9 great reads for the festive break

LBS faculty recommend essential books for the holidays and beyond


This festive season, dispose of the idea you will "catch up" on your reading. Spend quality time and apply your whole self to absorbing the lessons from a couple of these LBS faculty festive reading recommendations. Choose carefully.

Being Wrong 175x250

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

by Kathryn Schulz
Recommended by Jonathan Berman, Associate Professor of Marketing

In this age of ideological division, we are often baffled by the beliefs that others hold. How can it be that so many people are so wrong about so many things? And wouldn't the world be so much better if most people saw it as clearly as we do? Moreover, it seems that the more evidence we provide others that they are wrong, the more they seem to dig their heels into the ground and resist, the more emboldened they become that they are correct about their beliefs. This book explores the psychology of wrongness, what it is, why it occurs and why is it so hard for people to admit their own fallibility.

Schulz begins with a simple, yet profound premise: rarely do we ever get to experience being wrong. We may realise we are wrong, but once this realisation takes shape, we immediately change our beliefs to adjust for our previous errors so we are now right. Thus, when we are wrong, it is always in the past, but never in the present. Wrongness is therefore a state of being we never truly experience. The book is exceptionally well written as each chapter is framed by a case study in wrongness that Schulz then proceeds to dissect and shed light on. If to err is to be human, then why are we humans so afraid of erring?

Leaders 175x250

Leaders: Myth and Reality

by General Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone
Recommended by Jessica Spungin, Adjunct Associate Professor in Strategy and Entrepreneurship.

This book was recently recommended to me by a tech entrepreneur over coffee, and I have been unable to put it down since it arrived. It’s a fascinating read, where McChrystal contrasts the different styles of leaders in different leadership roles, for example the founders, zealots and powerbrokers. He also challenges the perspective that leaders always do everything right. I loved that it included stories about women such as Margaret Thatcher, Harriet Tubman and Coco Chanel, as well as stories about men.

When I teach my students strategy and they ask ‘What should I read to do strategy better?’ my answer is often that there is no substitute for exposing yourself to lots of small stories and vignettes about what people did. This is a great source of those stories.

Leaders re-examines old notions of leadership – especially the outdated view that history is shaped by great men going it alone. General McChrystal shows us that leadership can take many forms, leaders often have different strengths, and great leaders can come from anywhere,” Sherly Sandberg COO of Facebook, and founder of LeanIn.Org

Bad Blood 175x250

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

by John Carreyrou
Recommended by Herminia Ibarra, Charles Handy Chair in Organisational Behaviour

Bad Blood is more than a story about one startup in Silicon Valley; it can be read as a commentary on the whole ‘move fast and break things’ philosophy. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, claimed she had developed technology that would revolutionise blood testing by replicating laboratory tests in a desktop machine. However, behind the scenes she was running tests using established lab methods, while attracting high-profile angel investors in droves based upon the fake technology.

Holmes had all these people under a spell, but investors were not asking the obvious questions about the machines. The book doesn’t delve into hypothesis. Those close to the story believe she persuaded herself the technology would ultimately work. But Carreyrou doesn’t explore whether that’s the case or if she was lying through her teeth; it keeps to the facts and lets the reader reach their own conclusions.

Hello World 175x250

Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine

by Hannah Fry
Recommended by: Selin Kesebir, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour

Hello World is a very engaging book on current developments in information technologies. With fascinating stories told in vivid language, it illustrates how big data and artificial intelligence are transforming marketing, medicine, the justice system, transportation and beyond. But this book is more than high-quality tech journalism in extended format. Reports of technological developments come embedded in stimulating discussions of the societal challenges they leave us to grapple with. These are complex challenges involving rights to privacy, exercise of power, inequalities and accountability. The author, a mathematician at University College London, honours the complexity of these issues and sustains a nuanced and level-headed tone throughout. She points to our ignorance and delusions around algorithms, and how they can cause costly mistakes and perpetuate inequalities. In balance, she also points to the immense gains they produced in healthcare, crime prevention and elsewhere. Her main message is that these technologies will be as good or bad as we make them, as a society. It is up to us to be more informed and thoughtful citizens, so that we can demand better design, more judicious use and wiser regulation. I felt that reading this book was a solid step in this direction, and a great pleasure, too.

