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Personal MBA Complete: 100 Book Reviews

Last January, I started the Personal MBA.  Today, I’m happy to report I’ve completed the last of 100 books from the 2011 list.

Josh Kaufman has since replaced 12 books for the 2012 version, so I still have some reading to catch up on.  For now, I’ll take a short reprieve from my reading marathon.

How I did it

I’ll start by admitting it wasn’t easy.  I’ve averaged just under two Personal MBA books a week for the past year (plus another book or so per week for work or leisure).  While I’m a voracious reader, there were a few flashbacks to college where I had to push myself through certain books.

Since I’ve been traveling quite a bit for work the past year, I decided to give audiobooks a shot.  I’ve always been an avid music listener, but have enjoyed the switch to audiobooks on my commutes (especially for multiple-hour trips).  I became an Audible subscriber and bought every Personal MBA book they carried.  I’ve since discovered that some of the narrators (usually the self-narrated books) ruin the experience, but the vast majority have been fine.

For any books not on Audible, my backup option was Kindle.  I started the year reading everything I could on the iPad, but have now transitioned to the Kindle Fire.  I find its screen size much nicer for speed reading, although the heft still throws me off.  I absolutely love the ability to view my library from anywhere with bookmarks always in sync.

For the remainder, I got as many books as possible from the library.  Special thanks to my friend Vicki (an awesome librarian) who hunted down some of the rarest and most expensive books on the list, sometimes shipping them across the country at low cost.  I was amazed at how difficult some of the books were to get my hands on.

The totals:

Was it worth it?

Absolutely.  Sure, it was a huge time investment, arguably expensive, and occasionally tedious.  There were a few stinkers in the list, but the overall signal:noise ratio was impressively high.

I learned an incredible amount in the past year, much of which I was able to apply immediately in my consulting work.  I now have a much stronger foundation in most areas of business, both strategic and tactical.  In turn, I’m more confident yet have a better appreciation for what I don’t know and still need to work on.

The reviews

I originally hoped to write these as close to real-time as possible, expecting to write several batches at worst.  Since writing 100 reviews now feels daunting, I’ll start by sharing my star ratings and one sentence synopses.

I’ve sorted books within each category from highest to least recommended.


Productivity & Effectiveness

  • Getting Things Done by David Allen - (Rating: 5/5): The essential productivity book.  One of the few I had read before embarking on the Personal MBA, and one I still learn from every time I reread it.
  • The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz - (Rating: 5/5): Among the most powerful books on the list.  It punctuates the importance of balance in life.
  • 10 Days to Faster Reading by Abby Marks-Beale - (Rating: 4/5): A good second book to read, for obvious reasons.  Only a few tips stuck with me (e.g. the distance to keep my eyes from the margins), but my speed certainly improved throughout this endeavor, so maybe the book helped.
  • Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst - (Rating: 4/5): While I didn't personally gain much from this book (IT is my wheelhouse), it's important and well-organized subject matter.
  • StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath - (Rating: 3/5): I don't feel like I got a lot out of this exercise (a book and computer-based test).  I'm relatively self-aware, having taken other assessments such as Meyers-Briggs and DISC.  I can see how it may help some.
  • The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch - (Rating: 1/5): The subject matter (the Pareto principle) is well worth knowing, but this book is fluff.  You're better off reading and understanding the linked Wikipedia article.
  • The Power of Less by Leo Babauta - (Rating: 1/5): This book violates its own title, taking far too long to spout obvious platitudes.

The Human Mind

  • Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez - (Rating: 5/5): One of my absolute favorites.  I learned more about the human condition from it than from just about any other book.  Highly recommended.
  • Brain Rules by John Medina - (Rating: 5/5): Absolutely fascinating study of behavioral psychology and biology.  I'm not sure that I'll apply much of this in my daily routines, but I loved it.
  • Driven by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria - (Rating: 5/5): Another fascinating and well-researched study.  Again, I'm not certain how applicable it will be in my career, but I enjoyed it.
  • Making Sense of Behavior by William T. Powers - (Rating: 2/5): The subject matter is interesting, but it felt too theoretical and insular.


  • Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath - (Rating: 5/5): Eye-opening book about building successful brands and spreading ideas.  One I expect to reread multiple times.
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser - (Rating: 4/5): Solid and interesting.  Pick up the book, not the audio version.
  • Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds - (Rating: 3/5): Full of useful tidbits, but too drawn-out, making it antithetical to its title.
  • The Copywriter's Handbook by Robert Bly - (Rating: 3/5): More of a reference book than something I advise reading cover-to-cover.  Portions feel outdated.
  • Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few - (Rating: 1/5): A true chore to read.  It could be condensed to a few reference sheets of recommended models.  Instead, it's hundreds of pages with bad chart examples interspersed with the good.



  • Ethics for the Real World by Roland Howard and Clinton Korver - (Rating: 5/5): Captivating and surprisingly applicable for such a subjective topic.
  • Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein - (Rating: 3/5): Powerful and influential, but I think Malcolm Gladwell's Blink was more captivating.
  • Smart Choices by John S. Hammond et al - (Rating: 1/5): I wanted to like this book, but didn't walk away learning anything.
  • The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz - (Rating: 1/5): I don't feel like I read the same book as the other reviewers on Amazon.  This is the worst kind of cheer-leading "self-help" book with no substance.

Creativity & Innovation

  • Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun - (Rating: 4/5): Fascinating read that debunks many common myths of the inventor's process.  It's empowering for the every-man and a book I plan to revisit.
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter F. Drucker - (Rating 3/5): I'm not one to criticize Drucker, but this collection of essays feels disjointed and out of touch with the current world.
  • The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp - (Rating: 2/5): I can see the appeal, but this book isn't for everybody, myself included.  Twyla is too swept-up in her own story and tenuous anecdotes to offer any nuggets of value.

Project Management

  • Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun - (Rating 4/5): Worthwhile reading for a new manager, and an interesting look inside Microsoft.
  • Results Without Authority by Tom Kendrick - (Rating 4/5): A decent look at the soft sides of being a Project (or Politics) Manager.  A flip-side to the traditional PMBOK.

Opportunity Identification


  • The Knack by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham - (Rating: 5/5): A must-read for every fledgling or would-be business owner.
  • Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson - (Rating: 4/5): Nice primer on creating a flexible business that can adjust to shifting priorities.
  • Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim - (Rating: 4/5): Inspiring and surprisingly practical.
  • Bankable Business Plans by Edward Rogoff - (Rating: 3/5): A great reference, but too dry to read cover-to-cover.
  • The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki - (Rating: 3/5): Interesting look into Silicon Valley, but not very useful unless you're VC-bound.
  • The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Feriss - (Rating: 2/5): There are a handful of nuggets in this book, but the author is so annoying and underhanded, that I can't recommend it.

Value-Creation & Design

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman - (Rating 5/5): Everybody should read this, even if you have no interest in business.  The psychology of design is fascinating.
  • Universal Principles of Design by William, Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler - (Rating: 5/5): Ditto the above.  Everybody should be aware of the fundamentals covered within.
  • Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank - (Rating 5/5): The focus on "Customer Development" over "Product Development" is one of the most important lessons I took away from the Personal MBA.
  • Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson - (Rating: 2/5): Overhyped.



  • The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes - (Rating: 5/5): Perhaps the book with the most "aha" moments for me.  I've already found myself referencing it on multiple occasions.
  • Value-Based Fees by Alan Weiss - (Rating: 5/5): All consultants should read this.  It makes the strongest arguments regarding pricing that I've read.
  • The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer - (Rating 4/5): Good reinforcement of the basics of sales.  A prime tutorial for independent contractors and thought leaders.
  • SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham - (Rating: 1/5): A common-sense approach to sales calls, wrapped up in an all-too-clever acronym.


  • The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt - (Rating: 4/5): Thought-provoking insight into strategic growth, with special attention towards manufacturing.  Probably the most unique presentation of any book on this list.  I recommend the audiobook version.
  • Indispensable by Joe Calloway - (Rating: 2/5): Useful subject matter, but I really didn't care for the presentation.  Half of the book is made up of overblown case studies and boring interviews.
  • Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel T Jones - (Rating: 1/5): A painful read that contradicts its name.  The entire book should be distilled into one page.  Its usage of nonstandard Japanese jargon only muddies the already cluttered message.


  • Bargaining For Advantage by G. Richard Shell - (Rating: 5/5): The finest book on negotiations I've read.  Its practical and inspirational at the same time.
  • The Partnership Charter by David Gage - (Rating: 5/5): If I ever form another partnership, I hope my partner(s) and I adhere to these lessons as closely as possible.
  • 3-D Negotiation by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius - (Rating: 2/5): Like SPIN Selling, this feels like a one-trick pony where they invented a clever methodology and try to shoehorn it into every situation.


  • Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen - (Rating: 5/5): Inspirational and practical lessons for any manager.  Also, one of the best drawn-out analogies I've seen (employees as a garden).
  • The Essential Drucker by Peter F. Drucker - (Rating: 5/5): The best essays from Drucker's 60 years of writing on business.  Surprisingly relevant for the most part.
  • 12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter - (Rating: 5/5): Essential reading.  This Gallup research is a must for any manager.
  • Hiring Smart by Pierre Mornell - (Rating: 4/5): A good read prior to any round of hiring.
  • First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman - (Rating: 3/5): Covers the same questions as in 12 (above).  A worthy read, but somewhat of a retread.


  • The New Leader's 100 Day Action Plan by George Bradt et al - (Rating: 5/5): Although I haven't had the opportunity to apply many of these lessons yet, I found the book fascinating and will reference should I get the chance.
  • What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith - (Rating: 4/5): A recommended read, especially for those early in their leadership careers.
  • The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig - (Rating: 4/5): Thought-provoking premise with interesting examples, although there is limited application.
  • Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman - (Rating: 4/5): An inspiring call-to-action.
  • Tribes by Seth Godin - (Rating: 3/5): Once again, I think Seth has a vital topic that's well-marketed but not very fleshed-out.

Finance & Accounting

  • The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Finance by Robert A. Cooke - (Rating: 5/5): Essential knowledge represented in an understandable fashion.
  • How to Read a Financial Report by John A. Tracy - (Rating: 4/5): It does what it says.  Not exactly beach reading.
  • Accounting Made Simple by Mike Piper - (Rating: 4/5): True to its name.  A useful primer for non-financial majors.
  • Essentials of Accounting by Robert N. Anthony and Leslie K. Breitner - (Rating: 1/5): An expensive workbook that doesn't seem to offer any value beyond the other accounting books.  I question whether Josh really read this before recommending it.


  • Work the System by Sam Carpenter - (Rating: 4/5): Honest book covering work-life balance in an insightful manner.
  • Learning from the Future by Liam Fahey and Robert Randall - (Rating: 3/5): Extremely drawn out and academic.  I imagine this could be useful at some point in my future (no pun intended), but there's no clear application yet.
  • Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows - (Rating: 2/5): Too theoretical to be practical in most scenarios.


  • The Economist Numbers Guide by Richard Stuteley - (Rating: 5/5): A great distillation of need-to-know figures in business.
  • Web Analytics: An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik - (Rating: 4/5): One of the best references I've come across on the art and discipline of online analytics.  I don't think the topic applies to most business people, but this is an important guide.
  • Marketing Metrics by Paul W. Farris et al - (Rating: 3/5): Useful reference, but a waste of time to try and memorize.
  • Turning Numbers Into Knowledge by Johnathan Koomey - (Rating: 2/5): Interesting, but ineffective at getting its point across.  I prefer Innumeracy.


  • How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff - (Rating: 5/5): One of the most entertaining books on the list.  I'll never look at a statistic the same way.
  • Principles of Statistics by M.G. Bullmer - (Rating: 2/5): As a math book, it's fantastic.  For business, it's way too deep of a textbook for most people.

