The best books about work

3 authors have picked their favorite books about work and why they recommend each book.

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The Happiness Advantage

By Shawn Achor.,

Book cover of The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life

When you have happiness as a baseline, life is just better. Shawn takes you through the academics of happiness, and all the research. Like Brene, Shawn is Texan, and they are both gifted storytellers. Easy, fun read. By an academic for regular folk, this book is full of useful information and exercises to make your life better.

Who am I?

As a career and life coach, I am always encouraging my clients to take care of themselves so that they can pursue their ambitions. I am equal parts advocate and mother, coach asking you to push yourself and best friend bringing you an ice cream cone. I believe in the duality of self-care and ambition, and that pursuing hard things is part of self care, and solid self care gives you the strength to pursue hard things.

I wrote...

Personal (R)evolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You've Always Wanted to Do

By Allison Fishman Task,

Book cover of Personal (R)evolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You've Always Wanted to Do

What is my book about?

It’s time to take charge of your life—and do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Personal (R)evolution is your very own life coach in your pocket. Best-selling author and coach Allison Task will help you take control of your life and move from where you are now to where you want to be.

Inside this refreshing how-to book filled with humor, inspiration, real-world client examples, and tools, Task will help you: Create a clear vision for what you want out of life, so you know where you’re going and why you’re going there.

The Managed Heart

By Arlie Russell Hochschild,

Book cover of The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling

We all do emotional labor, but most of us don’t get paid for it. Hell, most of us don’t even get noticed for it! The Managed Heart brings this labor out of the shadows, and it’s a life-changing book. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild developed the concept of emotional labor, which is the labor we do to manage our own emotions and the emotions of others in the context of our work. 

Emotional labor is crucial, but it’s nearly always unacknowledged, unsupported, and treated as something you should already know how to do – for free! This book helps you observe the hidden world of emotional labor and develop your own approach to this vital form of work.

Who am I?

Emotions, we’ve all been told, are less than: less than logic, or spirituality, or anything else, really. Yet no matter how smart, spiritual, or talented people are, they can be brought to their knees by an emotion they don’t understand. Emotions have been thrown into the shadow, yet in the shadow lives immense power, so I dedicated my life to finding the power in the emotional realm. It’s been a magnificent adventure because our emotions contain genius, and they’re a part of everything we think and everything we do. Emotions aren’t less than anything; emotions are everything, and I’m so glad that they’ve welcomed me into their world.

I wrote...

The Language of Emotions

By Karla McLaren,

Book cover of The Language of Emotions

What is my book about?

This is the book I needed as a child, as a young woman healing from severe trauma, and as deeply emotive person in an emotionally baffled culture. Our learned distrust and even hatred of emotions creates ignorance and suffering that is entirely unnecessary, and in this book, I dive into the gorgeous and brilliant waters of the emotions in order to retrieve what has been taken from us. 

Strangely, this is the first book ever to focus on all seventeen emotions in terms of how they work, why they arise, and how you can learn to work with, befriend, and embrace all of them. It’s an owner’s manual for human social life and interior life, and it’s a love letter to the emotions. And hell yeah, it’s badass.

The Project 50 (Reinventing Work)

By Tom Peters,

Book cover of The Project 50 (Reinventing Work): Fifty Ways to Transform Every "Task" into a Project That Matters!

This is not an easy book to find. It’s a small and short hardcover book where famed management legend, Tom Peters, lays out the how to turn your personal brand (and your work) into a project… but not just any project. Tom believes that every aspect of your work should be a Wow! Project. The book is 50 easy-to-grasp sections that have, without a doubt, changed my approach to everything from writing an article to starting a business. This book is a hidden gem… I’m quasi-mad that I’m sharing it publicly, it’s been a great secret advantage. ;)

Who am I?

I’ve been creating content since I was a day camp counselor (launching a newsletter for the staff!). Since then, I’ve done everything from interview Motley Crue, Metallica and Nirvana to Tom Peters, Susan Cain and beyond. I started my blog, Six Pixels of Separation, back in 2003 and my podcast (of the same name) is the longest running business podcast in the world. I wrote two books, Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete. With that, I even run a private Facebook group for some of the world’s most known business and non-fiction authors. I’m a word nerd. I collect comics (and graphics) novels and spend too much time reading. I’m also a huge collector of books on writing, how to write, interview with writers, and other content creators. So… what’s going to get your ideas into actionable content? I think these books might help ☺

I wrote...

Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.

By Mitch Joel,

Book cover of Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.

What is my book about?

Six Pixels of Separation is my first book. It came out in 2009. That’s over a decade ago. So much has changed in terms of how technology has connected us all, and what that opportunity brings. Looking back on the book, I got so much wrong (think unregulated monopolies), and while I may have been too Pollyanna about the state of new media, the thesis still rings true. The opportunity for all of us to create compelling content, build our business/brand, and connect in powerful ways is more relevant than it was back then. Show up, create great stories and reap the rewards.

The Fissured Workplace

By David Weil,

Book cover of The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It

This book—written by a scholar who also works in government—is both infuriating and enlightening. It takes on the real problem of precarious, poorly paid jobs and, by getting way into the weeds of how companies are organized, gives a clear explanation for how so many jobs became so bad and at least some hope for a policy fix. The root of the problem, Weill shows, is basically outsourcing: large companies hire out jobs (cleaners, security, customer service) to low-paying, often badly managed small companies, and that drives down wages, benefits, and job security. The most insane examples of this occur when laborers are pushed into being independent contractors or franchise owners. Officially they are “small business owners” but in practice, they have no control over their work and no opportunities to grow. The book is full of memorable (and enraging) vignettes and examples, making a dry argument about corporate structure…

Who am I?

I’m a professor of modern U.S. History and have written books explaining the political and cultural power of corporations, lobbyists, and business people in American life. To me, the signal event of recent history was when the rapid economic growth that followed WWII ended in the 1970s. From globalization and deindustrialization to the rise of authoritarianism under the guise of populism, from systemic racism and the rise of the carceral state to the proliferation of bad jobs and the gig economy—the effects of that historic change shape every aspect of modern life. But this topic can sometimes seem a little dry, so I’m always looking for books that help make sense of it.

I wrote...

Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA

By Benjamin C. Waterhouse,

Book cover of Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA

What is my book about?

Lobbying America tells the story of the political mobilization of American business in the 1970s and 1980s. Benjamin Waterhouse traces the rise and ultimate fragmentation of a broad-based effort to unify the business community and promote a fiscally conservative, antiregulatory, and market-oriented policy agenda to Congress and the country at large. Arguing that business’s political involvement was historically distinctive during this period, Waterhouse illustrates the changing power and goals of America’s top corporate leaders.

Examining the rise of the Business Roundtable and the revitalization of older business associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Waterhouse takes readers inside the mindset of the powerful CEOs who responded to the crises of inflation, recession, and declining industrial productivity by organizing an effective and disciplined lobbying force. 

Shop Class as Soulcraft

By Matthew B. Crawford,

Book cover of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Talk about white privilege. This guy gets a doctorate in Philosophy, has a comfy career telling wealthy people what they want to hear, but throws it all away to skin his knuckles in a dingy shop teasing old motorcycles back to life for crap pay and occasional social abuse. Why? Read this book and find out: that working with your hands is satisfying, and good for the soul, connecting you with your essential humanity (so put the book down and go work with your hands). I actually hate this book, really, because he makes many points close to my heart, and I wanted to make them into a successful book. I also wish I had a motorcycle shop.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I worked on cars and motorcycles in my spare time while apprenticing in an architectural millwork shop, paneling the homes of the rich and famous. Thus I discovered the great joys and satisfactions of working with my hands. After a long stint in graduate school, then four years as an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine and for Taunton Press books, I opened a custom design furniture business in 2000. Travel, writing, and reading are aligned passions, and I’ve lived, taught English, and woodworking here and abroad in France, Slovakia, India, and Japan.

I wrote...

Doormaking: Materials, Techniques, and Projects for Building Your First Door

By Strother Purdy,

Book cover of Doormaking: Materials, Techniques, and Projects for Building Your First Door

What is my book about?

Doormaking contains “lots of solid information that can be used in making just about everything wood” (according to one reviewer – I agree). More than that, it embodies an approach to woodworking that you will find more fulfilling than a simple “do this, then that” how-to approach. I’m there with you, discussing options more than dictating actions. I even describe the sometimes-hidden details that will make or break a project. I discuss attitude and enjoyment. And I couch everything with respect for you as a learner and maker.

