The 50 Best Books of All Time

OK, these are probably not the best books of all time but these mostly non-fiction titles were important to me when I read them over the last twenty years.

  1. The Power of Their Ideas, Meier (Bible)
  2. The Students are Watching, Sizer
  3. Reinventing Public Education and It Takes a City, Hill
  4. Global Achievement Gap, Wagner
  5. The World is Open, Bonk
  6. Disrupting Class, Christensen, Horn and Johnson
  7. Mindset, Dweck
  8. Education Unbound, Hess


  1. 5th Discipline, Senge (Didn’t like the field guides as much)
  2. In Search of Excellence, Peters and Waterman
  3. Competitive Strategy, Porter (Classic)
  4. Positioning, Ries and Trout
  5. The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christiansen
  6. The Age of Unreason, Handy
  7. Good to Great & Built to Last, Collins
  8. Managing, or anything by Drucker

Leadership & Biography

  1. Leadership is an Art, DePree (Still the best)
  2. The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner (The guidebook)
  3. A Force for Change, Kotrer
  4. Orbiting the Giant Hairball, MacKenzie (Fun runner up)
  5. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey
  6. John Adams, McCullough (Read a Madison biography after that.)
  7. Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson


  1. Guns, Germs & Steel, Diamond
  2. Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen
  3. Which World, Hammond
  4. Culture Matters, Harrison & Huntington
  5. Fourth Turning & Millennials, Strauss/Howe
  6. The Lexus and the Olive Tree & Longitudes and Attitudes, Friedman
  7. The Post-American World, Zakaria


  1. Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, Macy and Barrows
  2. The Heart Aroused, Whyte (Good runner up with leadership application)
  3. Early Morning, Stafford (Touching biography makes Bill Stafford accessible)
  4. New and Collected Poems, Milosz
  5. Poems New and Collected, Szymborska (What is it about mid-century Poles?)
  6. The Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence
  7. Teaching With Fire, Intrator and Scribner


  1. Consilience, Wilson (Wow)
  2. Art & Physics, Shlain (Amazing parallels)
  3. Turning Point, Capra (Where Meg Wheatley got her start)
  4. The Clock of the Long Now, Brand
  5. Einstein’s Dreams, Lightman (Only fiction on the list; mind bending)
  6. For the Time Being, Dillard (Another mind bender/dual biography)
  7. The Blank Slate & Drive, Steven Pinker
  8. Elegant Universe, Greene (or A Brief History of Time, Hawkin)
  9. Tipping Point, Gladwell


  1. Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet, Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi and Damon
  2. Flow, Csikszentmihalyi
  3. Care of the Soul, Moore
  4. The Reinvention of Work, Fox

Wow, I left so many great business and education books out. And no non-fiction!?! What books made a difference to you and your work?

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.



Oh, how I love these lists. :)
In no particular order, here are some of the ones I keep coming back to, which automatically makes them greats, right?
- Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
- Screwtape Letters, Lewis
- Orthodoxy, Chesterton
- Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
- City Boy, Herman Wouk
- Maggie Now, Betty Smith
- Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
- Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
- Eat the Rich, PJ O'Rourke
- In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
I love when an author can show, not tell, which is what a great novel is all about.


Tom Vander Ark

Great additions, thanks!

Tom Vander Ark

Here's a few more from our friend Al Meyers:
-Team of Rivals (Goodwin) – this one I’m surprised didn’t make your list : )
-Linchpin (Seth Godin)
-The Strategy Paradox (Raynor) - pokes huge holes in Collins’ Good to Great Book
-Tribes (Seth Godin)
-How to Change The World (Bornstein)
-The Medici Effect (How diversity drives innovation)
-The Brain That Changes Itself (Doidge)
-There are probably a slew of books in the TED Book Library that make the cut. A few of the ones above were books I got from TED.

Bev DeVore

Anything written by John McPhee, Stephen Gould, Richard Feynman and Robert Frost.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks, good eclectic list.

George Rislov

I've read quite a few, but Guns, Germs & Steel, Diamond is one of my favorites. This was one of a handful of books that dramatically changed the teaching of World History by focusing on longer time periods and macrohistorical analysis.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks George. I gave a grant to a (now famous) high school principal that said about GG&S "It will be the only textbook in the place."

Tom Vander Ark

I read Michael Fullan's most recent book, Stratosphere. He's certainly one of the 3-4 most influential edu-writers of our time. The book is very short, very optimistic, and very much worth your time. I'll post a review next week.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.