B-School Beach Reading
Reading is one of life's great escapes. That's never truer than during the summer after a grueling year of trudging through titles chosen for you by others. By now the B-school community is probably itching to pick its own lineup for reading on the beach or more likely on the commute to and from work. To help you come up with a summer syllabus, BusinessWeek went straight to the experts—B-school students, deans, and professors—and had them give us their own personal reading lists. Here are some of the titles on their shelves:
More than 60 years old, The Unwritten Laws of Business (Currency, February, 2007) is a classic that gained a cult following among senior executives when Raytheon (RTN) Chief Executive Officer William Swanson recently published a pamphlet drawing from the original book. Published in early 2007, the updated book remains relevant, say believers.
"This very short treatise provides obvious, yet oft neglected observations about how we ought to act on the job," writes Steven Lubrano, assistant dean of administration at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "This book reminds us of the important things that are usually lost to the minutiae of the day." Chock full of tips—such as meetings are only successful if you leave with a plan of execution and know what's coming next—The Unwritten Laws of Business might help future managers keep the office running smoothly.
Free From Existential Pain
This next one has the potential to get a few laughs even out of serious businesspeople, which is no easy task. Amazon.com describes Plato and Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (Abrams Image, May, 2007) by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein as "Philosophy 101 for anyone who knows not to take all this heavy stuff too seriously." The book tackles topics such as the philosophy of language. For instance: how to express what it's like being stranded on a desert island with Halle Berry.
Descriptions like this one were enough to draw in Columbia Business School professor Bernd Schmitt. "A sense of (dialectical) humor is key in life," writes Schmitt. "And we all (including MBA students and business professors) need to free ourselves at times from the existential pain of our habitual existence. Why not read Plato, Kant, and Halle Berry then?"
Schmitt also plans to finally read An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, 2006), the book on which Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary film on global warming was based. An important read for informed citizens, says Schmitt, the book—even more so the film—has sparked a movement, inspired thousands, and apparently reinvigorated Gore's career. Since many probably already read this book, they might opt for Gore's newest release, The Assault on Reason (Penguin Press HC, May, 2007) about what is breeding modern hostility toward good sense.
Tuck Professor Sydney Finkelstein plans to read Heat (Vintage, June, 2007), a book by Bill Buford about how the author immersed himself in the world of celebrity chef Mario Batali. Buford becoming Batali's kitchen slave and numerous treks to Italy to meet Batali's relatives highlight this non-fiction work, which demonstrates how immersion reporting often makes the writer part of the story.
For Finklestein, introspection is intriguing. "What makes this book especially interesting is Buford's personal path that starts when the author works the kitchen at Babbo [Batali's flagship restaurant in New York] to learn not only about Mario, but himself," writes Finkelstein. Reading—and writing—might be the path to personal growth, after all.
Aspiring CEOs are always looking for books that inspire better leadership or can somehow mentor them. They may get a taste of that in Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters (Wharton School Publishing, September, 2006) by life and executive coaches Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson. Using a survey and in-depth interviews with high achievers, the authors set out to uncover the secrets of enduring success. Everyone from Virgin CEO Richard Branson to writer Maya Angelou weighs in on the subject. Wharton professor Jerry Wind writes that you should read it to "learn how to achieve lasting impact, a balanced life, and personal fulfillment."
Attending a top B-school has its perks. One of them is that your professor might write a book you actually want to read during summer vacation. Tuck student Yvan Baker put 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution by Tuck professors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble at the top of his list. Baker wrote that he wants to read the book because his professor, Govindarajan, proved in class why he is considered one of the top strategy thinkers in the world.
Baker adds that Govindarajan also helped students think of strategy in a way they never thought possible. You might want to read the book for its interesting take on how to steer innovative projects. One warning: The book is based on case studies, which some B-school students might want to avoid when on break from class.
The Blame Game
"I'm right and you're wrong." If you've heard that one before, then you might want to take the advice of Peter Rodriguez, a professor at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, who suggests putting on your reading list Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (Harcourt, May, 2007).
Written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, this is a book about self-deception that will show why people like to be right and refuse to own up to mistakes. "I'm interested in reading this book for a deeper window into my own behavior, but also for insight into the reasons that corruption persists around the world and vexes so many organizational and individual efforts to fight it," writes Rodriguez.
Ever start thinking that you're out of your mind? Well, you better get back into it. In Five Minds for the Future (Harvard Business School Press, April, 2007), psychologist and Harvard professor Howard Gardner attempts to describe the ways of thinking that are necessary for success in the 21st century. Michelle Buck, director of Leadership Initiatives and a professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management might take what she learns from this book into her classroom. "I'm excited to read this book for inspiration on ideas to transform management education, because leadership is indeed about certain mindsets, about asking courageous questions, and seeing new possibilities," she writes.
Buck's personal reading list was one of the most interesting and varied that BusinessWeek received. It even included Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight Game (North Atlantic Books, 2002) by Nestor Capoeira about capoeira, an African-Brazilian movement that combines dance and martial arts.
Buck wasn't the only one with unique books on the nightstand. While seemingly everyone else is going to see that ever-popular pirate movie in theaters, Darden's Rodriguez will curl up with The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Harcourt, May, 2007). Unlike the movie, this book is a work of non-fiction about real pirates. "Adventures and adventurers like these don't seem to exist anymore, but the challenge of creating order where there is none still does," writes Rodriguez. "Plus, it's a book about pirates—how cool is that?" To make things interesting, you might want to try to read the book with a patch over one eye.
One That's Missing
Surprisingly, no one mentioned a book that is generating buzz, seems useful, and gets a naughty word printed in respectable publications—The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (Warner Business Books, February, 2007) by Robert Sutton. The title says it all. Surely, a few MBA students toiling away at internships this summer could stand to at least skim that one.
Check out the complete reading lists. For more summer reading suggestions, check out BusinessWeek's best-seller list. And you can offer your own picks through the Reader Comments feature in this article.