You have to live with the results and how you got there, so my role is to help you enjoy both. (OK. Sometimes I dictate actions. Because that’s how you do it).

Talent Is Overrated

By Geoff Colvin,

Book cover of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

What is the difference between world-class performers and others? If you are thinking innate talent, you are wrong!  There are many people who are born with astounding gifts however some never aspire to greatness. Talent certainly does come into play however it is deliberate practice that is the key.

Deliberate practice is defined as being effortful in nature. The main goal is the improvement of performance rather than enjoyment and is often performed without immediate reward. This book discusses this concept in extreme detail.

What this means is that those of us, if committed to practicing perfect, have the chance to build talent even if we were not originally born with it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that if you are learning a new skill, and you practice repeatedly, that you could become as great at that new skill as someone who is talented naturally? That’s why I love…

Who am I?

I’m passionate about these topics is because I'm a world-renowned dog trainer and an elite agility competitor. In both of these activities, I need to know my learning theory as well as how to break behavior into tiny pieces. When counseling canine behavior clients, I teach them these skills as well. My hope is that if they learn how their dog's brains work, they might make more of an effort to teach their dogs more cooperative skills. There are so many activities that people and dogs can share, one such being agility! People love to teach it (form of play) and the dog's confidence grows, as many as the obstacles are introduced.

I wrote...

Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog

By Emma Parsons,

Book cover of Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog

What is my book about?

Positive Answers for the Aggressive Dog. The dog that bites. The dog that attacks other dogs. The dog who may not survive his own aggressive behavior. What can be done to help these dogs? When Emma Parsons, canine behavior consultant, discovered that her own dog was aggressive, she developed innovative and effective strategies to calm, alter, and re-shape his reactive displays, and those of her clients' dogs.

Help Mom Work from Home!

By Diana Murray, Cori Doerrfeld (illustrator),

Book cover of Help Mom Work from Home!

Have you ever had children around while trying to work from home? Thanks to the pandemic, many working parents have had to juggle even more than usual over the past couple of years. Help Mom Work from Home! is a brilliant ode to that frazzled, sometimes-humorous often-hair-pulling juggling act. Formatted as a step-by-step guide from the kid’s perspective on how to ‘help’ mom while she works from home, it includes tips such as bedazzling her business cards and helping her relax with some yoga moves. This adorable book had my kids and me in giggles and is a lovely way to recognize and show appreciation for all that working moms juggle. ⁠ 

Who am I?

I'm a picture book author living in Los Angeles with my husband and two children. I love seeing the world through my children’s eyes and began writing stories for and inspired by them after they were born. Watching their relationships flourish with their grandparents and the grown-ups in their lives inspired me to write books that celebrate family and foster connection. My grandmas both live overseas and I treasure the time I spend with them. Just like my own children, the simplest moments together are the ones I hold onto and carry with me the most. I love books that celebrate these magical relationships and hope these books encourage readers to celebrate their own relationships.  

I wrote...

A Grandma's Magic

By Charlotte Offsay, Asa Gilland (illustrator),

Book cover of A Grandma's Magic

What is my book about?

“When a child is born, a grandma is born too. Grandmas aren’t like regular grown-ups. Grandmas are filled with magic.”

In this charming picture book tribute to grandmas, a grandma’s magic bursts through the door as soon as she comes to visit and can be seen in every wonderful thing she does: playing, exploring, baking, gardening, and in all the many ways a grandma and grandchild connect. Filled with adorable scenes featuring a diversity of grandmas and their grandkids, this is a book that families can enjoy together. Grandmas will love snuggling with their grandchildren as they share their love and “magic” through cuddles, kisses, and many repeat readings.

My America 1928-1938

By Louis Adamic,

Book cover of My America 1928-1938

I grew up listening to my elders about the 1930s. I’ve read dozens of books about that decade,  and this is the best in terms of the documentation of average Americans. We absolutely must understand the 1930s to deal with what faces us in the nation and world in the 2020s. Adamic was an immigrant who believed in the potential of America, and about half of this book is his reporting around America, with a focus on the working class. The other half is memoir. The reporting is deep, the writing beautiful. 

