My crazy project: Read 52 of the best business books in 52 weeks, and post a weekly review here on my blog

"You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library."
– Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon), Good Will Hunting

First of all I want to introduce myself to those who don’t know me: I am Olivier Roland, I’m 27, I’m French and I manage an information services company that I created when I was 19 (3 people), and I am the author of two other French blogs, Techno Smart (great tools for smart people – that’s the slogan 😉 ) and Habitudes Zen (translations of the best articles from the famous blog Zen Habits).

Are you familiar with the Personal MBA? It’s a concept created by Josh Kaufman (following an idea by Seth Godin). Going off the assumption that business schools don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and wisdom, he suggests that every one of us passes a personal MBA by reading a selection of the best business books that exist, around 77 published in 2008 (93 with supplements) in 12 different categories.

  1. Quick Start
  2. Productivity and Efficiency
  3. Psychology and Communication
  4. Design and Production
  5. Marketing, Sales and Negotiation
  6. Entrepreneurship
  7. Management and Leadership
  8. Strategy and Innovation
  9. Finances and Analysis
  10. Personal Finance
  11. Supplement : Business History
  12. Supplement : Business Reference

But what is an MBA, you might ask? It stands for Master of Business Administration – a degree that is the result of some very expensive classes (about €50,000 in europe, $100,000 in the United States!) and at a high level for doing business in the global economy, strategy, marketing, finance, human resources and management. Usually it takes from 12 to 24 months and it’s often pursued by students who want to finish off their education with a prestigious degree, usually executives in mid career who wish to boost their professional potential by acquiring high level knowledge – at an outrageous cost – quite apart from the cost itself, an MBA requires that you sacrifice a whole year or two, sometimes requiring you to give up your salaried job.

That’s why Josh came up with the idea of acquiring the essential knowledge distilled in the MBA – that 20% of people accomplish 80% of the results – by reading a carefully chosen list of the best books covering the subject areas taught in the MBA – for less than $3,500, if you buy the books new, and even less than that if you buy the books used or borrow them.

Started in 2005, the personal MBA has been aired twice, and now the idea is beginning to take off: take a look at this article in Business Week or this one in Lifehacker. It seems that the idea of getting a quality education by yourself is not new. To learn more about the personal MBA, read The Personal MBA Manifesto.

My project consists of 52 books from this list. I am approaching this project seriously, and I am preparing for it in the same way I would train for a marathon: I know that the challenge will be long and difficult, especially once the initial motivation – as well the enthusiasm of getting started – wear off. Why am I doing this? Here are my reasons:

  • Because I am a an autodidact and I love to learn. What’s more I love to read and I love to learn by reading clip_image001[1]. Since I built my business when I was young – 19 year old, I would be the happy owner of a degree if it weren’t for 10 or 20 missing credits, and I have learned most of what I know on the job, learning a lot from my mistakes, and also taking some classes here and there. I have also taken some night classes, but the practical application of these classes is not always apparent in my business.
  • Because I feel the need to get more knowledge to better run my business, to better understand the workings of the business world in which I find myself, to be more effective in all the projects that I have taken on or will take on, and to get a better appreciation for the world in general.
  • Because I have read several of the books listed in the PMBA already, and I found them all to be excellent, with a special mention for The 4-Hour Workweek. They all changed the perception that I had of certain things, sometimes radically. They have all changed my life on at least one level or have given me a new tool to work with. In light of the important changes that these 7 books induced, I can hardly imagine what 52 will do!
  • Because reading 52 books in 52 weeks, and writing a review, and posting it here without ruining my professional life and my social life represents a challenge in itself, which will call into action all my abilities for organization and self motivation. If I procrastinate too long, if I don’t organize myself well enough, if my motivation sinks like a rock, I won’t get there. And you will be the first to know it. I will learn as much from the project itself as I will learn from the books. To see the tricks I will be using to keep myself motivated, read this.
  • To do a real life experiment to see if it’s possible to change your life by reading the right books. That’s the point of this blog – I don’t want to create a blog that only talks about this challenge – and I will try to show that it’s possible by sharing with you what it brings to my business, to my projects and to my daily life.
  • To share the results of this project with others, in particular by writing clear, concise and relevant summaries.
  • To improve my English (About 80% of the books are only available in English).

