A reading list
Updated: Oct 11, 2022
Dear fellow intellectual traveler,
Over the years many students asked me to suggest some interesting books to expand their knowledge on subjects of management and strategy. I would normally send a few titles at a time, but after having replied to too many of such emails, I decided to finally compile a more complete list and post it on this blog.
My general approach when it comes to reading is that to be good in strategy and management, one has to read broadly as narrow minds rarely produce good ideas. To make good decisions and lead one has to understand oneself, human nature in general, individual and social psychology, sociology, politics, history, philosophy, economics, probability, technology, and much, much more. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
My dad has a saying that “In life, there is no time to read good books, but only the excellent ones” thus I selected only a few books per topic. However, these should serve as good places to start your explorations. Furthermore, after you have purchased some of these books on Amazon, the site's algorithms will catch up and start offering decent follow-up titles.
This is meant to be an evolving list. I expect to be mostly adding to it, but sometimes I may remove a book that I think has been superseded by a better one (remember, only the excellent books!). What this list is not? It certainly is not representative. Not only this is a list of only the books that I have read, but also the books that I found interesting, and my tastes may not be compatible with yours. I also want to say upfront that I don't necessarily agree with everything the authors say, but I found most of the information there enlightening or at least thought-provoking. Approach it with an open mind.
Should you buy or rent books? It really depends on the book. Some are great to have around, while some you only touch once. However, I am of the opinion, that it is best to have as many books around you as possible. I routinely buy books that I don't intend to read immediately. This is because the books I haven't read yet will be staring at me and I will know that whatever they contain, I don't know. I bought them, which means I find them worth knowing, but I find a reminder of my ignorance important. Thus, my bookshelf is a representation of my known knowns and known unknowns.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the selection... and happy reading!
First a few textbooks (this will mostly be interesting to my Master's students):
"Strategy and Business Landscape" by Pankaj Ghemawat is an excellent and short introduction
"The Art of Strategy" by Dixit and Nalebuff is a more advanced text bringing elements of game theory
"Contemporary Strategy Analysis" by Robert Grant is a very good textbook with examples and clear explanations that outline the subject step by step.
Strategy implementation (in progress)
"Premonition" by Michael Lewis - what this book is not? Definitely not boring and also not something you might have expected to see in a section on strategy implementation. Yet, I was mesmerized by the story from the first page and how it captured the personal and organizational realities of strategy making and execution. The book recounts the steps taken by the US administration in response to the Covid pandemic and the histories of people who fought to change the poor execution of the national pandemic strategy in 2020. It shows how open-mindedness, persistence, dedication, data, and modeling efforts of experts and scientists pushed against politics, ignorance, denial, and organizational inertia. And all wrapped in the great Michael Lewis style.
The following books are less text-book'y and offer a closer look at some of the facets of strategy and management.
"Only the Paranoid Survive" by Andrew Grove
"Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore
"The Wide Lens" by Ron Adner
"From Zero to One" by Peter Thiel
"Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Shareholder Letters" by Warren Buffet. You can find them here. They are an excellent read with many nuggets of wisdom scattered among the letters. And they are free.
Decision making and critical thinking
If you listen to audiobooks on Audible, "The art of Critical Decision Making" by Michael Roberto is an excellent introduction. He covers a lot of topics, from individual biases to team dynamics.
"How to Lie with Statistics" by Darrell Huff is another good piece on how NOT to get fooled by numbers. There are many books of this kind, but I found this one fun and instructive. But we can expect more in this space given the increase in the use of data and analytics in organizations.
"The Undoing Project" by Michael Lewis is a riveting story of the life and ideas of Kahneman and Tversky - two great thinkers and behavioral psychologists/economists. It also discusses the key ideas of the duo of scholars.
"Thinking fast and thinking slow" by Daniel Kahneman is a classic now on the subject of intuitive and deliberate decision making.
"Misbehaving" by Richard Thaler should be also on your reading list. The book features topics like mental accounting and endowment effect.
