The 16 unexpected books CEOs and execs are reading in 2020, such as 'The Art of War'


The bookshelves of CEOs and C-suite executives don’t just contain tomes about people management or tips for business growth.

According to online library Perlego, popular books also include surprising titles that might expand a reader’s horizons — such as classic military philosophy to nutrition and human sexuality.

Perlego tracks readers’ job titles, and looked at which books had been read at least 50 times between February and September across a database of a thousands CEOs and high-level execs.

Scroll down to see the top 16 most-read unusual books — and consider making the space on your bookshelf.

“The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves” by Dan Ariely "The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty" By Dan Ariely

Published in 2013, “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty” discusses the meaning of cheating, why and when it happens, and why it can be useful.

Author Dan Ariely is an acclaimed behavioral economist. Prior to this book, he published the international best-sellers “Predictably Irrational” and “The Upside of Irrationality”.

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“How to Read a Book” by Mortimer Jerome Adler and Charles Van Doren "How to Read a Book" By Mortimer Jerome Adler and Charles Van Doren

“How to Read a Book” was originally published in 1940 with more than half a million copies in print. 

This book is the go-to guide for readers, from beginners to book lovers. According to the publisher’s description, the authors explain “systematic skimming, inspectional reading, and speed reading.” They also provide a reading list and tests to check your own progress.

Mortimer Jerome Adler, who died in 2001, was an American educator and philosopher. Charles Lincoln Van Doren was an American editor and writer. He passed away last year. 

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“Nutrition For Dummies” by Nigel Denby, Sue Baic, and Carol Ann Rinzler "Nutrition For Dummies" By Nigel Denby, Sue Baic, and Carol Ann Rinzler

“Nutrition For Dummies” explains the nutrients of food, helps the reader “make informed decisions about your diet”, and “debunks the myths behind fad diets,” according to the publisher’s description. 

This second edition is split into six parts: “The Basic Facts about Nutrition”; “What You Get from Food”, “Healthy Eating”, “Processed Food”, “Food and Health”, and “The Part of Tens”, in which ‘Tens’ stands for the ten nutrition websites you can trust, the ten superfoods and the ten fad diets.

The authors are the expert dietitians Sue Baic and Nigel Denby, and noted authority on health and nutrition Carol Ann Rinzler.

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“Useful Enemies: America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals” by Richard Rashke "Useful Enemies: America's open-door policy for Nazi war criminals " By Richard Rashke

“Useful Enemies” was published in 2013 and, according to the publisher’s description is an account of war criminal John “Iwan” Demjanjuk and his “criminal past and its devastating consequences” during the Nazi era and the Cold War.

The author, Richard Rashke, is an American journalist and teacher. 

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“How to Make Anyone Like You: Proven Ways To Become A People Magnet” by Leil Lowndes "How to Make Anyone Like You" By Leil Lowndes

The title, “How to Make Anyone Like You”, speaks for itself. The book, published in 2014, gives advice to readers on how to charm anyone. It tells the reader how to feel at ease in any situation and with anybody to approach strangers, and how to portray our best selves. 

Leil Lowndes is a relationship expert and best-selling author.

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“Cultural Politics in Harry Potter: Life, Death and the Politics of Fear” by Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez and Pilar Alderete-Diez "Cultural Politics in Harry Potter" By Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez and Pilar Alderete-Diez

According to the publisher’s description, “Cultural Politics in Harry Potter” examines J.K. Rowling’s books “from controversial and multidisciplinary perspectives.”

The authors touch upon topics such as fear, death, and biopolitics — a field between human biology and politics — and analyze three areas:

  • Wizarding biopolitics and intersected discourses;
  • Anxiety, death, resilience, and trauma;
  • The politics of fear and postmodern transformations.

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“Great Speeches of the 20th Century” by Bob Blaisdell "Great Speeches of the 20th Century" By Bob Blaisdell

“Great Speeches of the 20th Century” is a collection of full speeches and parts from the most memorable oratory.

It includes speeches from some of the era’s greatest figures — from Winston Churchill cheering the British to defend against the Nazis, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt calming Americans during the Great Depression. Barack Obama, Dalai Lama, and many others also feature.

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“The Psychology of Human Sexuality” by Justin J. Lehmiller "The Psychology of Human Sexuality" By Justin J. Lehmiller

Published in 2017, the second edition of “The Psychology of Human Sexuality” analyzes the impact that society, culture, psychology, and biology have on changing human sexual behavior. 

Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller is an American social psychologist and a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. He is also the author of the books “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire” and “How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life”.

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“The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember” by Nicholas Carr "The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember" By Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr draws on the latest research on new technologies. He argues that these technologies are changing the way people socialize, think, and understand reality while making them more ignorant. 

Carr is an acclaimed writer of the relationship between technology, culture, and technology.

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“The Lessons of History” by Will and Ariel Durant "The Lessons of History" By Will and Ariel Durant

“The Lessons of History” is about the evolution, behavior, and future of civilization. The authors describe the ideas and past events that have affected civilizations and could help the reader to understand the current era.

Will and Ariel Durant, who both died in 1981, were researchers and historians and were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

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“Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere” by Christopher Hitchens "Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere" By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011, was an English-American intellectual, and socio-political critic.

This collection of Hitchens’ essays the famed intellectual gather his literary criticism in one place, examining the works of giants ranging from Orwell to Wilde.

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“Codebreakers” by Stephen Twigge "Codebreakers" By Stephen Twigge

In “Codebreakers”, the author tells the story of British codebreakers from the reign of Elizabeth I to the Cold War.

The main theme addressed is the events of the Second World War and the breaking of Germany’s Enigma Codes. The book ends with the story of the codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing and gives an overview of codebreaking operations of the Cold War. 

Stephen Twigge is a senior historian at the UK’s National Archive.

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“Discourses of Brexit” by Veronika Koller, Susanne Kopf and Marlene Miglbauer "Discourses of Brexit" By Veronika Koller, Susanne Kopf and Marlene Miglbauer

In “Discourses of Brexit”, the authors analyzed data from political speeches to Twitter posts to understand the role that discourse played in influencing the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum.

Veronika Koller is an Austrian-British linguist, Susanne Kopf is a researcher in discourse analysis, and Marlene Miglbauer is a senior lecturer in English linguistics and e-learning at the University of Teacher Education Burgenland.

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“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho "The Alchemist" By Paulo Coelho

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho first published “The Alchemist” in 1988. The novel was originally written in Portuguese, and became a widely translated international bestseller, selling millions of copies worldwide.

Coelho tells the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who wants to travel to find the world’s most extravagant riches. According to the publisher’s description, the story teaches about “the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and above all, following our dreams.” 

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“The Art of War” by Sun Zi and Victor Mair "The Art of War" By Sun Zi and Victor Mair

This book is attributed to Sun Zi, a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher. Zi wrote “The Art of War” during ancient China’s Warring States period of 475-221 BC, and the book was translated by the American sinologist Victor Mair in 2007.

“The Art of War” explains the planning and managing of military operations. It is considered the most influential book on the development of Chinese military tactics.

It’s divided into 13 chapters. Each describes a different side of warfare and the role it plays in military strategy and tactics.

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“Red Velvet” by Lolita Chakrabarti "Red Velvet" By Lolita Chakrabarti

“Red Velvet”, published in 2012, is a play based on the biography of the 19th-century young black American actor Ira Aldridge, who played the role of Shakespeare’s Othello. 

Lolita Chakrabarti is a British actress and writer.

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