How shall I undertake this task? Here are the rules of the challenge:

  1. Choose 52 books from the actual list of The Personal MBA.
  2. Read one a week for 52 weeks. Write a relevant summary, that includes an overall summary as well as chapter by chapter, if the book lends itself to that.
  3. Sacrifice only what is useless. I don’t plan on giving up my other activities – my business, improv theater, sports, my two entrepreneur clubs, my other blogs, my leisure time, my personal life. I am going to try and organize myself better and get rid of only what is useless – casually surfing the web, video games, YouTube, everything that wastes precious time in general. I can’t cut out TV, since I hardly watch it anyway.
  4. Take action. To think without doing something is just as stupid as to do something without thinking. Thought is based both on our experience – in the field – and our knowledge – acquired from books, school, in conversation with others.

The first problem is to choose the 52 books from among the 77 or the 93 of the PMBA. This wasn’t an easy task. First, there are several books that I have already read (7 in all). For the most part, I decided to add them all to the list because (1) they are worth reading again and (2) I want to write a review for them because it seems to me they are all important.

In the end, I got rid of the two Supplement sections (Business History and Business Reference), that’s 16 books, the books are only available in an audio version (being French, it’s much harder for me to understand spoken English than written English), a large part of the category Design and Production (being about services and software, this seemed less important to me), everything in the category Personal Finance (I have already read The Millionnaire Next Door, which has already opened my eyes on this subject – as well as the blogs Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar and I will wait to be richer before I get deeper into this topic 😉 ) and the ones that seemed too specialized or too specific to the USA.

Here, then, is the list of the 52 books that I will read. The original PMBA obviously suggests a list that is exclusively English titles, but some of them have been translated into French. I will read them in French when possible, to save time, and I will read the rest in English.

    Quick Start

  1. 10 Days to Faster Reading by Abby Marks-Beale

  2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

  3. Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale

    Productivity and Efficiency

  4. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  5. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
  6. Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst
  7. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
  8. The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz
  9. The Simplicity Survival Handbook by Bill Jensen
  10. Cut to the Chase by Stuart Levine
  11. The Unwritten Laws of Business by W.J. King
  12. Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun
  13. Results Without Authority by Tom Kendrick

    Psychology and Communication

  14. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  15. Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
  16. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds
  17. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath
  18. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
  19. Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein
  20. Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales

    Design and Production

  21. Getting Real by 37signals (free PDF ebook)

    Marketing, Sales and Negotiation

  22. All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
  23. Indispensable by Joe Calloway
  24. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham
  25. The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer
  26. The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes
  27. SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
  28. Bargaining For Advantage by G. Richard Shell
  29. 3-D Negotiation by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius


  30. The New Business Road Test by John Mullins
  31. Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson
  32. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
  33. How to Make Millions with Your Ideas by Dan Kennedy

    Management and Leadership

  34. First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman
  35. 12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner & James Harter
  36. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
  37. Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen
  38. 45 effective ways for hiring smart by Pierre Mornell
  39. Judgment by Noel Tichy & Warren Bennis
  40. The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
  41. The Essential Drucker by Peter F. Drucker

    Strategy and Innovation

  42. Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies by Nikos Mourkogiannis
  43. Strategy Blue Ocean by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
  44. Seeing What’s Next by Clayton M. Christensen, Erik A. Roth, Scott D. Anthony
  45. Learning from the Future by Liam Fahey & Robert Randall
  46. Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter F. Drucker
  47. Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun
  48. Green to Gold by Daniel Esty & Andrew Winston

    Finances and Analysis

  49. Turning Numbers Into Knowledge by Jonathan Koomey
  50. Show Me The Numbers by Stephen Few
  51. Marketing Metrics by Paul W. Farris, Neil T. Bendle, Phillip E. Pfeifer, and David J. Reibstein
  52. Web Analytics: An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik

I don’t plan on necessarily reading the books in this order, but I will try to read everything one category at a time so that it is easier to compare and connect my new knowledge.

