Backgrounds are everything when it comes to quarantine and Zoom. We undoubtedly find ourselves drawn to a person’s choice of artwork, furnishings, or in this case, their personal library. But what can we learn from those consciously (or unconsciously) crafted backdrops? Are they staged or authentic? So many questions, so little time.

The New York Times called the bookshelf a “window into a person’s soul” in a fun series of posts from their self-proclaimed celebrity bookshelf detective who examines celebrity book collections.

Taking a page from that playbook, it’s time to see what some of our favorite marketing influencers have on their bookshelves and desks. The newly appointed Marketing Book Detective does their best to decode what’s on their bookshelves.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Seth Godin


Who better to start with than arguably the most influential marketer of all time – the almighty Seth Godin. This was a tough one to crack and the marketing book detective scoured hours of video footage to sort through the plethora of the author’s own books to find a few hidden gems. Here’s what’s on Seth’s bookshelf:

  1. The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE by Thomas Peters – A classic for small-business owners, Peters provides “back to the basics” advice for running a successful business.
  2. The Courage to Be Rich by Suze Orman – The celebrated American financial advisor takes you through the financial milestones of life and shows how money can be made to work for you.
  3. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt – In 2016, Seth recommended “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and said, “A book I wish I’d read earlier in my career.”
  4. High Trust Selling by Todd Duncan – Seth recommended this one and said, “There is only one thing that matters when you’re selling professional services. Only one. Does the person who is buying from you (and her boss) trust you?”

Ramon Ray


Ramon Ray is a small biz expert, entrepreneur, author, speaker, and founder of Smart Hustle Media. Ramon Ray’s latest book is “Celebrity CEO – How Entrepreneurs Can Thrive by Building a Strong Personal Brand.”

Here’s what the marketing book detective found on his shelf:

  1. Trailblazer by Marc Benioff – Salesforce chairman and CEO offers a guidebook to help leaders, employees, and customers to prepare for the next phase of global capitalism: the arrival of business for good.
  2. Day in Day Out by Nicolas Dancer – The Dancer Concrete entrepreneur invites you to build a life on the timeless principles that have brought out the best in humankind since the beginning.
  3. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosak – The #1 personal finance book of all time. It’s the story of how Kiyosak grew up with two dads, his real father and the father of his best friend, his rich dad, and how both men shaped his thoughts about money.

Laura Gassner Otting


Laura Gassner Otting is a best-selling author and motivational keynote speaker who inspires people to push past the doubt and indecision that keep great ideas in limbo. Her brilliant book, Limitless, is a high-energy masterclass with actionable tips to help you transform your vision and do work with a purpose. She’s incredibly inspiring and certainly one for business leaders to follow.

  1. Hustle and Float by Rahaf Harfoush – Harfoush shows you how to reclaim your creativity and thrive in a work-obsessed world.
  2. Ctrl, Alt, Delete by Mitch Joel – This second book from Mitch Joel (author of Six Pixels of Separation and host of the popular podcast series) decodes the future for business. This is an all-time classic!
  3. Purple Cow by Seth Godin – If you don’t already have this one on your bookshelf, purchase it immediately.
  4. The Remix How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace by Lindsey Pollak – Pollak shows us how to create a workplace that blends the best of each generation’s ideas and practices to design a smarter, more inclusive work environment for everyone.

Ann Handley


Ann Handley is the world’s first Chief Content Officer, an award-winning author and keynote speaker, and inspiration to marketers all around the world.

  1. Letters of E.B. White by E.B. White – A collection of beautifully written letters that evoke E.B. White’s life in New York and in Maine at every stage of his life. Handley has said this is one of her favorite authors and she’s a superfan.
  2. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris – Sedaris takes on the absurdities of life through his unique power of observation. Pulling from his diary entries from 1977 to 2002 and bringing the best ones to this book.
  3. Where Chefs Eat – The ultimate restaurant guide written by the real experts: more than 600 of the world’s best chefs.

Jay Baer


The man in plaid who’s delivered some of the most legendary marketing keynotes of all time doesn’t disappoint with his bookshelf. The Hug Your Haters and Talk Trigger author Jay Baer keeps his powerhouse of marketing friends close.