Who am I?

How I grew up in Ohio informs my work: my raging war-ravaged father dreams of being his own boss; in our basement he grinds steel tools on massive iron machines, a side business after his day job in a factory; as a teen, I begin grinding with him; Dad is hit by a drunk driver and he cannot work for months; I am not old or skilled enough as a machinist to save the business; our mother who drives a school bus feeds our family with charity food. I fear I will grow up to be a blue-collar worker facing all the precarity that comes with this existence.

I wrote...

Fucked at Birth: Recalibrating the American Dream for the 2020s

By Dale Maharidge,

Book cover of Fucked at Birth: Recalibrating the American Dream for the 2020s

What is my book about?

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Dale Maharidge has spent his career documenting the downward spiral of the working class. Poverty is both reality and destiny for increasing numbers of people in the 2020s and, as Maharidge discovers spray-painted inside an abandoned gas station in the California desert at the height of the pandemic, it is a fate often handed down from birth. Motivated by this haunting graffito—“Fucked at Birth”—Maharidge explores the realities of being poor in America in the coming decade, as economic crisis and social revolution up-end the country. Part raw memoir, part dogged, investigative journalism, Fucked At Birth channels the history of poverty in America to help inform the voices Maharidge encounters as a narrative long-form documentarian. 

Strengthsfinder 2.0

By Gallup, Tom Rath,

Book cover of Strengthsfinder 2.0

Knowing yourself can be difficult, but essential for success as a founder. Instead of focusing on our weaknesses, Rath argues that we should double down on what makes us unique and he provides us with the tools to discover those strengths. We wear many hats as startup founders, so by understanding our own strengths, we can be more effective leaders and build a more balanced team.

Who am I?

I’m a serial entrepreneur who’s built and sold several startups. I’ve been helping non-venture-backed startup founders since 2005 and now I run the first startup accelerator for bootstrappers, called TinySeed. I’ve invested in 57 startups, but I don’t believe the only way to start a SaaS company is to raise money. I host the most popular podcast for bootstrappers, called Startups for the Rest of Us. I also run the most well-known conference and online community for non-venture-track SaaS founders, called MicroConf.

I wrote...

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup

By Rob Walling,

Book cover of Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup

What is my book about?

Start Small, Stay Small is a step-by-step guide to launching a self-funded startup. If you're a developer, this book is your blueprint to getting your startup off the ground with no outside investment.

This book intentionally avoids topics restricted to venture-backed startups such as: honing your investment pitch, securing funding, and figuring out how to use the piles of cash investors keep placing in your lap. There's nothing wrong with pursuing venture funding and attempting to grow fast like Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. It just so happened that most people are not in a place to do this.


By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang,

Book cover of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

The objective of a minimalist, anti-materialist, simple life is to open ourselves up to whatever “something greater” the universe has in store for us. Drawing on rigorous science and historical evidence, Alex Pang helps us understand how the act of slowing down helps bring us closer to that something greater. As a farm kid, I was raised in a culture that embraced overwork and shunned slowing down. So learning to have a simpler life meant I had to buck that culture and develop an understanding of how rest benefited my brain and well-being. 

This book helped me move my business to a place where all owners and employees enjoyed more freedom and lower stress, and where greater fun and creativity unfolded.

Who am I?

I’m an entrepreneur, chef, homeschooler, and third-generation farmer living in the northern Catskill mountains. With that many passions, I had to remove all other distractions from my life so that I could put my attention on what mattered most. My writing has been featured in The New York Times, National Public Radio, and national television. During the growing season, I broadcast The Hearth of Sap Bush Hollow podcast, chronicles and lessons from a life tied to family, community, and the land. You can also taste my cooking by coming to my restaurant, Sap Bush Cafe, on Saturdays, 9-2 (I’m too busy living the good life to be open the other days).

I wrote...

Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living

By Shannon Hayes,

Book cover of Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living

What is my book about?

Redefining Rich is the ultimate quick (and funny) go-to guide to help you get started on a life where less is more, whether you want to start your own business, live off the land, quit a job, or just build a life more resilient and pleasurable than your current rat race.  Drawing on research & personal experience, it shows readers how to identify their core quality-of-life needs and dreams, then build a personal, family, and economic survival strategy that works for everyone in the household.

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