Just a quick glance at the reading habits of some of the most admired business people of our time is enough to convince you to crack open a book. Bill Gates famously reads 50 books a year, Warren Buffet spends five to six hours a day reading, and the one-and-only Oprah Winfrey credits books for much of her success, which is one of the reasons why she started her influential book club way back in 1996 (!).
In search of a fresh crop of inspiring, motivating, confidence-boosting books to add to our own to-read piles, we asked former Create & Cultivate 100 honorees to share the #1 book they always recommend—and they did not disappoint. Spanning timeless tomes filled with tried-and-true life lessons to hot-off-the-press books brimming with sage career advice, this list of page-turning reads has it all.
Ahead, 65 badass female founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and all-around successful women reveal the books that helped them get where they are today. Prepare to fill your bookshelf accordingly.
JACEY DUPRIE: “The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It gives quick little nuggets of business advice that you can actually apply to your day-to-day.”
MARIE KONDO: “Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Elizabeth’s approach to work and life celebrates many of the same values as the KonMari Method. I admire her vulnerable path to self-discovery.”
SHAY MITCHELL: “The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s an amazing read, pertinent to almost everyone and riddled with pertinent lessons we should take to heart.”
JESSICA KOSLOW: “Journey to the Heart by Melody Beattie. It’s about this woman who lost her son to cancer and her road back to celebrating life. Every day there’s a different mantra based on what she was going through during those 365 days back to finding herself. It’s really special and I read it every morning. Erin—the GM of Onda—gave me the book and it’s really helped me get through this time of opening this restaurant.”
DAISHA GRAF: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. Keep the wonder in your life. Nothing is impossible. If you can dream it, you can do it.”
DANIKA BRYSHA: “The Firestarter Sessions by Danielle Laporte. A great way to get clear on what you want and just dig deep into the direction of your life.”
TIA MOWRY: “The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book taught me that whenever you feel like you’re alone, you’re not. No matter what you believe in, you’re always being guided. You just have to be sensitive and open to embracing the omens.“
WENDY LOPEZ & JESSICA JONES: “Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon is a great starting guide to understanding our approach to food, nutrition, and wellness! Linda dives deep into the research surrounding weight science and addresses the history behind some of the prevalent wellness trends we see now.”
ROCKY BARNES: “The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Learning to not take things personally in our industry has helped me more than anything!”
KELTIE KNIGHT, BECCA TOBIN, & JAC VANEK: “Work Party by Jaclyn Johnson because we love to support the ladies who support us!”
LALAH DELIA: “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy. This book is essential reading because, until we truly get and honor how our mind operates and how we can take control of it, we live a life that is controlled by external and internal forces, cycles, and thought patterns that don’t serve us.”
JUNE DIANE RAPHAEL: “Ah, there are so many books I’d recommend. My current demand is that everyone read Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. She is one of the greatest intellectuals we have right now and her thoughts on race/beauty/gender/politics are challenging so much of what I’ve thought to be true. In the very best of ways.“
KIITAN AKINNIRANYE: “Right now, I am reading The Purpose Driven Life and I really love it. I’d recommend it to anyone who is searching for purpose and even people who are already walking in their purpose. It really gives insight into how to do it from a God perspective, which is really important to me.”
MELISSA BEN-ISHAY: “I love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.”
ISKRA LAWRENCE: “Now that I’m pregnant, I am reading this amazing book that I would definitely have anyone that’s pregnant or planning to be pregnant read. It’s called Three in a Bed and I find it absolutely fascinating. For me, motherhood has been my biggest goal and dream and something that I want to make sure that I am as prepared as possible. For me, it’s the most important job you can do in the whole world. Raising this human to be a good person who is motivated and passionate and embraces all the things that make them special. I think it’s a fantastic book in a world where childbirth has a set routine when in reality there are so many options.”
NOELLE SCAGGS: “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg. It’s my life bible and everyone should have this book by their bedside. It lends a real perspective on human nature when it comes to routine and comfort.“
LINDSAY PEOPLES WAGNER: “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is a book that changed my life and can be read over and over again.”
