Nigerian writer, playwright and poet Wole Soyinka said, “I believe that the best learning process of any kind of craft is just to look at the work of others.” It stands to reason that if your craft is business, you should look to books by those who have walked the path. To get lessons you simply can’t get in school, there are a few business books by black authors that I consider essential.
For this Black History Month, I set out to discover the most inspirational and educational business books by black authors I could find. In no particular order, below are the ones I found that reignited my passion for business — and I hope they will do the same for you.
5 amazing business books by black authors
Though some of these might not be considered strictly business books per se, the ones I picked have several wonderful business lessons in them.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
“The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires” by Dennis Kimbro.
“What I Know For Sure” by Oprah Winfrey.
“Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success: Discovering Your Gift and the Way to Life's Riches” by Steve Harvey.
“The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women” by Elaine Meryl Brown Marsha Haygood, and Rhonda Joy McLean.
Time to get inspired!
1. “Becoming” by Michelle Obama
This book has been mentioned in dozens of lists as an inspirational bestseller, and I couldn’t help but include it here in this list of business books by black authors. What I love about this book is how it tells the story of a woman who worked hard all her life, but ultimately allowed her desire for public service to drive her path in life.
Michelle Obama worked and studied countless hours to get through high school and her college years at Princeton, and ultimately graduated from Harvard Law School. All of this hard work led to a high paying job as a lawyer at a top firm in Chicago, but she left to pursue her passion — which wasn’t crafting legal briefs. She wanted to channel her intelligence and determination into the service of the greater good.
Obama took a job at the mayor’s office in Chicago, then turned to nonprofit work with an emphasis on mentoring, then branched into community outreach for the University of Chicago Medical Center — all before becoming the First Lady of the United States.
My big takeaway: Sometimes we have to step away from the big paychecks to focus on the real work we’re supposed to do in this world. It can be uncomfortable, but sometimes we have to be uncomfortable to work for something better. As Obama states in her book:
“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”
Besides, the money can come in ways we aren’t aware of when we have faith and follow our life’s true purpose.
2. “The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires” by Dennis Kimbro
One of the most insightful of the black authors here, Dennis Kimbro believes that becoming a millionaire is all about choice. You have to decide to be wealthy, and then prepare yourself to make it so. It's about investing the time and money in yourself to make your financial dreams come true.
After receiving his doctorate from Northwestern University, where he studied wealth and poverty among underdeveloped countries, Kimbro interviewed America’s most notable achievers and set out to answer the question, “How can impoverished black Americans pull themselves out of their poverty and reach their full potential?”
In this book, Kimbro shares the lessons he learned over the course of seven years of interviewing black millionaires — including Les Brown, John Hope Bryant, Tyrese Gibson, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is actually near the very beginning, and the theme of it carries out through the rest of the text:
"Opportunities? Every life is full of opportunity. Every breath, every moment, and every encounter is an opportunity!"
Two other books by Kimbro you might want to check out as well are “Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice,” and “Daily Motivations for African-American Success: Including Inspirations from Famous African-American Achievers.”
My big takeaway: Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you — actively seek them out and make the most of them!
3. “What I Know For Sure” by Oprah Winfrey
“What I Know For Sure” is the name of Oprah’s monthly column in O, The Oprah Magazine. But oftentimes when reading her column, I have felt myself wanting more. That’s why I was so excited to see this book at my local library — and to include it on my list of business books by black authors.
Having become a worldwide phenomenon thanks to her daily talk show that ran from 1986 to 2011, Winfrey is now one of the world’s 500 richest people. Her brand extends far beyond the sphere of television talk shows. She is an Academy Award nominee (twice over, and winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award), media executive, best-selling author and philanthropist. She is also North America’s first black multi-billionaire.
Winfrey took many of her best essays, revised them, updated them, and put them into a beautiful collection that provides lessons on business, love and life overall. She speaks of finding your passion and living life to the fullest:
“You can either waltz boldy on the stage of life and live the way your know your spirit is nudging you to, or you can sit quietly by the wall, receding into the shadows of fear and self-doubt.”
For more inspiration from Winfrey, you can check out “The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations,” and her upcoming book “The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose,” which is being released in March 2019.
My big takeaway: You only get one life, my friends, so live it to your full potential. If you’re not fulfilled on your current career path, change it!
4. “Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success: Discovering Your Gift and the Way to Life's Riches” by Steve Harvey
I’ve always thought of Steve Harvey as just a funny man on television, but after reading this book, I see him as so much more — one of the most relatable black authors out there today. I learned he had been homeless, worked in carpet cleaning, and took a series of odd jobs to pay the bills while working on becoming the success that he is today.
Throughout the book, Harvey walks you through evaluating your life where you are now, then moves you into figuring out your gifts so that you can use them to become a success in the world. He pushes hard and forces you to answer questions you might not be ready to ask yourself, like:
“Are you tired of making the same promises to yourself that you are never motivated enough to see through? Are you tired of making excuses for not making change? Are you tired of measuring yourself against others and falling short?”
Harvey’s book offers tools to help you transform things that have left you in doubt and fear into actions you can take to be a success in your own right. That is, if you have the courage to do so.
Harvey has written other books, including ‘“Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Expanded Edition: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment” and “Jump: Take the Leap of Faith to Achieve Your Life of Abundance.”
My big takeaway: Being hit with the reality of why we procrastinate, lie to ourselves, and compare ourselves to others are truths that can cut deep. This book does an amazing job of forcing readers to consider what success looks like, and how to achieve it as an individual.
5. “The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women” by Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haygood and Rhonda Joy McLean
This is a playbook on leadership written by three amazing black authors — women who believe leaders are not just born, but can also be made. Each chapter teaches something that many of us might already innately know, but that doesn’t always sink in for women until it is said by someone else in “just the right way.”
“To become a leader you must have a positive mental attitude, which you can achieve with positive self-talk and looking at what is right with people instead of what is wrong with them.”
For the most part, women in business know we should treat ourselves like the VIPs we are, and we know we should stay positive, know our value, and surround ourselves with the right people. But reading the lessons in this book, somehow makes it stick.
I also like the book’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude.
My big takeaway: The reality is, no matter what we say or do in life, no one owes us anything. Regardless of our hardships, we have to stand up and save ourselves because only we can control our destinies.
Other books I recommend
There are several other books by black authors that I would highly suggest adding to your book reading list. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- “The Year Of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes.
(I wrote about this book in my list of books to consider when you’re thinking about starting over.)
- “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margot Lee Shetterly
- “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae
- “You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain” by Phoebe Robinson
- “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama
- “Letter to My Daughter” by Maya Angelou
- “The Road to Redemption: Overcoming Life’s Detours, Obstacles, and Challenges” by Lucinda Cross
- “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcom X and Alex Haley
- “Successful Women Think Differently: 9 Habits to Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Resilient” by Valorie Burton
- “We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True” by Gabrielle Union
You might not agree with my book choices, and there might be several books that you feel should have been included here.
In fact, the book you feel needs to be read, might not have even been written yet. If that’s the case, I suggest you heed the advice of African-American professor and novelist Toni Morrison, who said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”