Corporate Skills

  • The Unwritten Laws of Business by W.J. King - (Rating: 5/5): Timeless.  One of my favorite audiobooks.  Clocking in at only two and a half hours, I like to listen to it again every few months.  The tips are genuinely valuable for everybody, but have special significance for those early in their careers.
  • The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker - (Rating: 5/5): Another must-read by Drucker.  One of the best wake-up calls about delegation and the call to leadership.
  • The Simplicity Survival Handbook by Bill Jensen - (Rating: 1/5): Simplicity tip: don't bother with this impractical fluff.

Corporate Strategy

  • Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne - (Rating: 5/5): Highly recommended for evaluating and carving out a unique market position.
  • Seeing What's Next by Clayton M. Christensen, Erik. A. Roth, and Scott D. Anthony - (Rating: 4/5): Insightful and encouraging in similar ways to Blue Ocean Strategy.
  • Green to Gold by Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston - (Rating: 4/5): Fascinating read, although (understandably) heavily focused on manufacturing.
  • Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies by Nikos Mourkoglannis - (Rating: 4/5): One of the most challenging (in the good way) books on the list.
  • Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter - (Rating: 2/5): Uneven.  The first chapter provides the most value.  The rest feels circuitous and needlessly verbose.


  • Secrets of Consulting by Gerald M. Weinberg - (Rating: 5/5): A must-read for any consultant, period.
  • Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss - (Rating: 5/5): Outstanding book for the independent consultant.  Still valuable, but less directed towards those in management consulting firms.

Personal Finance

  • I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi - (Rating: 4/5): It's nothing groundbreaking, but this book covers all of the basics in a way teens and 20-somethings can relate to.  Most of it was a refresher for me, but the style was entertaining.
  • The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko - (Rating: 4/5): Another classic.  There's only one real message in this book ("stop competing with the Joneses and start saving"), but it's presented in a convincing fashion.
  • Fail-Safe Investing by Harry Browne - (Rating: 4/5): A solid, no-frills intro to personal finance.
  • It's Not About the Money by Brent Kessel - (Rating: 4/5): This book is tough to categorize, since I consider it equal parts empowerment, value creation, and personal finance.  It's probably too "touchy-feely" for some, but I enjoyed it.
  • Work Less, Live More by Bob Clyatt - (Rating: 2/5): The author makes too many assumptions about income potential and goals for this book to be practical for most people.
  • Your Money or Your Life by Joel Dominguez and Vicki Robin - (Rating: 1/5): I really want to like this book, and agree with parts of its message, but the way that it's presented is irritating and condescending.  Especially in audio format.

Personal Development

  • Lead the Field by Earl Nightengale - (Rating: 4/5): Another inspiring tale about continuous improvement and potential.
  • Self-Directed Behavior by David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp - (Rating: 3/5): This textbook seems geared more towards those trying to mitigate problem behavior (e.g. addiction) than anything directly tied to the Personal MBA.  A good read, but it feels out of place.
  • The Art of Exceptional Living by Jim Rohn - (Rating: 2/5): Nothing remarkable.
  • Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina - (Rating: 1/5): Way too full of itself and eccentric for my tastes.  The author is too busy patting himself on the back and telling wacky stories to offer any value.
  • Re-Create Your Life by Morty Lefkoe - (Rating: 1/5): If you want a glimpse into joining a cult, read this book.  Otherwise, stay far, far away.

Breaking down the totals

For those who are curious, here are total number of books for each rating:

What's next?

At some point, I’ll embark on the 2012 version of the list, and perhaps catch up on other entries that have been retired.

If you’re interested in any of these books, let me know.  I’m happy to lend any I can or answer questions.

For now, it’s on to other goals.  In a weird way, 2009 for me was about learning technology consulting, 2010 was about public speaking, 2011 was about sales and general business skills.  Now that this list is out of the way, my goal for 2012 is to get healthier and live a more balanced life.