JULIA LANDAUER: “Forever by Pete Hamill. It’s a novel that’s a beautiful love story to New York City, but it’s also an example of living life fully, being present, and appreciating our own existence.”
JULIA CHEEK: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz! It’s an honest look at the ups and downs of building a company. It makes the job a little less lonely to know that all of the best founders have gone through the same rollercoaster.”
CINDY ECKERT: “Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Read it. It encourages the powerful idea that you should embrace what is unique to stand out in the sea of sameness. If only Seth would reprint it this year and title it Pink Cow.”
NOOR TAGOURI: “The Originals by Adam Grant.“
ALLY MAKI: “Anything by Brené Brown. Her words on vulnerability and shame have gotten me through some of my toughest moments.“
BECCA TILLEY: “How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s basically a book teaching you how to be kind to people and how to treat people you meet for the first time. I always go back and read certain parts because it’s always so eye-opening and being kind to people is never going to go out of style!“
TYRA BANKS: “Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. I am obsessed with his company culture. So much that I cold-called him! We were on the phone for over an hour and he shared so many valuable insights (all of which I implemented with my team!). I highly recommend this book for entrepreneurs.”
JESSIE JAMES DECKER: “I loved The Glass Castle. Jeannette Walls had a wild and unique childhood, but that didn’t stop her from achieving her goals and building her character. That’s what I always say when things seem messy… it builds character.“
MANDANA DAYANI: “Last year, I read On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. It was incredibly eye-opening and a critical reminder that we must learn from our mistakes. It also provides context for how critical this time is for democracies across so many countries in the world.”
CAMILA COELHO: “Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—it explores the various differences between us as humans and why some succeed more than others.“
JAIME-LYNN SIGLER: “The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In a way, it takes all the pressure off life. It allows you to really see the world through a different lens. I re-read it every year and even have a tiny copy of it that I carry in my bag.”
FADIA KADER: “The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins. I was given this book when I started a new role and it helps you level-set expectations in your first 90 days in a new company or a new role. I read it as a refresher with each new chapter/role in my career. I often gift it to friends and peers and love seeing them continue that tradition.“
LAUREN CHAN: “The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor—and I suggest you listen to the audiobook so that you can hear the author preach.”
TYLYNN NGUYEN: “Women With Money by Jean Chatzky. We need to be more confident in our own means and still stop apologizing for having your life together. This is a great book for women who have money or women creating wealth or even women who want to create wealth for themselves. We are in this together. Let’s talk more about how to build each other up in all facets.”
PAIGE ADAMS-GELLER: “The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book is a quick read that can be applied not only in business but in all of your personal interactions.”
LILY ALDRIDGE: “The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is one of my favorite stories of all time! It reminds me that we are on a path in life and that there will be ups and downs, but everything is happening for a reason and to trust the journey!”
SASHA SLOAN: “Ah, it’s too hard to pick! I love to read. I guess my #1 book recommendation would be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak I read it in high school and I’ve loved it ever since.“
KIRSTY GODSO: “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover.“
BRITTANY XAVIER: “Hands down, The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I think it’s a great book for anyone that is considering creating a side-job. You need to start small, and this book will help you if you need a little more inspiration to understand that it’s feasible.”
FRANCHELLI RODRIGUEZ: “The #1 book I always recommend is the Bible! The Bible covers everything we could ever ask for. I know not everyone is a believer, but I do believe that there is a message in the Bible out there for everyone. No matter your situation or circumstance, read the Bible and you will find comfort and even answers!“
ESTE, DANIELLE, ALANA HAIM: “Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.“
SARAH LARSON LEVEY: “The Monk by Matthew Lewis. It was required reading for one of my lit classes in high school. It was written in the 1700s and is still so relevant today. I come back to it time and time again.”
PRISCILLA ONO: “I love all of the Kevyn Aucoin books! When I was growing up as an aspiring makeup artist, we didn’t have social media or the internet for makeup inspo. Kevyn Aucoin was way ahead of his time when it came to artistry and being a celeb makeup artist. His makeup looks are timeless and his background and story are so inspiring. Any aspiring makeup artist should invest in reading them.”
