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Reading is the best way to gain experience without having been there yourself. As Warren Buffett's business partner Charlie Munger said, "In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time -- none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads -- at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out." While there are mounds of terrible business books out there, there are some hidden gems. Read on for what I think are the best 12 business books and why you should read them.

Self-improvement

1. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Carnegie's classic book was first published in 1936 and remains a best-seller today . The crux is Carnegie's idea that "the person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people -- that person is headed for higher earning power." Buffett took a course on the book when he was 20 and said the experience "changed my life."

2. Choose Yourself! by James Altucher
In this book, Altucher demonstrates that it's up to you, and easier than ever, to take charge of your life and create both inward and outward success. He offers lessons learned through accounts of the trials, tribulations, and heartbreaks of his own life.

Leadership and management

1. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
This is the classic management book by business guru Drucker. For Drucker, executives' key job is to "get the right things done." He identifies five essential practices to business effectiveness for executives: "managing time, choosing what to contribute, knowing where and how to mobilize strength, setting the right priorities, and effective decision-making." A favorite of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, this book offers many valuable lessons.

2. Turn This Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
Marquet was a submarine captain who turned around the USS Santa Fe from the worst submarine in the U.S. Navy to the best. The book teaches timeless principles of empowering leadership. Fortune Magazine called the book the "best how-to manual anywhere for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution."

Strategy

1. The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
The book teaches the theory of disruptive innovation and why great companies fail when they ignore disruptive products in their competitive space. A favorite of Bezos, Steve Jobs, and countless other great CEOs, the book challenges conventional wisdom on what businesses should be focused on and when they should deviate from business as normal.

2. Competition Demystified by Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn
Written by the current head of the Columbia Business School's Value Investing program, Bruce Greenwald, this book presents a way to analyze the competitive structure of any industry, and pairs it with the idea of moats, market niches, and competitive advantage.

Marketing

1. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
This book could also be titled defense against the dark arts of marketing and persuasion. It explains the psychology of marketing and persuasion, which you can learn for using yourself or for defending yourself against it. In the early 1990s, Charlie Munger gave a series of talks on the psychology of human misjudgment (which have been combined and condensed in his book, Poor Charlie's Almanack ) in which he heaped praise on the book for filling gaps in his knowledge. This is the book that I give most often as a present and is my top recommendation on this list.

2. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
The book that made the word "remarkable" clear to me (worth remarking on). This book delves into the importance of differentiation and of creating things that other people find worth pointing out. I would also highly recommend Seth Godin's blog where he has published once a day for 12 years now.

Entrepreneurship

1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Written by a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, this book doesn't sugarcoat how hard it is to run your own business. Filled with practical wisdom from Horowitz's business experiences, including the near failure of his own company, this is a worthwhile read for aspiring entrepreneurs and managers alike.

2. Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
This book came out of the notes Masters took when Thiel (founder of PayPal, Palantir, Thiel Fellows and Clarium Capital, and lead investor in Facebook) taught a Stanford University class on start-ups. The book title comes from the idea that "Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1." You can read the book, or go straight to the notes if you are curious.

General business

1. Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
The book on rethinking how businesses work. This book provides a new framework for thinking about how businesses create and capture value through an intense look at how customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, costs, and a business's core value proposition all interconnect.

2. The Essays of Warren Buffett by Warren Buffett and Lawrence A. Cunningham
Buffett has long been praised for his concise writing and easy-to-understand metaphors of complex business concepts. This book compiles and condenses the best of Buffett's letters to investors and other writings into a single book organized thematically. Everyone can learn from this book, but I would still highly recommend investors read Buffett's collected letters to shareholders in full; they can be found on the Berkshire Hathaway website.

Learning is the key to success

The most successful people in the world become that way by continuously learning and improving themselves. It doesn't happen overnight. Pick one of these books and start reading, you will be surprised at how much you'll learn.

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Dan Dzombak can be found on Twitter @DanDzombak, on his Facebook page DanDzombak, or on his blog where he writes about investing, happiness, life, and what is success to you. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.