1. You Talkin' to Me? by Sam Leith, Profile Books, 2011
It's not technically a business book, but my favourite work-related read of the last few years has been You Talkin' to Me? by Sam Leith. It's about 'the art of argument... from Aristotle to Obama' – and while that might sound a bit dry, this book is actually nothing of the sort: it's bouncy, effortlessly erudite and often very funny.
What I like most is the range of examples he uses to illustrate what are sometimes pretty abstract concepts. At one point he's citing Cicero, Lincoln or Thomas Aquinas; at others it's AC/DC, J-Lo or the 'Mums go to Iceland' advert.
Crucially, you don't have to be writing the State of the Union address to find this book useful. It's full of little tips and juicy insights that can help anyone who does any kind of arguing or presenting in any kind of work context – ie pretty much everyone. I do the occasional bit of public speaking, and it's been great for that. But I've found it equally helpful for running team meetings, or pitching to clients or even doing one to ones with my team. I've come to realise that delivery matters hugely in business; it doesn't matter how good your content is if you can't get it across in a compelling way.
2. Paula: My Story So Far by Paula Radcliffe, Simon & Schuster UK, 2004
To be honest, the idea of a sportsperson talking about themselves for 300 pages would normally fill me with horror and dread. But I've always loved Paula – ever since the year we made our London Marathon debuts together (she won; I was only a few thousand places behind). She was an incredible athlete but she also seemed to have a bit more about her than most. She's clearly very smart – there can't be many elite sportspeople who also find the time to knock out a first-class degree – but her integrity, toughness and passion also come through really strongly.
As a (now very occasional) runner, it was great to read about the work, science and dedication – the stuff you don't normally see – that went into making her the fastest female marathon athlete in history. But it was also fascinating to read her very candid account of the sacrifices this has entailed, and of the disappointments she suffered along the way. All in all, she's exactly the kind of role model I'd want my daughter to have. Apart from the weeing in the street thing, maybe.
3. Conqueror by Conn Iggulden, Harper, 2012
I have to include at least one escapist fiction book - since for me, it's one of the very best ways to switch off. And my favourite in recent years has been The Conqueror Series, which is a semi-fictionalised account of the life of Genghis Khan (or Chinggis, as the Mongols say).
I'm half Mongolian and my grandfather – who was born and raised there – was later an academic whose published works included a definitive translation of the Mongol account of Chinggis's life. So it was amazing to have it brought to life so thrillingly (not to mention a handy resource when we were picking Mongol middle names for the children).