“The Minto Pyramid Principle” by Barbara Minto is a good textbook on how to think logically and present your ideas in a clear and powerful way. If you are an aspiring consultant, you should read that.
The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow is an excellent book that takes an unorthodox approach (akin to the movie Roshomon) to dissect one of the most pivotal decisions of the XX-th century. The author brings three different lenses to explain how the world came close to nuclear armageddon. While vastly different, the three lenses help to understand what happened in those fateful days. The book also shows the power of taking different perspectives to understand a problem.
Doing strategy without a sound understanding of geopolitics is like building castles in the air. With the current state of affairs, there is a new crop of great books on geopolitics from some of the best experts. Here is a selection that I found particularly intriguing and thought-provoking.
"Destined For War" by the one-and-only Graham Allison and "Danger Zone" by Hal Brands and Michael Beckley. Both books analyze the emerging rivalry between US and China. As you can judge from the titles, both acknowledge a profound change in the relations between the two countries and their systems of allies - away from the WTO consensus and into a new era of rivalry. Both, however, differ in terms of the drivers of that rivalry. Both are worth a read.
"The End Of The World Is Just A Beginning" by Peter Zeihan is another very cheerful title in this collection. Zeihan has been gaining readers of late because he made some good calls over the past few years (see also his "Disunited Nations"). Zeihan very nicely connects geography, demography, and energy policy into a very compelling analysis. One of the most engaging books on the geopolitics of the last year. I can't wait to see what counterpoints other experts will muster.
Speaking of different takes, "The Power Of Crisis" by Ian Bremmer from the Eurasia Group, is an excellent read as well with a little different interpretation of the data. Btw - if you want to hear Peter Zeihan and Ian Bremmer discuss the current events together, go to the June podcast by Sam Harris.
In terms of energy policy (for those in Europe, kind of a big deal at the moment - I am writing this in September 2022), there is no better expert than Daniel Yergin, the author of the Pulitzer-winning book "The Prize". It is however his new book, "The New Map", that I strongly recommend.
Finally, to appreciate the power of geography on geopolitics, I recommend "Prisoners of Geography" by Tim Marshall. It is a 2016 book, but you know what? Geography does not change that often :-) It is geography that causes history to echo across the ages.
Value and valuation
"Valuation" by Koller, Goedhart, and Wessels is pretty much a bible of financial valuation. Appropriately written by a strategy consultancy (McKinsey) it outlines how to estimate business' value by taking into account the fundamentals of the business. Only the chapter on multiples is shaky - I guess it was a bow to an enduring superstition.
"The Blue Line Imperative" by Kevin Kaiser and David Young highlights an important distinction between a company's price (stock price) and a company's value (NPV). I especially enjoyed the list of questions at the end of the book. Armed with those questions, you will have a much better understanding of how your organization creates or destroys value.
AI and Machine Learning
"Superintelligence" by Nick Bostrom - an amazing read. The book discusses strengths, weaknesses, and risks related to AI. But be warned; after reading it you won't sleep at night.
"Prediction Machines" by Agarwal, Gans, and Goldfarb is an excellent book on how Machine Learning will impact organizations, industry, and society. I have read many books on ML and AI, but this one takes the crown. If you are in business and can only afford to read one book then this is the one to read. Also, you probably should change your business. You should be able to afford to read more than one book ;-)
"Competing in the Age of AI" by Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani is a great book full of business cases showing how ML can be harnessed to reinvent a company's business model and gain an edge in competition.
"Competing on Analytics" by Davenport and Harris offers a very good overview of the different ways data and analytics (including Monte Carlo simulations, computational modeling) can help to build and strengthen a firm's competitive advantage.
Philosophy of science
This section is not only for my doctoral students. Ask yourself "How do we know the things we know?". "How do we know we know something?". In life, especially when you are making important decisions under uncertainty and complexity, it is super hard to tell which advice or idea is simply bullshit or perhaps useful. (btw - if you want to know more about bullshit, I recommend reading the concise treatise "On Bullshit" by Princeton University's philosopher Harry Frankfurt). Luckily we (as in humanity) have stumbled on an amazing technology - science. What is science, scientific process, what do scientists do, etc., are very important issues and every intelligent human being (not only a scientist) should know a thing or two about it not to get confused about the world.
