What They’re Reading: Harvard Business School Faculty Summer Reading Recommendations

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By Harvard Gazette

Be it current events, a long-running series, or a historical figure, Harvard Business School faculty draw inspiration for their work from a wide swath of sources. Some of them took time away from their teaching and research to share the books that are piquing their interest this summer.

To start off the summer, I just finished Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage by Professor Laura Huang, my HBS colleague, co-author, mentor, and friend. Huang combines her research with compelling personal anecdotes to provide an inspirational guide on how to overcome the challenges that we face and get ahead on our personal and professional goals.

After that, I am catching up on several books on important narratives in the technology world. Reporter Mike Isaac gives us an inside look at the culture, leadership, and strategy of Uber in Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber. Blake J. Harris covers a classic business battle in Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation; besides being a video game culture and history enthusiast, I look to the past for lessons that can carry over to technology strategy today. Finally, I look forward to learning more about the ultimate enigma of our time in Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance.

I just received hardcover copies of two special books I have been looking forward to unpacking over the summer: Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and Amy Edmondson’s The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth . Both books marry a focus on performance with a look at leadership and organizational change—how to enable, support, and empower positive team and community impact in times of rapid change. Rosabeth’s new work is personally special as we co-wrote a chapter together in a past book, Confidence, focusing on Nelson Mandela’s leadership lessons for organizations and businesses seeking large scale transformation.

The Fearless Organization touches on themes of how to unlock the full potential of organizations by supporting a culture that enables all team members to bring their full selves to the table. This theme is also personally important as in the 1990s, growing up in South Africa, the work of Judith Shklar was an influence, focusing on the concept that freedom is truly achieved when one has what can be termed a “freedom from fear.” Amy’s book touches on these powerful themes that are also central tenets of agile organizations. I cannot wait to engage and learn more within the covers of these two exciting books.

For listening and iPhone pleasure during my morning run, I am looking forward to catching up on current and past podcast episodes of The Disruptive Voice. I have been a regular listener of the series ever since meeting and working with this talented team. Hearing the voice of the late great Clay Christensen at the start of each episode also always inspires me to run an extra mile.

I like to switch up what I’m reading—so I often alternate between fiction and non-fiction, different time periods and settings, and books that I’m reading for the first time read versus books that I’ve re-read dozens of times. I feel like this helps me think in broader strokes, with more perspective, and helps stimulate ideas and connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.

Three books on the meaning of dignity and loss and sacrifice that I return to often are When the Legends Die: The Timeless Coming-of-Age Story about a Native American Boy Caught Between Two Worlds, by Hal Borland, Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok, and Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. Each is so beautifully written and makes me think about how we are often caught between worlds and identities—and the ways we must choose to reconcile our past with our present.

The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II, by Iris Chang, is such a poignant book about the lesser known, perhaps, Holocaust of World War II, and helps me understand more about my own history and ancestry. I think it’s so important for us to know about where we came from and what our ancestors experienced.

I’ve read several of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books and they always inspire me and continue to haunt me long after I’ve put them down. The Remains of the Day is about purpose and the legacy that you wish to leave, and it is probably still my favorite of all Ishiguro’s books. I also love memoirs and found Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air to be so powerful. It is a thought-provoking book for those like myself who are constantly trying to balance my career, my ambitions, and my personal life.

Books that are on my list to read are Shantaram: A Novel, by Gregory David Roberts, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, A Daughter of Han, by Ning Lao T’ai-t’ai, and No Future Without Forgiveness, by Desmond Tutu.

On my serious reading pile are books about American history and the Black experience, especially Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration and Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race. Wilkerson is an award-winning journalist. Tatum, a former president of Spelman College, is an astute observer. I will re-read Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, which I assigned to a class a few years ago and had Professor Muhammad speak to them about, because I might see new and different things this time.

For fun and absorbing escapes into the lives of characters who solve puzzles and evolve over time across books, I’m reading the newest offerings from several favorite novelists and returning to every book in their series that I can find.

