Nature Biotechnology | Trade Secrets

The Entrepreneur’s Bookshelf


Joyce’s Ulysses. Huxley’s Brave New World. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Some of the most important books ever published in the English language. Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never read them. Of course, I want to read them. I suspect most of us have a reading list we apparently only manage to add to.

Well, here a few more candidates. I took note of the titles and authors of every book that came up during presentations or discussions over two years in the Kauffman Fellows Program, which I’m proud to say I recently completed. Somewhere between a mini-MBA course, a field guide to best practices in venture capital and entrepreneurism, and a self-help seminar, the KFP offers a group of change-the-world-type Fellows the opportunity to listen and learn from some of the best minds in business and innovation. Needless to say, I made sure to listen closely to what these people were telling me. What they were reading, or did read and deemed valuable, seemed important too. I think I caught every literary reference. To be clear, this isn’t a class reading list or required texts, but rather a compilation of off-the-cuff comments on impactful reading from a group of highly accomplished business people.

Here’s the list:

  • • Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together – William Isaacs
  • • Thought as a System – David Bohm
  • • Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman, Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis
  • • Silent Messages: A Primer of Nonverbal Communication – Albert Mehrabian
  • • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
  • • The Speed of Trust – Stephen R. Covey
  • • The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History – Douglass North and Robert Paul Thomas
  • • Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore
  • • The Post-American World – Fareed Zakaria
  • • Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Patrick Fencioni
  • • Ethics for the Real World – Clint Korver
  • • Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
  • • Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People – Bradford Smart
  • • Joyless Economy -Tibor Scitovsky
  • • Mr. China: A Memoir – Tim Clissold
  • • Sharkproof: Get the Job You Want, Keep the Job You Love… in Today’s Frenzied Job Market – Harvey Mackay
  • • Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae – Steve Pressfield
  • • Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson:
  • • The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures – Dan Roam
  • • How We Decide – Jonah Lehrer

Looking over it now, I see an overarching theme of effective leadership, one of the most important elements in successful entrepreneurship and company building. Leadership is an expansive concept, so works on communication and team-building, ethics and integrity, and reflections on personal strengths and fallibilities all emerged from the group discussions.

I suspect that I’ll peruse most of these books at the library or bookstore, yet read only a few in their entirety. As I’m prone to do, which is somewhere in between I guess, is read a few thorough book reviews, and walk away feeling like I’ve read the books themselves. I can’t be the only one guilty of that infraction.

Of course, if you have a reaction to the list or suggestions for additions, please leave a comment below.

Adam Bristol


  1. Report this comment

    Michael Francisco said:

    Thanks, I look forward to picking some of these up. I’d also like to add the following: first, probably the quintessential “Bioentrepreneur 101” book, and second, an accessible and eye-opening look at the state of worldwide commerce.

    • From Alchemy To IPO: The Business of Biotechnology – Cynthia Robbins-Roth

    • The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century – Thomas Friedman

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    Iva Toudjarska said:

     Dear Adam,

    Congratulatons on the opportunity to be part of the prestigeous Kauffman Fellows Program. Thank you for sharing the list. Some of these books are life/career changing and have to be engrained in everything a succesful person does. In case you run out of reads this summer one or two other 1. Ignore everybody: and 39 othew keys to creativity by Hugh MacLeod; 2. Influence without authority by Cohen and Bradford.

    Hope to see you soon.

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    Bernard Dichek said:

     Actually I still think your best bets are the authors you mention at the top: Joyce, Huxley, Falkner, et al.

    The danger of looking for yet another book on entrepreneurship/innovation/management is that we begin to think that if we can just find the right book then we will have the winning formula that we need.

    But much of the truly big ideas that people come up with often derive from sources that don’t seem to have any direct connection to what they are working on. And that’s where literature and other forms of art come in.

    It’s interesting that you mention Huxley’s Brave New World, a 1931 work of fiction that envisions genetic engineering.

    I would add one of Marshall McLuhan’s books to your list. In   The Medium Is the Message and Understanding Media, books written  in the sixties, McLuhan predicted the internet and much of the electronic revolution.

    McLuhan liked to quote Ezra Pound (another author for your list) who made the observation about the  artist as being the antenna of the human species, sensing what is coming before the rest of the organism, and reporting it to us.



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    Adam Bristol said:


    Thanks for your comment.  It’s hard to believe that Idea to IPO was written in 2000, over a decade ago! I suspect it will feel a little dated to a young readers today.  Considering the economic climate of the last three years, perhaps a more accurate title for a re-issue would be Idea to M&A.


    Thanks for your comment as well.  I’ve heard that Influence without Authority is very good.  At first blush, the concept may sound Machiavellian (though Machiavelli sought to advise those in power), but I suspect that it is highly relevant to effective consensus-building and management-board dynamics. 


    Point well taken.  I too am often puzzled by the volumes upon volumes that make up self-help and business sections in my local bookstores, so much of which read like ‘old wine in new bottles’.  That said, I do belive that there are diamonds in the rough, that there are some deep thinkers about best practices in an evolving global economy. The key is to find them, which was the motivation behind my post.   Novels are a source of inspiration, to be sure, but they cannot substitute for detailed study of business matters.  A writer or painter didn’t invent the assembly line.