  1. Attention Pays: How to Drive Profitability, Productivity, and Accountability by Neen James – This book offers an antidote to the constant barrage of disruptions we find ourselves faced with and shows how to unplug from the daily stressors, harness our attention, and help us reach our highest potential.
  2. Poop? – Ok, even the Marketing Book Detective is stumped on this one. I couldn’t figure out which book this was, but that clearly says Poop on the spine. Jay? Anyone?
  3. Laws of Brand Storytelling by Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio – This book provides a masterclass in storytelling for brands.

Rand Fishkin


Rand Fishkin is best known as the Wizard of Moz and the leading authority in all things SEO. Most recently he’s published the brilliant Lost and Founder and started a new company called SparkToro.

  1. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – Written by South African President Nelson Mandela, this book profiles his early life, coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison.
  2. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – Ned Vizzini’s story about a fifteen-year-old who suffers from depression and after having suicidal thoughts, calls a suicide helpline and gets admitted into a psychiatric hospital. He meets a range of characters and tried to turn his life around.
  3. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell – Vowell investigates how America views itself as a Puritan nation – what that means and what it should mean.

Andrew Davis


Andrew Davis is an award-winning keynote speaker, best-selling author, and most recently, the man behind the brilliant Loyalty Loop video series. This screenshot from one of Davis’s behind the scenes videos gives us a glimpse at his bookshelf.

  1. Talk Triggers by Jay Baer – Baer’s latest book, which I’m halfway through the audio version and it’s stellar by the way, provides a cutting-edge framework for marketers to leverage the most powerful messaging tool of all, word of mouth marketing.
  2. The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Swart – This 1959 classic is just as powerful today with practical lessons and tools to change your life for the better.
  3. Content Inc by Joe Pulizzi – The Godfather of Content, the man in Orange, Joe Pulizzi’s marketing classic that should grace the shelf of every marketer on the planet.

Joe Mull


Joe Mull is a brilliant keynote speaker, commitment consultant, and author of the book Cure for the Common Leader & No More Team Drama, helping leaders become better bosses & build stronger teams.

  1. Limitless by Laura Gassner Otting – Otting’s high energy masterclass with actionable tips to help you transform your vision and do work with a purpose.
  2. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek – Sinek shows us a world where everyone wakes up inspired to go to work, feels trusted and valued.

James Altucher


Not only does he have the coolest hair since Malcolm Gladwell, but Jamews Altucher is also one of the most brilliant entrepreneurs on the planet (having written 17 books and started a number of companies).

In addition to his award-winning podcast, Altucher also does a series of Instagram Live videos with a wall of seemingly interesting books in the background. I must admit I cheated a bit here as it was difficult to see the titles, but I did find this great clip where he talks through his bookshelf. Here are the highlights.

  1. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey – James Frey’s story of a 23-year-old alcoholic and drug addict and how he copes with rehabilitation in a twelve steps-oriented treatment center.
  2. It’s Better Than It Looks by Gregg Easterbrook – Gregg Easterbrook provides a bit of hope while challenging perspectives on who we are, where we’re headed, and what we’re capable of. The perfect antidote for the current fearmongering happening around the world.
  3. Old man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – The Ernest Hemmingway classic was written in 1951 in Cuba and published in 1952. It was his last major work and is essential reading for pretty much anyone who’s ever picked up a book. (The story about the writing level in the video is tremendous by the way, give it a listen.)

Mitch Joel


Mitch Joel is the author of Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete (a book found on many influencer bookshelves). He’s also a brilliant keynote speaker, investor, and advisor.

While the book detective couldn’t find a shot of Joel’s bookcase, he did spot a couple of gold/platinum records gracing his office walls. If you know Mitch, you know he loves his music and the fact that he calls so many legendary musicians his friends, I thought it would be fun to give him a shout out here.

  1. Our Lady Peace by Naveed – Platinum-selling award. The debut album from the Canadian alternative rock legends.
  2. I Mother Earth by Dig – Gold-selling album award. The debut from a terribly underrated Canadian rock band that burst onto the scene in the early 90’s.

Stay tuned as the Marketing Book Detective continues his journey with Part 2 coming soon to the Active Campaign blog! Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it. Also, feel free to send in a photo of your bookshelf or library to be featured.