A reading list
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
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 cach 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 I expect to be mostly adding to it, but sometimes I may remove a book that I think has been superseded by a better one (remember, only the excellent books!).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.
I hope you enjoy the selection... and happy reading!
First a few textbooks (this will mostly be interesting to my Masters 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 text book with examples and clear explanations that outlines the subject step by step.
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 audio books on Audible, "The art of Critical Decision Making" by Michael Roberto is excellent
"How to Lie with Statistics" by Darrell Huff is another good piece on how NOT to get fooled
"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.
"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 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.
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 XX-th century.
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 company's price (stock price) and 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, but 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 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 firm's competitive advantage.
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 the last two chapters. By the way, if you were looking for a mathematical proof that the universe favors good people, you will find it in the Axelrod's book. It still amazes me how can such a simple idea explain so much about the world around us.
"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 on 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 though provoking read (at least the first 2/3 of the book)
"Grit" by Angela Duckworth - how to stick to the things that are important
Where we came from and where we are heading
"Guns, Germs, and Steal" by Jared Diamond is an excellent and an 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.
"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 on the world of human manipulation.
Philosophy of science
“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 unraveling the secrets 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 most textbooks:
“The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan is a very compelling case for 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 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. However, I am not surprised. One million dollar is not enough to bother for all these fortune tellers who got so awfully rich from all the lotteries they are constantly winning ;-)
"The Coddling of the American Mind" presents an thorough take on some of the contemporary issues in US, but is applicable to other geographies as well
"This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein
"The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes
"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.
More subjects and titles will be added over time.