The late Sue Grafton created Kinsey Mullone, a private detective who is always an independent thinker as she tracks leads and confronts complex mysteries across 25 books. I’m glad that John Lescroart is still writing about lawyer Dismas Hardy and police inspector Abe Glitzky (half-Black, half-Jewish) and has added Diz’s daughter Rebecca Hardy, newly graduated from law school, to the cast of memorable characters who have to dig below first assumptions to find justice and uncover corruption. I feel the same way about Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch series, in which police detective Bosch is highly creative, self-reflective, and stands up for what he believes even when confronting people in authority who don’t like that. One joy of these series is that you can become deeply absorbed in the characters and their worlds and keep going for dozens of books—like one big War and Peace in many pieces. (This is almost like an HBS case series on companies that follows them through many different eras; I’ve created several of those, with protagonists confronting new and different challenges at each moment.) Still, I’m willing to take on a new novelist, and maybe a series will follow. Former prosecutor Michael McAuliffe has written a timely legal thriller, No Truth Left to Tell, which features racial violence and the quest for justice in the South.

I also recommend Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream by Nicholas Lemann, which provides insight into how American capitalism got into its current predicaments, and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, which describes the complicity of the federal government in redlining policies that confined Black people in segregated neighborhoods with low opportunity. And for leadership insights from great U.S. Presidents, so we can see what national leadership can be, I recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership: In Turbulent Times, which I’m delighted to say accompanies my new book on JP Morgan’s list of 14 picks for summer reading.

Summer is precious to me, because it is the one season in which I can show my wife that I’m actually reading books at a rate that approaches that with which I buy them. Therefore, I tackle long books only after considerable consideration. This summer, I am hoping to read an acknowledged classic of fiction and a recent book of non-fiction that I believe will be historically important. Both my choices top 700 pages, hence my hesitancy.

The first book is Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. It inevitably appears on the list of greatest war novels of all time. Grossman has been called “the Tolstoy of the Soviet Union.”

The second book, one I am well into, is my colleague Shoshanna Zuboff’s magisterial The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. This book is one of genius. It provides a sweeping description the rise and impact of business models that are premised on harvesting and monetizing personal information. I believe it is not only of profound importance to contemporary readers, but also will be seminal secondary source for economic and political historians for generations to come. If you own a copy, keep it. A scholarly grandchild will thank you.

My serious reading is non-fiction, mostly biographies. I particularly recommend Ron Chernow’s Grant, a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Other than as the answer to the 1950s Groucho Marx question, “Who was buried in Grant’s tomb?”, I had not known much about this fascinating person. He was a terrible judge of people, had no business ability, and was a failure at age 50. Then the Civil War broke out and he became one of the best military leaders in history, and a better president than I had realized before reading the book.

In second place is Walter Isaacson-Evan Thomas’ The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World they Made. The six are Harriman, Acheson, McCloy, Lovett, Bohlen, and Kennan. They had similar educational backgrounds (Groton, Harvard, Yale, Princeton). Four had successful private sector careers as well as extensive public service. They shaped the post-WWII international scene while serving as counselors and “middle managers” to help set and implement policy for presidents from Roosevelt through Nixon.

My summer plan is to read Andrew Roberts’ Churchill: Walking with Destiny. For relaxation, I read crime and mystery stories, and have been a long-time fan of Michael Connelly.

One non-book recommendation is a show that my wife and I enjoy each night while sheltering at home: A French Village. Its 72 episodes across 7 seasons (one for each year between 1940-1946) tell a story of collaboration and resistance under the WWII Vichy government. It has more than a dozen principal characters facing dilemmas that had me wondering after each show, “what would I have done in that situation?” Interesting and diverse characters, great acting, and multiple story lines made for compelling viewing.

I’ve just started reading a terrific book by Peniel E. Joseph, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. This new biography of two of America’s most influential black leaders is a brilliant analysis of their two different leadership styles and is particularly timely with our country’s new focus on addressing racism and its catastrophic effects.

I have just begun Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton. This book represents a well- crafted effort of social science research applied to the urgent matters of life and death that we find ourselves in the midst of. I used Deaton’s work on money as an important part of my Leadership and Happiness course and look forward to catching up with his newest efforts.

My extended family has agreed to share The World: A Brief Introduction, by Richard Haas, in a group discussion as part of an effort to ensure that we are able to establish a platform of global literacy that generally does not come in our basic educations.

Two of my books during the “summer of COVID” have been a deep case study into perhaps history’s greatest leader in crisis, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson as well as Ryan Holiday’s instant classic The Obstacle is the Way. I have also been ramping up my anti-racist readings, devouring White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi’s How to Be An Anti-Racist. I’ve been keen to re-read The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcom X, but can’t seem to find my copy as I think I lent it to my son just before he left for his gap year.

(Reprinted with permission from the Harvard Gazette.)

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