My project kicks off officially on the October 1st. Let’s meet the 4th or 5th for the first review of the first book, 10 Days to Faster Reading.


46 thoughts on “My crazy project: Read 52 of the best business books in 52 weeks, and post a weekly review here on my blog

  1. Olivier –

    What an ambitious undertaking! You have all my support, and I’m looking forward to your reviews.

    And, by way of thanking you for the compliment of including my book in your list, I’m happy to send you an autographed copy if you email me your snail mail address.

    Read on!


  2. You should sneak in Dropping Almonds by Bach Anon and consider a leap year (one extra day) to review this book.

    Maybe a little more obscure, may not be distributed by the big houses, but a very different approach to biznis.

    Very honest approach.

  3. Hi,

    I just have one question.
    If u do the whole thing, will u pass the exam ?
    Is it possible even if you didnt spend 1 or 2 years learning in an special school.

    Good luck anyway and have fun 🙂

  4. Hello Mika,

    No, i will not pass an exam. The Personal MBA, like his name say it, is a personal adventure of self-learning. You got no other rewards than the ones you will learn from reading and applying what you learned in the real world.

    To pass an MBA exam and have (hopefully) the diplom, you will have to take the full program, at a cost of 50 000 to 100 000 $ and one or two years of your life. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the cost.

    For my part, I’m an entrepreneur, and i have an entrepreneurship mind : i don’t care very much of a small piece of paper, i prefer to think and imagine and test my ideas and experiment and see where it can lead me in the real world. The knowledge and the self-discipline i’m learning with this project will help me in my quest. No less no more 🙂

  5. Oliver,

    Your list is compelling; I have read some of the works you’ve listed. I’ve also captured the essence of others through the Harvard Review, etc..

    If you pick up a copy of Dropping Almonds, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on it. Very different approach to the current issues surrounding Corporate America.

    Thx…I’ll have to look up some of these to follow your lead.

  6. wow, what a comprehensive post. i’d never heard of this — technique? process? program? — before, and it makes perfect sense. higher learning, at least in this country, in this century, is just another big-business ripoff in many cases. too many kids start their life under humongous debt. i love this as an alternative. (ps, very successful HS dropout here.)

  7. Hi Olivier

    What a great undertaking – reading 52 books in 52 weeks! You have my support. I finished my MBA several years ago from a brick-and-mortar school and I have not read some of the books you have in your list. I will be waiting for your reviews via your RSS feed.

    BTW, I am an avid reader of Zen Habits, too. It is quite interesting that you have translated it to France, Wow!

  8. Bravo mon cher Olivier. Quel courage!

    Olivier – what you are attempting to do is extraordinary and I wish you much success in this journey.

    Reading is an incredible gift and having the time to read weekly is so precious given our crazy busy lives.

    I cannot wait to hear all about your great readings!

    Miss Gisele B.

  9. Oliver,

    Great idea, great plan, absolutely challenge. I believe you will definitely success in your life with this intensive commitment.

    It is great plan to implement and I will.

    Thanks for sharing


  10. Hi Olivier,

    I love this idea–brilliant. I am looking forward to seeing what happens! I know you have already selected your books, but I would recommend one that completely transformed my view of finance: Millionaire Manager –here is the Amazon link if you’re interested:

    This made the whole idea of profitability simple and clear for me (and I knew NOTHING of finance). I even wonder, if the big businesses trolling around with tin cups had read this, would things in our economy be different today?

    Anyway, good luck!


  11. Hello Jocelyne,

    Thanks, but WOW, the price of the book is huge, 79$ for 148 pages… Do you think it’s worth the price compared to books like The millionnaire next door, Your Money or Your Life or Work Less, Live More ?

  12. Yes, I know it’s a big gulp to swallow. But the price evens out–if you buy it directly from their site, they offer a real, live human to walk you through the concepts. So really, it’s like getting a course right along with it (without the heavy tuition). Plus, I think it’s just more fun to read than Millionaire Next Door (haven’t read the latter one).

