Cut out people around a watercooler standing on a big book. Image by Rob Dobi for Penguin.
Cut out people around a watercooler standing on a big book. Image by Rob Dobi for Penguin.

Sometimes, you just need a little extra help at work, whether you’re figuring out how to deal with a difficult colleague or how to take the next step in your career.

Books, of course, can provide that guidance. But we’re not talking dry business tomes full of corporate speak. Instead, we’ve gathered together some of the best books NOT about business which can help you out in the workplace. 

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (5th Century BC)

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise written more than 2,000 years ago. Despite its age, the book has achieved cult status, and is regularly quoted everywhere “from divorce courts to Facebook”. The book has even made its way into pop culture: in a 2001 episode of The Sopranos, protagonist Tony Soprano told his therapist he was reading The Art of War.

How to use it for work: While it concerns war and conflict, its insights into the nature of power and rivalry make it the perfect book to read for advice on resolving inter-office tensions, and for guidance on how to be a strong leader. 

How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop (2018)

Public speaking – two words that strike fear into the hearts of even the most confident people. So what’s the key to getting over the anxiety? To being confident enough to get past the fear and get out exactly what you want to say? In How to Own the Room, Viv Groskop takes a look at women including Michelle Obama, Virginia Woolf and Oprah Winfrey and dissects what makes us sit up and listen to their every word, even though they all have very different styles.

How to use it for work: You might not be making speeches in front of thousands of people, but take Groskop’s tips to your next meeting, or even just your next one to one, and remember that you can own the room. 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown (2010)

The Gifts of Imperfection has sold more than 2 million copies in 35 languages since it was first released. Brené Brown’s bestseller is about finding the courage to overcome fear and self-consciousness, and embrace our perfectly imperfect selves. The book established 10 guideposts for authenticity which can help us all live more honestly.

How to use it for work: We can often feel pressure to be perfect at work, and Brown’s book will make you realise there’s no such thing. Instead, use it to understand how not to let self-defeating thoughts about your professional achievements overwhelm you. 

The Sports Gene by David Epstein (2013)

Anyone who’s ever huffed and puffed their way through a run or tried and failed to hit a tennis ball will have wondered if sporting talent is innate or if it can be achieved through endurance and practice. In The Sports Gene, David Epstein explores the nature vs nurture debate.

How to use it for work: The Sports Gene, with its look at how things like motivation to practice could be genetic rather than voluntary and its exposure of the flaws in the 10,000-hour rule, will make you rethink what success looks like, and reassess how to achieve it. 

Becoming Journal by Michelle Obama (2019)

In her memoir Becoming, former first lady Michelle Obama shared her journey from the South Side of Chicago to the White House and beyond. Her intimate book was an honest and inspirational account of her life, told on her own terms. Becoming Journal is a guide to helping readers find their own voice and their own story through answering questions and prompts about personal history, goals and motivation.

How to use it for work: By laying out your own story, you’ll have a firm grasp on who you are and where you want to go, giving you a clear road map to success.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo (2015)

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying was a bona fide phenomenon. The KonMari Method is a step-by-step guide to cleaning your home, leading you to keep the things you only really want and need. And Kondo’s method is not just about transforming your space, it’s about having the energy and motivation to create the life you want.

How to use it at work: Tidy home, tidy mind, or something like that. If you’re not spending your work days thinking about the amount of cleaning you have to do when you get home, you’ll have time to actually work. 

Life: A User’s Manual by Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro (2020)

Life, unfortunately, doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But Life: A User’s Manual is a pretty good substitute. Gathering together the advice of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and philosophers from Ancient Greece to Japan this book covers topics including bereavement, luck, free will and relationships. 

How to use it for work: Whatever your work dilemma, Life: A User’s Manual will have some advice on it. Keep a copy on your desk and refer to it whenever you need some wisdom. 

What did you think of this article? Let us know by emailing editor@penguin.co.uk.

Main image: Rob Dobi for Penguin

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