The 14 Best Business Books for MBA Students

Learn from bestsellers and required reading lists at top business schools.

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Reading is one of the best ways for MBA students to achieve a multi-perspective understanding of business and management principles. But you can't just pick up any book and expect to learn the lessons you need to know to succeed in today's business environment. It's important to choose the right reading material.

Some of these books are bestsellers; others are on required reading lists at top business schools. All of them contain valuable lessons for business majors who want to launch, manage, or work in successful companies.

First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

This is a longtime bestseller in the management category, presenting data from a study of more than 80,000 managers at every level of business, from frontline supervisors at small companies to top executives at Fortune 500 companies. Although each one of these managers has a different style, the data trends show that the most successful managers break some of the most ingrained rules in management to attract the right talent and get the best performance out of their teams. First Break All the Rules is a good choice for MBA students who want to learn how to create a strengths-based organization. 

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

This is arguably one of the best books on entrepreneurship ever written. Eric Ries has lots of experience with startups and is the entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School. In The Lean Startup, he outlines his methodology for launching new companies and products. He explains how to understand what customers want, test ideas, shorten product cycles, and adapt when things aren't working out as planned. This book is great for product managers, entrepreneurs, and managers who want to build entrepreneurial thinking. If you don't have time to read the book, at least spend a couple of hours reading articles on Ries' popular blog Startup Lessons Learned.

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Robert Sutton & Huggy Rao

This is one of several books on the required reading list at Harvard Business School. The principles within are based on interviews, case studies, academic research, and the experience of the two authors, Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. Sutton is a professor of Management Science and Engineering and a professor of Organizational Behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Rao is professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources at Stanford Graduate School of Business. This is a great choice for MBA students who want to learn how to take good program or organizational practices and seamlessly expand them across an organization as it grows.  

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne was originally published in 2005 and has since been revised with updated material. The book has sold millions of copies and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. "Blue Ocean Strategy" outlines the marketing theory created by Kim and Mauborgne, two professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The crux of the theory is that companies will do better if they create demand in uncontested market space (blue ocean) rather than fighting rivals for demand in a competitive market space (red ocean). In the book, Kim and Mauborgne explain how to make all the right strategic moves and use success stories across various industries to support their ideas. This is a great book for MBA students who want to explore concepts like value innovation and strategic alignment.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie's perennial bestseller has stood the test of time. Originally published in 1936, it has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and is one of the most successful books in American history.

Carnegie outlines fundamental techniques in handling people, making people like you, winning people to your way of thinking, and changing people without giving offense or arousing resentment. This book is a must-read for every MBA student. For a more modern take, pick up the most recent adaptation, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini's Influence has sold millions of copies and been translated in more than 30 languages. It is widely believed to be one of the best books ever written on the psychology of persuasion and one of the best business books of all time.

Cialdini uses 35 years of evidence-based research to outline six key principles of influence: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. This book is a great choice for MBA students (and others) who want to become skilled persuaders.

If you have already read this book, you may want to take a look at Cialdini's follow-up text "Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade." In "Pre-Suasion," Cialdini explores how to use the key moment before your message is delivered to change the receiver's state of mind and make them more receptive to your message.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss

Chris Voss, who worked as a police officer before becoming the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator, wrote this bestselling guide to getting what you want out of negotiations. In Never Split the Difference, he outlines some of the lessons he learned while conducting high-stakes negotiations.

The lessons are boiled down into nine principles that you can use to gain a competitive edge in negotiations and become more persuasive in your personal and professional interactions. This book is a good choice for MBA students who want to learn how to negotiate trade-offs and employ strategies that work in tense negotiations. 

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving With Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie, was published by Viking in 1998 and is sometimes referred to as a "cult classic" among people who read a lot of business books. The concepts in the book come from creativity workshops that MacKenzie used to teach in corporate settings. MacKenzie uses anecdotes from his 30-year career at Hallmark Cards to explain how to avoid mediocrity and foster creative genius in yourself and others.

The book is funny and includes lots of unique illustrations to break up the text. It is a good choice for business students who want to break out of ingrained corporate patterns and learn the key to originality and creativity.

A Concise Guide to Macroeconomics by David Moss

This is one of those books that you read once or twice and then keep on your bookshelf as a reference. Author David Moss, who is the Paul Whiton Cherington Professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches in the Business, Government, and the International Economy (BGIE) unit, draws on years of teaching experience to break down complex macroeconomics topics in a way that is easy to understand. The book covers everything from fiscal policy, central banking and macroeconomic accounting to business cycles, exchange rates, and international trade. It is a good choice for MBA students who want to gain a better understanding of the global economy. 

Data Science for Business by Foster Provost & Tom Fawcett

Foster Provost's and Tom Fawcett's Data Science for Business is based on the MBA class Provost taught at New York University for more than 10 years. It covers fundamental concepts of data science and explains how data can be analyzed and used to make key business decisions. The authors are world-renowned data scientists, so they know a lot more about data mining and analytics than the average person, but they do a good job of breaking things down in a way that nearly every reader (even those without a tech background) can easily understand. This is a good book for MBA students who want to learn about big data concepts through the lens of real-world business problems. 

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio's book made it to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and was also named Amazon's Business Book of the Year in 2017. Dalio, who founded one of the most successful investment firms in the United States, has been given impressive nicknames like "the Steve Jobs of investing" and "the philosopher king of the financial universe." In Principles: Life and Work, Dalio shares hundreds of life lessons learned over of his 40-year career. This book is a good read for MBAs who want to learn how to get to the root cause of problems, make better decisions, create meaningful relationships, and build strong teams. 

The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha

The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career is a New York Times bestselling career strategy book by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha that encourages readers to think of themselves as small businesses that are constantly striving to be better. Hoffman, who is the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and Casnocha, an entrepreneur and angel investor, explain how to use entrepreneurial thinking and strategies used by Silicon Valley start-ups to launch and manage your career. This book is best for MBA students who want to learn how to build their professional network and accelerate their career growth.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Grit by Angela Duckworth proposes that the best indicator of success is a combination of passion and perseverance, also known as "grit." Duckworth, who is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics, supports this theory with anecdotes from CEOs, West Point teachers, and even finalists in the National Spelling Bee.

Grit isn't a traditional business book, but it is a good resource for business majors who want to change the way they look at obstacles in their lives and careers. If you don't have time to read the book, check out Duckworth's TED Talk, one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time. 

Managers, Not MBAs by Henry Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg's Managers, Not MBAs takes a critical look at MBA education at some of the world's top business schools. The book suggests that most MBA programs "train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences." Mintzberg has enough experience to critique the state of management education. He holds the Cleghorn Professorship of Management Studies and has been a visiting professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, London Business School, INSEAD, and H.E.C. in Montreal. In Managers, Not MBAs, he examines the current system of MBA education and proposes that managers learn from experience instead of focusing on analysis and technique alone. This book is a good choice for any MBA student who wants to think critically about the education they are receiving and seek out opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.   

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Schweitzer, Karen. "The 14 Best Business Books for MBA Students." ThoughtCo, Sep. 6, 2022, Schweitzer, Karen. (2022, September 6). The 14 Best Business Books for MBA Students. Retrieved from Schweitzer, Karen. "The 14 Best Business Books for MBA Students." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2023).