Chinas Disruptors 175x250

China’s Disruptors: How Alibaba, Xiaomi, Tencent, and Other Companies Are Changing the Rules of Business

by Edward Tse
Recommended by Tammy Erickson, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour

China is unquestionably becoming the most important market for growth companies and, soon, will be one of, if not the leading source of innovation. Unfortunately, much of what is written about Chinese business practices by Western authors portrays those practices through a subtly biased Western lens of business history. As an influential thinker in the Chinese business community, Tse is able to provide a detailed view of the entrepreneurs who are driving growth in China. He organises his insights into the successive generations to show how the approaches and hurdles they each face are evolving. I found Tse’s book startling and enlightening. It is also short, well-written, full of stories and generally fun to read. It will change the way you view the organisational designs and business practices of some of today’s most influential companies.

Stoner 175x250


by John Williams
Recommended by David Arnold, Adjunct Professor of Marketing

A fictional biography of an academic’s life, and “the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of” (New Yorker, 2013), a description reflecting its initial commercial failure, going out of print within a year of its 1965 publication, before being re-discovered in the last few years. Williams spent his life teaching literature at the University of Denver, and his title character Stoner follows a similar path.  The agony and the ecstasy of being an academic, and the interaction with Stoner’s personal life, are captured in simple resonant prose that is profoundly moving.

Strangers to Ourselves 175x250

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

by Tim Wilson
Recommended by Niro Sivanathan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour

“Know thyself” is a Delphic maxim inscribed in the temple of Apollo. In this beautifully written book, Tim Wilson, a renowned social psychologist, explores why this is so elusive, and we rarely have reliable insights to the causes of our own behaviour.  Drawing on a career of his own and others’ research, he highlights why we constantly struggle to keep our desires and actions in alignment.

These insights explain why our attempts to change our own behaviour commonly fail, and have profound implications for improving our sense-making and decision-making.

Big Debt Crises 175x250

Big Debt Crises

by Ray Dalio
Recommended by Florin Vasvari, Professor of Accounting

Ray Dalio runs a successful hedge fund (Bridgewater Associates) and has built a great reputation as an investor in debt markets. Given that another crisis is always round the corner, his book provides a template that helps the reader understand how a debt crisis develops. Dalio and his colleagues went back and studied dozens of debt crises to figure out what caused each crisis and how it was resolved. Dalio presents facts in a clear manner  he does a great job of taking complex financial topics and distilling them. This is a book that should be read by every business owner to better prepare for bad times during good times.

The Way We Live Now 175x250

The Way We Live Now

by Anthony Trollope:
Recommended by Rupert Merson, Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship

For those in the know, Trollope more than holds his own in the company of Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray etc. The Way We Live Now is one of his (many) best. And don’t assume that the title should really now be revised to 'The Way They Lived Then'. This particular piece by Trollope is as good a piece of writing on the world of finance, and in particular on governance, as any  – by far better than most text books on the subjects. Should be required reading for all would-be non-execs. 

“Look here, Mr Montague. If you and I quarrel in the Board-room, there is no knowing the amount of evil we may do to every individual shareholder in the Company. I find the responsibility on my shoulders so greate that I say the thing must be stopped. Damme, Mr Montague, it must be stopped. We mustn’t ruin mothers and children, Mr Montague. We mustn’t let those shares run down 20 below par for a mere chimera.  I’ve known a fine property blasted, Mr Montague, sent straight to the dogs – annihilated, sir – so that it all vanished into thin air, and widows and children past counting were sent out to starve about the streets – just because one director sat in another director’s chair. I did by God!” Discuss.

Comments (2)

abartra 4 years, 8 months and 14 days ago

And if you are looking for something fictional, try 'That Summer in Puglia' by LBS Alum (Sloan99) Valeria Vescina !

Sugarekra 4 years, 9 months and 3 days ago

I am glad "Stoner" and "The Way We Live Now" are on the list!!!!!