9 refreshingly short business books you can tear through in an afternoon.

Written by Cole Schafer




 I’m a voracious reader. I have to be. When you make a living writing, you must keep the well full.

A line I find myself revisiting again and again is one by the “king of horror”, Stephen King. He offers the following advice to young, aspiring writers who can’t find the time nor the energy to read…

“If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Perhaps my only caveat to King’s words is that they also apply to entrepreneurs, marketers and business people striving to find success in this hyper-competitive, ever-changing environment we’re constantly clocking in and out of.

If you want to be great, you must read.

Simple as that.

However, business books don’t make it easy.

They are notorious for being big, clunky, long-winded and dare I say… poorly-written.

And, while there are certainly more than a few of these monstrosities that are worth picking up and tearing through cover to cover, the vast majority can be summed up in an essay.

Fortunately, there are writers out there who care, genuinely, about you and your time; writers who take more of a Hemingway approach to writing, saying more with less words.

9 short business books you can read in a few hours.

Here are several refreshingly short business books you can get through in an afternoon. While they maintain brevity throughout, they pull no punches in terms of depth.

1. The Richest Man In Babylon.

Anytime someone comes to me asking about investing, I hand them a copy of The Richest Man In Babylon. It’s a tiny book that can fit in your back pocket. Yet, it holds invaluable lessons on not only making money but making money work for you.

I recently bought a house in Nashville, Tennessee (as a twenty-six-year-old freelance writer, mind you). The reason I was able to do so was because I read this book and gobbled up the gems it shared at the beginning of my career.

A pretty excerpt…

“A part of all I earn is mine to keep.' Say it in the morning when you first arise. Say it at noon. Say it at night. Say it each hour of every day. Say it to yourself until the words stand out like letters of fire across the sky.”

2. Growth Hacker Marketing.

I would almost call Growth Hacker Marketing the bible of new school marketing. It was written by Ryan Holiday, a best-selling author who in a past life lead marketing at American Apparel (back when American Apparel was one of the hottest fashion brands in the world).

He breaks down how the world’s largest companies blew up by utilizing marketing that is cheap, effective, unsexy and most importantly… measurable. You will want to read this one twice.

(Also, if you’re into this sort of thing I do something similar over at Stranger Than Fiction.)

A pretty excerpt…

“Half the t-shirts I workout in are for companies that never made it off the ground.”

3. How to write words that sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.

Holy shit that’s an absurdly long title.

While this isn’t a book, it’s a ridiculously short course you can complete in an afternoon. (And, yes, it was written by muah.) It teaches entrepreneurs, marketers and snow cone vendors the complicated craft of “copywriting”… the craft of selling things with words.

A pretty excerpt…

“… when we use too many short sentences, the copy can feel off. It can feel awkward. It can feel forced. It can feel robotic. It can read weird. Uncomfortable. Punchy, in an unappealing way. Like someone is stuttering. Or saying ‘uhm’. A lot. It’s anxiety-inducing.”

4. Purple Cow.

There is a very good chance you’ve read Purple Cow. If you haven’t and you call yourself a marketer, shame on you. (I’m being somewhat facetious… somewhat.) In all seriousness, Seth Godin raises a fascinating argument in this tiny text…

Marketing, today, isn’t about witty billboards and million-dollar Super Bowl spots but instead creating products that are truly remarkable.

If you’d like to measure its impact, it was published 18 years ago and I’d venture to say was read by a good chunk of marketers and entrepreneurs at the time… look at some of the products that have been made since… Airbnb, Away Luggage, Dollar Shave Club, The Sill, etc.

Purple Cow has inspired brands to build marketing into their products –– to build products that market themselves.

A pretty excerpt…

“The old rule was this: Create safe, ordinary products and combine them with great marketing. The new rule is: Create remarkable products that the right people seek out.”

5. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons For A New Kind of Entrepreneur.

Derek Sivers is one of the strangest entrepreneurs in existence. Something you discover in this short, wacky book where he reflects on his journey building CD Baby, the largest online distributor of independent music on the planet.

My biggest take-away from Anything You Want was the power of creating repeat customers that come back again and again –– something Sivers sums up beautifully in the line below.

A pretty excerpt…

“It’s counterintuitive, but the way you grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers –– just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.“

6. Rework.

Rework was written by the founders of Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. If you’ve followed Basecamp and their blog Signal V. Noise, you’re familiar with how outspoken they are against all things common in business today: venture capital, obsession with growth, vanity metrics, etc.

They’re mostly boot-strapped. They don’t really believe in marketing. They’re based in Chicago (not Silicon Valley). They’re punks building a business on their own terms. And, in this book that feels more like an indie startup how-to guide, they encourage you to do the same.

A pretty excerpt…

“They say you can’t succeed by building products that do less than your competition’s.”

7. #GirlBoss.

I’d say of all the books on this list, Sophia Amoruso’s #GirlBoss had the largest influence on me while building my creative writing shop, Honey Copy.

It’s a wondrous coming of age narrative that tells the story of Amoruso going from broke and homeless, to frugally hustling her ass off to build Nasty Gal… an e-commerce darling that would, unfortunately, later go bankrupt.

A pretty excerpt…

“Money looks better in the bank than on your feet.”

8. 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.

While Growth Hacker Marketing focuses on tactics, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing helps you develop higher-level marketing strategies and philosophies that can serve you for a lifetime.

To use a metaphor, Growth Hacker Marketing is the battle, “22” is the war.

If you’re starting to get overwhelmed (or don’t feel like spending a couple hundred dollars buying every book on this list), I summed up many of the lessons in 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, here.

A pretty excerpt…

“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.”

9. The War of Art.

I intentionally placed this book last on the list. It’s a tremendous work to close with. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art teaches creatives, entrepreneurs, marketers and writers how to overcome a universal challenge he dubs “resistance”… the invisible insidious forces that keep us from doing the work that fills our soul.

If you have trouble getting started (or finishing what you’ve started) –– be it a book, an enterprise or a marketing campaign –– this short gem should be next on your reading list.

Am I missing anything?

I love a good read. And, more so, a short* good read. If you know of any (be they in business or some other genre) write to me over on LinkedIn.

Until then, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.