"The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth" by Jonathan Rauch is one of the most important books written on this subject in the last few years. It covers the origins and characteristics of the truth-based order in great detail and does a very good job reviewing the causes for the recent break with reality that we are witnessing in society. A must-read for those who want to understand better our current predicament and a possible way forward.
“An Introduction to Models in the Social Sciences” by Charles Lave and James March is an academic book but can benefit anyone who wants to improve reasoning skills
"Consilience" by Edward Wilson is a great book on how different disciplines contribute to advancing our understanding of the world.
The further three books are perhaps not your standard read on the subject, but they demonstrate the importance of reason in life in a much better way than many graduate-level textbooks:
“The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan is a very compelling case for a reason by one of the most brilliant minds of XX century physics.
“Fashionable Nonsense” by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmon. Ever heard of the Sokal hoax? Google it, it is as entertaining/depressing as it is instructive. The book consists of different examples of "fashionable nonsense" and a discussion of science in general. I would skip the examples and go for the discussion.
“Flim-Flam!” by James Randi – probably my favorite book on this subject. Written by a professional magician who decided to expose fraud and superstition in his profession. For a long time, he offered a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who under controlled conditions demonstrates supernatural powers. Many tried. None succeeded. Perhaps one million dollars is not enough? Btw, these rumors the vaccines can magnetize a person so that they attract metal objects - he deals with that too. The book is pure fun to read.
Power and politics vs. kindness
This is a difficult topic and many people feel torn between the poetry and prose of life. Here is one way to approach it. Start with reading "Give and Take" by Adam Grant first, followed by "Power" by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Now, these two books take very different approaches to the subject and they demonstrate the contradictions very well. To make sense of how can these two different approaches coexist, I found "The Evolution of Cooperation" by Axelrod very insightful; particularly in the last two chapters. By the way, if you were looking for mathematical proof that the universe favors good people, you will find it in Axelrod's book. It still amazes me how can such a simple idea explain so much about the world around us.
Personal finance and ethical behavior
These two domains are interrelated. Many strategic decisions or management in general, include questions of ethics. Often you will encounter situations where what you are being asked to do and what you think is right may diverge. People possess an incredible ability to rationalize any behavior as long as it is in their own interest to do so, especially if standing by your values may cost you a promotion or even a job.
For a great overview of how humans can justify even the most shocking behavior I recommend Albert Bandura’s “Moral Disengagement”.
Now, I am not a moral philosopher and my approach to this subject is rather pragmatic. It goes like this. Standing by your values is much easier when the potential negative consequences of doing so are low rather than high. This can be achieved by becoming independently wealthy. Not rich, but wealthy. In short, this means you have enough money saved over and invested that even losing your job doesn’t scare you.
This is where personal finance comes in. Many people act rich to impress others, acquiring expensive houses, cars, clothes, and other items, only to find themselves stretched thin and at risk of losing it all if their income were to drop even for a brief moment. Simply put, they have put on a golden leash, where doing right and sustaining their life quality may be at odds with each other.
How to avoid that? There are tons of books, many of them of the “Get Rich Quick” variety. Avoid these. The formula to become wealthy is rather simple. Spend less than you make and save/invest the rest.
“Balance” by Andrew Hallam is one of the best books I have read on the subject. I had a chance to read an advance copy of the book, which will hit the bookstores in January 2022. I suggest adding it to your purchase/rent list.
In the meantime, or if you want to know more, I can recommend:
“Stop Acting Rich” by Thomas J. Stanley, and
“The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey.
"Getting things done" by Allen is the place to start if you want to improve your productivity. If its effects wear off, read it again.
"Atomic Habits" by James Clear is a very good introduction to how to stop bad and start good habits. Once you discover how to stack the simple habit strategies, it will change your life.