ANASTASIA SOARE: “Never Give In! A collection of Winston Churchill’s speeches that never fails to stir something inside you.”
ADRIENNE BOSH: “The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s not only about building romantic relationships, but it’s also about learning how to capture the love you have within yourself. As a young woman, I think it’s so important to learn to love yourself first before ever investing yourself in another person, so it was really helpful for me.”
JULIANNE HOUGH: “Oh wow, there have been so many over the years. Most recently I’d have to say Belong by Radha Agrawal. It’s an incredible book about approaching life through the lens of community, being in service, making powerful contributions through collaboration and remembering there is only one you who can make a difference like you can. I also love The Artist’s Way because as a performer my whole life, it’s easy to lose sight of the artist within you. This book is really a program that can be supplemented with KINRGY to nurture the artist in all of us.”
MARIA MENOUNOS: “This is tough. I can’t name just one, so here a few of my favorites:
In business, Money: Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom by Tony Robbins, because it inspired me to make necessary financial changes and set me up for the rest of my life.
In health, The Empath’s Survival Guide by Judith Orloff, M.D., because it helped me understand why I am the way I am.
You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter by Dr. Joe Dispenza, which taught me how the brain can create its own apothecary.
Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther and Jerry Hicks. I learned so much about energy and how to get what you want.”
RACHEL ANTONOFF: “I will always recommend Mary Karr’s Cherry. It’s a perfect book.”
JENNI KAYNE: “Any of Brené Brown’s books. I could read them over and over again and still and take away something new each time.”
GWYNETH PALTROW: “Dream Work by Mary Oliver.”
HAYLIE DUFF: “I love Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Encourages creative regardless of fears! Great read.”
NYESHA ARRINGTON: “The Four Agreements is my all-time favorite book! In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offers a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. My dad gave me this book when I turned 21 years old. He is a very spiritual gentleman and I undoubtedly value his universal perspective of life. This is the most recommended ‘self-care’ book I tell people about and I have read/re-read it at least 20 times.”
LINDSAY ALBANESE: “For entertainment, I loved Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.”
CLEA SHEARER & JOANNA TEPLIN: “This may be an unusual answer to this question but… adult coloring books. They’re like our therapy and help to relieve stress after a long day. Seriously, go buy a coloring book and a pack of crayons and you’ll thank us.”
AISHWARYA S. IYER: “Embracing Your Inner Critic by Hal and Sidra Stone. It changed my life by helping me to overcome my own inner critic.“
TANYA RAD: “I just finished Calling in “The One” and I am obsessed with it!! It helped me learn so much about myself, my dating patterns, and helped me patch up some old wounds. Feel like 2020 is my year to CALL IN THE ONE, baby! Also, The Hollywood Commandments by Devon Franklin is soooooo gooood!!!“
ALYSSA RAVASIO: “I am an avid reader with towers of books constantly at risk of falling over, so this is really too hard, especially since it depends so much on the person I’m recommending to. Here are a few:
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She’s an amazing indigenous leader and teacher, and the book centers on the philosophy that people are part of nature, and how we have a responsibility to play our part in the ecosystem. A tangible example of this is that sweetgrass grows better when it’s responsibly harvested. “Leave it better” is really based on this mindset—at Hipcamp, we believe people can have a positive impact on the planet and believe it’s that kind of framing—versus a limited focus on reducing our negative impact—that will lead us to a healthier, more connected, and more regenerative future.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. No book I’ve ever read more deeply captures the essence of humanity, in all its beauty and complexity.
The Overstory by Richard Powers. A deep examination of the relationship between people and trees.
Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice. A philosophical exploration of the culture around seasonal foods for both European cultures and indigenous American cultures. Plus great recipes.”
Photographer: Jenna Peffley
This story was originally published on January 29, 2020, and has since been updated. Featured image: Color Joy Stock.