    Thanks for the response!


  13. Thanks for the comment Olivier. I’m going to start with book #1, “Ten day to faster reading.” I think this is fundamental to gleaning all I can from future books. Then I think it’s off to “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. This book has been a staple in the business community and I’ve never MADE the time read it.

    I’ll be following your journey and will ad a link to your site for my readers…….

    Jared Lyda

  14. Dear Oliver,
    I must say it’s a wonderful idea,self management is really required, time is a resource which is perishable, I think smart people can really manage time well that’s why they are succesful.
    One very interesting thing GOD has been unbiased about time, it’s 24 Hours a day and he has rationed it for all be it Bill Gates or Tom, Dick, Harry.
    S:Save Time
    M;Make Time
    A;Arrange Time
    R:Ration Time
    T:Take Time
    Self Management’s major part is time management with honesty and integrity.
    Good Luck and A Merry Christmas.

    Debashish Brahma

  15. Oliver outstanding idea!
    I do have an MBA. You comment make me think…well what are the best business books I have ever read and what 20 % of MBA education carried 80% of the weight. (and why did I waste my money and my time and not do what you are doing!)
    Well, business school does make you learn two subjects that are noticeably absent from your curriculum– first, accounting, the language of business. Most people don’t learn it, if they have not gone to B-school or aren’t accountants. And secondly, decision analysis. (Personally, from what I have seen, i.e. what the graduates of these schools do, most B-schools do not seem teach this well.) In the real world, very, very few businesses use proper analysis. Comforting numbers are brought up, people sit around talk and argue and then make the decisions, without using the proper analytical tools. Koomey’s book is a good start, but I would further my education with something like The Thinkers Toolkit.
    Another “numbers” subject, finance is noticeably absent. However the method most schools teach it is rubbish. What is basic is learning how to value a business and the probabilistic assessment of its value in the future. And on finance, you really should read deeply and widely about Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett. Snowball alone is a good start but it is not enough.
    I would read Lawrence Cunninham’s compilation of Buffett’s letters to shareholders. Then, I would read Munger’s USC speech Elementary Worldly Wisdom.

    In fact were I designing a self study course, the Munger article would be my starting point of the personal MBA, after the speed reading book. Then I would read Seeking Wisdom, from Darwin to Munger. If you really learned and applied this book, you would enrich your life beyond measure. And I am not kidding. It would also take way more than the allotted week. I have been working at it for more than 6 months. To give you an idea of the breadth of the book it covers a lot of the issues in Turning Numbers into Knowledge about 15 to 20 pages.

  16. Hello Nick,

    Wow, what a great piece of advices ! I will definitively follow some – although I don’t have a lot of time to read others books now 😉 – thanks for sharing with us !

  17. Just one word Olivier


    However I could also recommend you a few more books that has really got me going.You could reach me at my Email.


  18. An interesting idea. I don’t doubt that you will acquire good working knowledge from your reading project, but a “good” MBA program is worth more that the books you read and the classes you take. An MBA provide you with new friends and contact, as well as an alumni network that you can you use in your professional career.

    In addition, an MBA adds to your credibility as a professional. Try adding to your resume “I am reading 52 business books in 52 weeks” and let me know the response from interviewers and HR professionals.

    Overall you have a good idea that can easily be implemented. Good luck in your pursuit.


  19. Hey,

    thats awesome! i look forward to your reviews especially because im doing my MBA right now!
    Though you have a great idea, i wonder how practically applicable it would be for people like me, who undertake MBA studies in hope to get better jobs and value- addition on the resume..
    do let me know your views!

  20. In my opinion a very very important book misses from your list:
    7 Habits for Highly Effective people and maybe Good to Great by Jim Collins.

  21. I’m very suprised you didn’t have the “E Myth by Michael Gerber. The best small business book ever.

    As it says, most people work in their business not on it.

  22. I’m super impressed with your goal, and this blog. PersonalMBA was a very cool experiment, and actually gave me a nice tight review of college. I think a full diet of great business (and other) books is more worthwhile though. In fact, so does Josh Kaufman.. whose blog is fantastic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *