Faculty Summer Reading Recommendations
Harvard Business School faculty members share their summer reading lists, pulling from the worlds of science, history, and fiction to inform their work on campus.
02 Aug 2017  

From Lincoln at Gettysburg to Gulliver in Lilliput, Harvard Business School faculty draw inspiration for their work from a wide swath of sources. Five of them took time away from their teaching and research to share the books that are piquing their interest outside the classroom.

This summer, I read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels for the third time. In junior high school, it was a funny, raunchy science-fiction story. In college, it was political satire. Decades later, it’s a skeptical (but not cynical) tale about people operating under different types of organization and values, so it’s also a relevant management book.

I also recommend Frank Trentmann’s Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers from the 15th Century to the 21st. This history reminds us that shopping is and always has been a social activity, online or offline. It also reminds us that branding can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and that mass consumption is not new (in China and then Europe it preceded factory-style mass production by centuries). Finally, it demonstrates that how this core human activity gets directed depends (as Swift knew) upon a society’s organization and values, not only ‘marketing’ in the B-school sense.

Professor Cespedes is the author of two books available here.

For fiction, Ghachar Ghochar is an incredible (and very short) novel about the predicament of the newly rich. I can’t get that story out of my head whenever I’m in India or China. I’m also hoping to get to Lincoln in the Bardo, because George Saunders is a favorite. The Color of Law and Killers of the Flower Moon are great non-fiction pieces that are really sobering. I’m also hoping to try some memoirs, and The Liar’s Club and Theft by Finding are on the top of my list. Finally, HBS has produced some great authors, and I’m always happy to reacquaint myself with the work of former students, including Gayle Lemmon’s Ashley’s War and Lea Carpenter’s Eleven Days.

Professor Desai's new book, The Wisdom of Finance, is available here.

If you’re looking for an inspiring book about an incredible academic working toward equality, you’ll enjoy Myra Strober’s Sharing the Work: What My Family and Career Taught Me about Breaking Through (and Holding the Door Open for Others). In detailing her own experiences through academia -- as someone who earned her PhD in economics from MIT in 1969 -- she reminds the readers of today how far women in academia have come, yet how far we still have to go.

In the midst of this very turbulent moment in history, I have been reading about the Civil War, another volatile, divisive period of American history. This summer, I focused on the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and its momentous consequences. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, Killer Angels, is a spellbinding account of the three-day battle that is based on actual events. It paints an unforgettable picture of some of the men who fought there: why they fought, what they thought about the men on the other side of the conflict, and the bonds that united men in both blue and gray. Reading about the battle pulled me back to President Abraham Lincoln’s reaction to this clash, and how his response shaped what ultimately became the Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863). Garry Wills’s Lincoln at Gettysburg is a fascinating analysis of the famous speech and why it continues to mean so much to so many Americans. Another compelling book about Lincoln at Gettysburg that November day and the history of the speech after he gave it is Gabor Boritt’s The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech Nobody Knows.

Professor Koehn's several books, including her new book Forged in Crisis, are available here.

I am re-reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown. It reminds of the mix of individual drive and coordinated teamwork that leads some to succeed, undeterred by the world's chaos flooding around them. I'm also reading The Hidden Half of Nature by David Montgomery and Anne Bilke. It reminds me of how intimately we are linked to and co-evolved with the microbial web of life that surrounds us.


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