"So good they can't ignore you" by Cal Newport is a good book on executing a deliberate strategy in your life (my students will know what I am talking about)
"Digital Minimalism" by Cal Newport (again) is for those who can't part with your mobile phone ;-) The added bonus to freeing more time will be your mind unlearning to seek distractions, your attention span will get longer, and you will be able to concentrate better - all important qualities of a strategic mind.
"Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck" by Mark Manson is a humorous and thought-provoking read (at least the first 2/3 of the book)
"Grit" by Angela Duckworth - how to stick to the things that are important
"Growing Young" by Marta Zaraska. The book takes us on a tour of longevity research. Spoiler alert: it is not dieting and exercise. They do count, but there are more powerful ways to live to a healthy 100 and beyond.
Where we came from and where we are heading
"Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond is an excellent and in-depth work on the evolution of our civilization. For strategy people, isn't it a neat corroboration of the RBV theory but on a global scale?
“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins is a very thought-provoking work that will further illustrate the importance of the level of analysis in research and thinking in general.
"Sapiens" and "21 rules for 21st Century" by Noah Yuval Harari immediately made it to my absolute top 10 books of all time. The middle book of the three that Harari wrote ("Homo Deus") is very good, but not as good as the other two.
"Cosmic Queries" by one of my favorite astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson. deGrasse Tyson takes us on a tour of some of the key questions, like"What is our place in the universe?", "How do we know what we know?", "How did it all begin?", and "How will it end?". As a bonus, you get beautiful graphics, courtesy of the National Geographics, the publisher of the book.
"Social Psychology" by Elliot Aronson - an excellent text; obligatory for all extraterrestrials visiting Earth ;-) in a nutshell, it is on "the influences that people have upon the beliefs, feelings, and behavior of others".
"Social Animal" by Elliot Aronson is a classic I have read in my graduate class. Conformity and cognitive dissonance are among many interesting ideas discussed there.
"Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini will certainly open your eyes to the world of human manipulation.
"The Coddling of the American Mind" presents a thorough take on some of the contemporary issues in the US but is applicable to other geographies as well
"This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein. If you haven't read any of the books by Naomi Klein, I definitely recommend this one. The author gives a critical perspective on the challenge related to climate change and the main forces advocating and resisting the necessary changes.
"The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes. A beautifully written account of how the atomic age came to be.
"Enlightenment Now" by Steven Pinker. Read especially if, after reading Bostrom, you want to sleep again at night ;-)
"The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb
"The Heart and Mind of a Negotiator" by Leigh L Thompson is for those who want to go beyond basics in negotiations
"Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss is an excellent book on negotiations by a former FBI hostage negotiator. Well written, full of good examples, and practical advice.
“Merchants of Doubt” by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes - the authors outline how different businesses and special interests are hijacking politics and science
"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Ralph Leighton and Richard Feynman is a very entertaining collection of stories from one of the most brilliant physicists and a master educator.
"Waking Up" by Sam Harris - a great book for those who want to learn more about how their mind works - kind of an important thing, don't you think?. Well, you will probably want to follow up the book with some mindfulness meditation or, as I call it, snooping on your mind when it isn't watching :-)
"Think Like a Monk" by Jay Shetty is a very refreshing and enjoyable read which offers a great introduction to eastern philosophy and how to live a better, more fulfilling life.
"What Works" by Iris Bohnet offers an excellent and broad review of how to identify, measure, and address gender (but not only) inequalities in organizations. A highly recommended read.
"Justice" by Michael Sandel takes you on an intellectual journey of different concepts of justice. Utilitarianism, Kant's moral imperative, Rawl's justice as fairness, and beyond. This book is an excellent and thoughtful guide to some of the toughest questions of moral philosophy.
"The Meritocracy Trap" by Daniel Markovits was a surprising and refreshingly critical take on a concept that we all pretty much take for granted - rewards should be awarded on merit. I think every business student and entrepreneur should read this book.
More subjects and titles will be added over time.