Editor's Note: This blog post has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on May 28, 2020.
We found this list on Academic Earth and felt it was worthy of passing along to our community of managers and leaders. This list includes biographies of top leaders and amazing people. Next time you are on a road trip visiting a client, pick up one of these books about leaders!There’s a lot we can learn from great leaders — how to be strong, fight for what’s right, work with a diverse group, display grace under pressure and, of course, lead others. Learning more about the lives and leadership abilities of those who have risen to the top can be enlightening and inspirational for anyone who aspires to leadership roles of their own.
- Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best: Winston Churchill is a man who led his country through some pretty difficult times, helping them to come out stronger and better on the other side. Learn what made him such a great leader and an inspiration to his countrymen in this biography.
- The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles: He may not have always been easy to get along with, but Vanderbilt knew how to build a capitalist empire. Read this book to study his drive, stubbornness and competitiveness– qualities that helped him to rise to the top of his field.
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by MLK, Jr.: His tragic death cut short the life of this prolific speaker and leader, a man who played a big role in changing the social dynamics of our country. In this book, you’ll hear the story of his life in his own words.
- Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Elliot J. Gorn: Mary Harris, perhaps better known as Mother Jones, was one of the foremost union organizers and rabble rousers of her time. This biography will let you see into her life, documenting both the hardships and the successes.
- Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell: Few people have chosen to brave the extremes found at the bottom of the world and this man, explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, was one of the first. This book is full of stories about his life that provide valuable lessons of leadership, humor and compassion.
- It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Michael Abrashoff: While military-style leadership isn’t for everyone, the stories about his time of the USS Benfold this former Navy Captain tells in this book are enlightening no matter what kind of leader you’d like to be.
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Lincoln faced three challengers for the Republican nomination of 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. Impressed by their abilities, Lincoln later appointed them to his administration. In this book, you’ll learn how his leadership abilities allowed him to turn these rivals into allies and work towards the greater good.
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin: You might expect an autobiography of a founding father to include tales of his work during the American Revolution, but this book leaves off in 1760 — well before those tumultuous years. So what does it have to offer? It tells the tale of a young man who worked his way up in the world through hard work, determination, wisdom and enterprise — something every leader can be inspired by.
- Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz: Most people have seen the inspiring tale of Apollo 13 brought to life on the big screen, but this book tells the tale of the real life man who was there for it all and helped turn NASA from a ragtag group of young whiz kids into the efficient and innovative place it is today.
- Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce by Kevin Charles: Few may be familiar with the name of William Wilberforce, but he was a pivotal figure in British politics who worked to abolish the slave trade and improve the quality of life of the country’s poor. His utter determination and conviction in his beliefs makes him an inspirational figure to read about.
- Mother Theresa: A Complete Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spinko: Read this biography of the famous Mother Theresa to understand what true compassion, humility and love really are and how they can serve you well as a leader.
- Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris: In this biography, you’ll be able to read about both the faults and virtues of a president who did so much to establish our nation.
- Ghandi by Geoffrey Ashe: Leading with non-violence, compassion and determination, Gandhi changed the face of a nation and freed his people from colonial rule.
- When Pride Still Mattered: Lombardi by David Maraniss: When Lombardi took over coaching the Green Bay Packers in 1959, they were a losing team with little hope of pulling it together to win much of anything. Under his leadership, the team would go on to win two NFL titles and two Super Bowls.
- Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy: A political figure that remains popular to this day, over 50 years after his death, JFK’s biography isn’t about himself but about politicians who stood up for their beliefs even if it meant making a great personal sacrifice.
- Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela: There are few leaders in the world who are as inspirational as Nelson Mandela. In this book, you’ll read about his years in prison and how he emerged to lead a nation out of apartheid and into the modern era.
- Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady by John Blundell: Learn about the achievements of Thatcher during her time as Prime Minster, an inspiration for women who want to take on a leadership role of any kind.
- The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt: Roosevelt was no regular old first lady. She was a strong and able leader and supported women’s organizations and youth movements and fought for consumer welfare, civil rights, and improved housing– never wavering in her commitment to human rights and justice.
- Buffet: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein: Warren Buffet is known for his billions, but the story of the man behind the moneys is perhaps a much more interesting one and is told in this biography.
- Estee: A Success Story by Estee Lauder: This brilliant business leader’s biography will inspire you to found a enterprise of your own, documenting the enthusiasm, determination and charm that allowed her to rise to the top.
- iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business by Jeffery S. Young and William L. Simon: After a forced departure from the company he helped to found, Jobs’ future in the tech world was anything but assured. In this biography, you’ll learn how he turned his second chance into the thriving business that Apple is today.
- Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson: Read this biography to learn how Richard Branson has built a fortune by doing things his own way and not always listening to the naysayers.
- Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace and Jim Erickson: The story of a geeky kid creating a multi-billion dollar empire gets a fresh take in this biography, showing you that sometimes a great idea and stone cold determination can be better than a college degree.
- Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama: Love him or hate him, Obama has the distinction of being the first African-American president, something that wouldn’t have been possible in decades past. In this biography, you’ll learn about his upbringing, his father and his early struggles that helped him get where he is today.
- Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of The Dalai Lama by The Dalai Lama: Since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India. Check out this book to read of the great honors and great tragedies that have formed the man he is today.
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