathaway’s character did in The Intern—that “young woman” and “leader” aren’t antonyms.
By Ido Leffler and Lance Kalish
I listened to the audio version of this book. At times it felt like a stand-up comedy routine—in the best sense. This book reveals the qualities of Ido Leffler and Lance Kalish that led to some of their incredible big-idea business successes (for example, Yes To Inc. and Yoobi)—qualities and habits that you can replicate.
4. Making Good
By Dev Aujla and Billy Parish
This book is full of incredible stories of people making their big ideas come to life, particularly those that generate both income and goodwill.
By Misty Copeland
There is nothing better for fueling a big idea than reading about a trailblazer. Misty Copeland’s dedication to her craft offers an incredible metaphor for the kind of commitment it takes to bring a new idea forth.
By Bill Murphy Jr.
Bill Murphy Jr. takes you through the stories of three successful entrepreneurs and exactly how they built their companies—nuance that offers a glimpse into what it truly takes to bring a big idea to life. I especially appreciated the real understanding of the hard times and the discussion of how these people navigated through them.
Best books to inspire entrepreneurs
By Darren Hardy
Darren Hardy gave me the confidence to devote more of my time to the skills, projects and tasks where I add the most value, and the courage to say no to everything else.
2. Turning Pro
By Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield helped me understand that “the trough of sorrow” talked about in entrepreneurship circles, or as he calls it, the “the belly of the whale”—this time period in the creation of a big idea where you’re in too deep to turn back but feel like nothing is working out like you’d hoped—is normal and conquerable.
3. Brain Storm
By Don Hahn
Don Hahn has successfully produced films such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, as well as amazing documentaries. Brain Storm is the first book that gave me permission to consider myself creative—no small feat.
By Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Ed Catmull revealed something in this book that I will never forget—that Pixar makes bad movies. Catmull explains that what makes a Pixar film great is a long and intense process of feedback and editing. This process gave me ideas for applying a similar feedback loop to my own work. Most of all, it helped normalize and alleviate the pain of feedback, reminding me that receiving feedback that requires you to change things does not mean your idea is bad.
By Paulo Coelho
In addition to being inspired by this allegory about chasing after a dream, simply getting lost in a fictional world helped my mind take the rest it needed to generate my next big idea.
6. Lean In
By Sheryl Sandberg
Sometimes my biggest hurdle to implementing my big ideas is not believing that I belong in whatever world that big idea would launch me into. This book gave me courage to see myself in a new light. Not only that, it helped me understand that if you feel like you don’t belong, it might mean your big idea is that much more important—that its implementation could create space for so many more people to be welcome into a space where, up until now, they’ve been left out.
By Amy Wilkinson
Amy Wilkinson does a stellar job of unlocking how some of the best entrepreneurs of our time think, act and create in this book. If you aren’t sure if you’re a creative or entrepreneurial type of person, you will be after reading this book. You’ll recognize so much of yourself in the ways these people think and act—even if, like me, your aspiration is very, very far from creating a company.
By Seth Godin
This book lit a fire under me to go for my big ideas, and took the pressure off with this mantra: “This might not work.” Being OK with it not working can make the trying of the big idea that much more fun. Seth Godin helped me see why the mentality of “This has to work” was stifling me, and how the opposite would ironically give my big idea an even better chance of succeeding—as well as giving myself a better chance of coming up with another big idea if this one failed.
9. Deep Work
By Cal Newport
I’ve learned that one of the best ways to bring a big idea to life is to carve out time to concentrate deeply and devote your full brainpower to your idea. Cal Newport shares research for why deep concentration is so effective in helping you reach your goals, and offers concrete strategies—some of the best straight from his own life as an associate computer science professor at Georgetown University, author, blogger and father—for how to make time to concentrate on your most important projects in a hyper-distracted world. If you only ever read one book on productivity in your life, I hope it’s this one.
This article was updated April 2023. Photo by Maria Loginova/Shutterstock