Your Business School Summer Reading List

Feed Your Brain With 16 Faculty Recommendations

May 30, 2018
Management and Organization

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business proudly presents its 15th annual Summer Reading List for Business Leaders, as recommended by faculty members. The 2018 edition covers everything from blind spots in statistics to the science of having a good day at the office.

BehaveBehave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
By Robert Sapolsky

“It is a fascinating account of the variety and complexity of individual behavior, and how biology and the environment interact to produce what we observe. It weaves together biology, sociology, psychology, neuroscience and economics in a compelling fabric. I've always wanted to understand why people behave the way they do. Sapolsky explains all of this in a highly readable book.”  Smith School professor Ritu Agarwal


The Power of HabitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
By Charles Duhigg

“It’s an insightful book about not only how habits are formed, but how our understanding of this process can help us form better habits. With many accessible examples from the business world, as well as from relatable personal stories, Charles Duhigg provides a framework to use for self-improvement.”  Smith School professor Sean Barnes


Washington: A LifeWashington: A Life
By Ron Chernow

“I came to this book knowing what most folks know about George Washington — father of the country, could not tell a lie, Mount Vernon. But this book really deeply explores George Washington as a leader and even as a marketer. He was very careful about what he projected. He thought about what is the brand and what is the essence of George Washington. It’s a long read, but it’s well worth it.” — Smith School professor Henry C. Boyd III

“George Washington has always been one of my biggest heroes, which I’m sure is true of many raised in the United States. This (very long!) biography provides a comprehensive, detailed portrait of all phases of his adult life (frontiersman, planter, general, statesman, president), and highlights the amazing wisdom, foresight and compassion of the man, while not shying away from his personal flaws and blind spots. Remarkably, rather than his flaws diminishing my view of him, they provide a more complete picture that only enhance the magnitude of his greatness in my eyes. In the end, I found the actual man even more admirable than the legend.” — Smith School professor Michael Fu

Economics of InactionThe Economics of Inaction: Stochastic Control Models With Fixed Costs
By Nancy Stokey

“It’s a truism in economic situations: When action requires a fixed cost, inaction tends to prevail. In this book, economist Nancy Stokey shows how the tools of stochastic control can be applied to dynamic problems of decision-making.” — Smith School professor Maria Cecilia Bustamante

The New Geography of JobsThe New Geography of Jobs
By Enrico Moretti

“This book, overlooked until recently, explains much of our puzzling contemporary economic and political landscape.” — Smith School professor Wilbur Chung

How to Have a Good DayHow to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science To Transform Your Working Life
By Caroline Webb

“In this book, Webb walks you through a number of science-based techniques to have better days at work. From getting your message across more clearly to making better decisions, all of her recommendations help you be smarter, better and happier, too.” — Smith School professor Nicole M. Coomber

Competing Against LuckCompeting Against Luck: The Story of Innovation of Customer Choice
By Clayton Christensen

“'Competing Against Luck’ introduces the ‘Jobs to Be Done’ theory, which is seen as the next iteration in startup methodology. ‘Jobs to Be Done’ encourages entrepreneurs, corporations or any entity selling a product or service to approach their business through the lens of ‘What job is my customer hiring me to do?’ It refines the ‘lean startup’ mantra of finding your value proposition and proposes a more actionable approach to understanding your relationships with customers. Jobs to Be Done further challenges companies to think beyond the product, service and benefits and examine the internal processes required to effectively perform the job your customers hire you to do.” — Elana Fine, director of the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

The Warren Buffett ShareholderThe Warren Buffett Shareholder: Stories from inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting
By Lawrence A. Cunningham and Stephanie Cuba

“This book, edited by Lawrence Cunningham and Stephanie Cuba, compiles stories from 43 shareholders who have each regularly attended Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meetings over decades. They write about the educational and often entertaining aspects of the meetings, which are hosted by Berkshire Chairman Warren Buffett, considered by many to be the world’s greatest investor. They write of the camaraderie that has spontaneously built among attendees and the social and professional relationships that result. I’m one of the 43 contributors to this volume, having accompanied a group of Smith School undergraduate students to 10 of the Berkshire annual meetings.” — Smith School professor David Kass

Makers and TakersMakers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business
By Rana Foroohar

