What makes a good business book?

Books stand as invaluable resources for professionals seeking insight and exposure across diverse fields….

Introduction to choosing a good business book

Well written business books are one of the valuable resources that professionals can leverage to gain insight and exposure to various caveats of a field. While I am an avid reader, business books have always been more of an enigma to me; particularly choosing one that captures my attention and interest long enough to read it through to the end. So, what truly sets a good business book apart from the rest? Well, who better to ask than someone who has read and reviewed many business books, even written his own bestsellers, an expert in the field like Ian Mann. I was fortunate enough to be privy to a conversation with Ian where he shared insights, stories, and insider knowledge on the world of business books.

Through our conversation, four factors were illuminated as central to a good business book. To me, the prospective reader of business books, it gave the nudge I needed to trade my novel for a slightly different genre, now that I know what to look for. For those ambitious enough to be prospective business book authors, the insights shared can be a valuable consideration as you create your masterpiece. 

To start, I’d like to give you bit of background on our expert source (a little foreshadowing for the importance of credibility in the written world). Ian is a reader, reviewer, and author of business books. He has his own bestselling business books called “Strategy that Works” and “Managing with Intent”. He has also read a multitude of business books which he reviews monthly. You can find his weekly book reviews on www.Fin24.co.za and hear him once a month on Radio 702’s Money Show. He specialises in strategy and leadership, consulting to companies across 14 countries.

Ian is a great storyteller. He is also a deep reservoir of business knowledge, expertise, and general wisdom of life. From the moment our conversation began I was enveloped in his charisma, warmth, and ability to transform information, delivering it in a simple and evocative way. Allow me the opportunity to share this journey with you in answering the question: “what makes a good business book?”.

Content and knowledge

An important place to start is deciding what you want to read or write about. Sounds simple, but navigating the vast landscape of business literature can be very daunting and you can find yourself asking the question: “where do I even begin?”. Are there valuable books to read that are old but have stood the test of time, or is it better to be reading the newest bestseller book and current hot topics? Is it more beneficial to read a book that covers a broad range of business concepts or to choose one that dives in-depth into a specific area? It’s helpful to think about the crux of the book and what you want to gain from it. Certain books focus on answering specific questions or solving specific problems. Some explore societal struggles or novel, innovative perspectives. Identify the value proposition of a book that gets people intrigued to not only buy the book but also be excited to pick it up to read after a demanding 12-hour work day.

Once you’ve established the direction of content that piques your interest, it’s time to explore the quality of knowledge. As Ian reflected, really good books have been built on solid research and they are great stories (which we’ll get to later). He also mentioned that the background research for a good business book could sometimes be the last 5 years of a professional career, where actually writing the book could be the last 18 months.

what makes a good business book?

Well-researched books ensure that information, facts, statistics, and insights are reliable, accurate and current. It provides evidence and a strong foundation on which to build theories, models, frameworks, and ideas. Research also enhances credibility. Credibility is crucial in a business book, as readers rely on the author’s expertise, research, and credentials to trust the information presented. The author should have relevant experience, qualifications, or credentials in the subject matter, and the book should be well-researched, supported by data, and referenced appropriately.

Knowing the target market of the book can also be a valuable aspect to note. Is the book written for an academic audience, a budding entrepreneur or for business gurus? This can shed light on the depth and technicality of the book as well as the tone.


A book that is spoken from true and lived experience tends to make a greater impact. It allows the reader to relate to the author and to the content of stories or mistakes. It’s good to feel a sense of humanity, which is not often found. Commonly in business books there are repeated stories about the same example of adversity from different authors. Or, like tends to happen with biographies, they are almost always airbrushed. This makes it difficult to relate and know what really happened. By sharing honest personal anecdotes, lessons learned from failures or successes, and behind-the-scenes perspectives, authors can establish a deeper connection with readers. They can also demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the subject matter. Similarly for readers, if there’s a sense of connection and humanity, perhaps we’ll be more likely to be invested and finish reading the book.


A powerful tool in writing, as suggested by Ian, was storytelling. He reflected that people remember stories; they don’t remember research. The quote “a picture speaks a thousand words” comes to mind for me. While a book is still a collection of words, the way it is presented through storytelling paints a picture for one to visualise and relate to. This can support retention and recall as key messages are structured in an organised and coherent way. A well-crafted story can make the information memorable and impactful.

Stories create engagement and captures the reader’s attention, making the content easier to connect with. Referring to a concept raised earlier, it can create a sense of humanity through an emotional connection. It can build trust, credibility and reflect a sense of authenticity in the author’s experiences.

Another valuable contribution of storytelling is that it assists in getting a good point across. Ian reflected that great stories that are illustrative of deep and complex ideas contribute to making a good book. They can simplify otherwise complex concepts and support the translation of key concepts into real examples. This can support understanding, context, depth of knowledge and provide a practical application thereof. Stories have the power to inspire and motivate readers by showcasing real-life examples of success, resilience, innovation, and leadership. This can help readers on their own journey and catalyse movement and action towards pursuing their goals.


The fourth aspect of what contributes to a good business book is perhaps more for prospective authors than readers.

While content is critical, what happens after a masterpiece has been written? And what is the trick in getting the world to access and share in the brilliant creation? Publishing a book is one thing; getting attention and making it stand out in the sea of business books that flood the market is another. The short answer to this problem: marketing. Ian has written 3 business books and recognised the clear impact of marketing for one of his best-sellers. Getting as much publicity as possible contributes to the success of a book. Useful ways to gain publicity can include book seminars, selling in bookstores, showcasing to clients and social media. The most impactful publicity technique he identified was personal connection. He intentionally reached out and connected with his contacts and networks to share and talk about his book. In a world where technology platforms are often unrivalled in gaining reach and traction, it seems there is still elite power in personal connection and engagement.

In conclusion

My conversation with Ian Mann shifted my perspective on the genre of business books; particularly in how to recognise the average ones from the great ones. To guide me in choosing my next business book, it won’t be from a “judging a book by its cover” perspective, but rather I’ll be looking for the following three criteria: (1) content and credibility, the subject matter (2) authenticity through personal experience, learnings, and exposure (3) storytelling and the way in which the author writes.

Unfortunately, we don’t always have access to walking encyclopaedias like Ian who can give suggestions and recommendations. Hopefully, these three criteria can be the guide that helps you choose business books that transform you into a bookworm rather than a reader with an ever growing to-be-read pile.


Many thanks to Ian Mann for carving out time in his busy schedule to meet with us and give us the opportunity to connect, engage, learn and be part of his compelling ability for storytelling. This has been a unique and intriguing journey for me, of which I believe (and hope!) there may be sequels. 



van Zyl

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