Are Business Books Worth Reading?


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A quick browse in my personal library reveals more than 1,000 books. Although there are lots of science, humanities and other books, most are business books. That reflects my profession for the last 20 odd years as a thoughtful management consultant.

But are the business books really worth the money they cost?

Seth Godin in another great post on ‘How to Read a Business Book’, (how does he think them all up), makes the point that 5% of most business books is hard facts (the ‘magic recipe’ as he describes it) and 95% is motivation to do something different with the recipe back at work.

Whilst I agree with Seth in principle, I think the ratio is more like 5% recipe, 45% motivation and 50% useless padding to meet publishers’ apparent need for business books with a high ‘thud factor’ when you drop them on the table.

I am having a clean out at the moment as my book cases are too full and new purchases are vying for space. The books that are going are not the science, humanities and other books, but the fat business books full of useless padding.

Were they worth the money when I bought them? Maybe in some cases, but probably not in most? Would I spend the money on them again? Absolutely. How can you afford to do without the magic recipe and the dreams of success, fame and riches that you would create if only you could implement the magic recipe!

What do you think?

Are you an inveterate buyer of business books? Or are you too busy implementing the magic recipe from the last one you read to have time to read any more?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

PS. What business books am I reading at the moment?

The Customer Centric Enterpise: Advances in Mass Customisation & Personalisation
by Mitchell Tseng & Frank Piller
The latest thinking on how to develop customer-centricity in your organisation

Real Options: A Practitioner’s Guide
by Tom Copeland and Vladimir Antikarov
Re-reading this standard textbook for some project valuation work I am doing

Multichannel Marketing: Metrics and Method for On and Offline Success
by Akin Arikan
Some commonsense about multichannel marketing (at last)

Connections: An Introduction to the Economics of Networks
by Sanjeev Goyal
A book that caught my eye at the London School of Economics bookshop!

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Further Reading:

Seth Godin on ‘How to Read a Business Book’

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. Graham,

    Explicitly missing from the “motivation to do something different” is inspiration. I am not sure where Seth was going since I haven’t yet read his piece but I will. I did try your link but found it broken.

    Doing something different because someone else said so is a recipe for failure if you take them too literally. Gaining inspiration and the motivation to think about things differently is a different story.

    One of the classics on my bookshelf is “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. It was first published in 1940 and revised in 1972. They talk about four levels of reading. The first three have to do with more literal aspect like understanding the words, understanding the authors message. The fourth level is syntopical reading. This occurs when you take what the author says and wrestle with how it jive with your knowledge and experience. It is a process where the authors ideas are the inspiration or motivation for you to go where he couldn’t go because he (or she) doesn’t have your experience.

    To me, some business books are worth reading because the inspire me to engage in a syntopical process from a new perspective. However, I am with you on the padding. At least 50% of the business books on my shelf fail to provide any motivation or inspiration for syntopical reading past the first few chapters.

    What business books could use is syntopical writing — a writing style that deliberately fosters sytopical reading.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  2. Points well taken Graham!
    Wow, 1000 books!

    I can comment in regards to “padding” having just recently gone through the experience of writing the Multichannel Marketing book that you kindly mention. Thank you for taking the time to browse that one, by the way!

    While putting the outline together with the publisher, I thought I was going to have difficulty increasing the page count from my estimate of 200 to the minimum 250 that the publisher was looking for in order to call it a book.

    While writing though, the contents evolved beyond my expectations. In this particular case, the idea of highlighting (and amalgamating) methods used by online, direct, and brand marketers emerged. This even became the backbone of the book.

    It ended up such that I had to cut any “nice to have” content to keep the length under 300. But had that useful structure + content not emerged I might have had to look for padding.

    So your intuition seems right on the spot. I think all authors ought to be urged to trim 10 to 20% of the content after their writings are completed.

    Akin Arikan

  3. Below are books that I’ve been reading for at least 20 years but still find them useful as of today.

    1) The Book of Changes
    2) Lao Zi
    3) The Art of War
    4) The Thirty-Six Strategies
    5) Romance of the Three Kingdoms

    Daryl Choy
    Make Little Things Count


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