“In ‘Makers and Takers,’ Rana Foroohar discusses how the stock markets reward companies that buy back shares and increase dividends, but not those that manufacture or produce goods. It’s an interesting commentary with relevant examples.” — Smith School professor Elinda F. Kiss

The Signal and the NoiseThe Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail – But Some Don't
By Nate Silver

“Most people are familiar with Nate Silver from his U.S. election predictions or his work for ESPN, but to me, ‘The Signal and the Noise’ is Silver's biggest contribution to analysis. It focuses on how and why analysts get things wrong, especially in the media. As one of my students told me, ‘It tells us all the ways your class is wrong!’ It's highly nontechnical, and it covers a lot of common errors people make in analyzing data and reporting results, with case studies ranging from climate change and the financial crash to sports and poker. It was first published in 2012, but I definitely recommend it for anyone who questioned (or should have questioned) their statistics teachers back in college.” — Smith School professor Courtney Paulson

Prediction MachinesPrediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence
By Ajay Agarwal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb

“A number of books have appeared recently on the subject of artificial intelligence. Understandably so, since — after years of disappointment — AI is finally poised to deliver on its unfulfilled promises. Exciting new technologies are already making their way into our lives, and will soon transform many aspects of business. This book is among the best from the perspective of what managers need to know about the AI revolution. It identifies the economic phenomenon at the heart of the AI revolution — the ability to make cheap predictions. From there, the authors use simple economics to trace out how this will affect businesses, and what new business structures and strategies will be successful in the future. In my view, the book's framework will be incredibly valuable in thinking about the effects of AI in any business setting.” — Smith School professor Kislaya Prasad

NudgeNudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness
By Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

“I think this terrific book helped cement Richard Thaler’s winning the 2017 Economics Nobel Prize. In the book, he and co-author Cass Sunstein introduce the concept of thoughtful design of ‘choice architecture’ — how a set of alternatives is presented to decision makers to nudge them to make better decisions. This book stands at the intersection of psychology, economics and public policy, and would be a great read for people who care about designing intervention to make citizens healthier and more financially stable. The United Kingdom has established a group within the government referred to colloquially as the ‘Nudge Unit,’ inspired by this book, and the U.S. government developed something similar.” — Smith School professor Rebecca Ratner

Universal Principles of DesignUniversal Principles of Design
By William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler

“Love it or hate it, we all are facing the Design Thinking hype. The book ‘Universal Principles of Design’ is my calming reminder that Design Thinking existed way before someone found a cool phrase. Authors Lidwell, Holden and Butler put together an amazing reference book that helps to understand the amazing principles behind almost everything we create and how we relate to it. Ever heard about the principle of "nudge?” Check page 171 and find out how the cleaning cost for men's urinals goes down drastically with a small fly edged into the bowl.” — Smith School professor Oliver Schlake

Secrecy WorldSecrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite
By Jake Bernstein

“Jake Bernstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, visited my classes this past semester. His book is the real-life thriller about our Panama Papers investigation, and is in pre-production as a major motion picture. The book was used as the text in my online MBA and part-time MBA ethics courses this semester. Jake is co-presenting with me this summer at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ Global Fraud Conference. We are presenting on the sequel, the Paradise Papers. You have probably been reading about some of what we are doing in the news, including payments to a certain attorney through a certain group of Russian oligarchs.”

Killers of the Flower MoonKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
By David Grann

“A book about oil, wealth, failing of the government, and genocide of Native Americans. A true story that introduces a hero and reads like a mystery novel.” — Smith School professor Michel Wedel

The Man Who KnewThe Man Who Knew
By Sebastian Mallaby

“‘The Man Who Knew’ is about the life and times of Alan Greenspan, the longest-serving Federal Reserve chairman (1987-2006). A musician early in his life, Greenspan instead became an expert economist and politician. This book is also a history of the U.S. economic system with insights into the workings of the Fed. When you say ‘economics’ most people think ‘supply and demand.’ Greenspan theorized that in addition to traditional supply and demand, finance was just as important a factor in business decision-making. The way the economy works has changed over time. For example, we have global markets rather than isolated country markets. The book looks at how policies have changed — and sometimes not changed — over time, and how that has impacted the economy. The book is long (about 800 pages) but worth reading.” — Smith School professor Susan White



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