The 25 Best Business Books for College Students
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- Business books teach students critical thinking and communication concepts.
- They can also help business students identify and pursue their career goals.
- Many of the business books on this list examine leadership theories and financial practices.
- Some books provide accounts of major historical events, like the 2007-09 Great Recession.
For busy college students, taking on even more work is probably the last thing on your to-do list. However, supplementing required readings with the following business books allows you to gain a greater understanding of key critical thinking, communication, and leadership concepts.
This knowledge will not only help you earn better grades in school — particularly in business or economics courses — but will also prepare you for the job market and advancing your career.
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Top 25 Must-Read Business Books for College Students
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don't
By Jim Collins
In "Good to Great" (2001), Jim Collins and his team examine companies that achieved long-term success through discipline and innovation. Of the nearly 1,500 companies studied, the 11 good-to-great businesses identified all shared six main characteristics, including the ability to strategically use current and emerging technologies and leaders who are intensely dedicated to their organization's success.
Through clear writing and concise summaries, Collins' easy-to-follow book helps college students, especially aspiring entrepreneurs and consultants, understand contemporary concepts in business management and sustainability.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
By Dale Carnegie
A self-help guide first published in 1936, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most commercially successful books of all time. The revised version was released in 1981 and contains four sections that cover topics such as how to effectively handle people, getting others to like you, and how to convert others to your way of thinking.
The fourth section contains nine strategies on how to change beliefs and behaviors without arousing anger and resentment. These techniques include leading with genuine praise and asking questions rather than issuing direct orders.
The Wealth of Nations
By Adam Smith
"The Wealth of Nations" (1776) is normally considered the magnum opus of Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith. This book explains in great depth how countries accumulate riches and maintain power, focusing on factors like productivity, division of labor, market pricing, and tax/monetary policies.
As one of the major works on classical economics, "The Wealth of Nations" delivers arguments for free markets and limited government and is crucial reading for students considering working in finance, international trade, and/or policy analysis.
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
By Michael Lewis
"The Big Short" (2010) is a work of nonfiction that delves into the 2007-09 financial crisis, or the Great Recession. Through character-driven narratives, Michael Lewis digs deep into the events leading up to the crash, such as the bursting of the real estate bubble and the creation of the credit default swap market.
This book also shines light on the dubious practices of Wall Street, making it an important read for students with career goals in banking, financial consulting, or business law.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
By Sheryl Sandberg
In "Lean In" (2013), Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, provides guidance to women who want to succeed in their workplace. The 11 chapters contain anecdotes, summaries of social experiments, and personal stories that explore topics like the leadership ambition gap between male and female professionals and the myth of "having it all."
This book also offers practical advice for women who want to assume leadership positions. Sandberg explains how to give and take criticism, engage in business negotiations, and identify the next step in your career.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
With a Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences, Israeli economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman is one of the leading authorities on human behavior. In "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (2011), Kahneman closely examines the constant battle for dominance between the two main systems of the human brain.
You'll learn how the conflict between these conscious and automatic systems leads to errors in memories, which consequently affects how a person forms judgments and makes decisions. Every college student will find this book useful, particularly learners who wish to pursue human resources and training/development careers.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
By Stephen R. Covey
In his bestselling book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (1989), American businessman and educator Stephen R. Covey goes over how to advance through the three stages of development.
The first three habits help professionals move from dependence to independence, centering on proactivity and goal-making based on an established hierarchy of importance and urgency. The next three habits enable professionals to advance into interdependence, with an emphasis on cultivating mutually beneficial solutions and synergizing people's unique strengths through positive teamwork.
The final habit — continuous improvement — ensures business leaders maintain interdependence, even as their careers and personal lives change.
The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
By Eric Ries
In "The Lean Startup" (2011), Eric Ries uses his experience as a company employee, founder, and advisor to help entrepreneurs successfully build their enterprises with minimal upfront costs. Ries attributes the failure of his first startup to letting the initial product launch dictate strategy. As a result, he now advises readers to work backward from the results they want, allowing your goals to guide your plans.
This book also teaches you how to identify the important aspects of a business issue through a "Five Whys" process. Additionally, you'll learn about the importance of conducting consumer review during product development.
The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
By Clayton M. Christensen
Clayton M. Christensen's 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," builds upon the concept of "disruptive technologies," a term he coined in an earlier work to explain why the best companies can lose to unexpected competitors. In addition to the substantial resources it takes to create a successful product, the incumbent company faces high expectations that don't let them develop niche ventures for other profitable markets.
This book offers strategies companies can use to counter competitors, making it a must-read for future market analysts and project managers.
The Essays of Warren Buffett
By Warren E. Buffett and Lawrence A. Cunningham
Every year for nearly half a century, American tycoon Warren Buffett wrote a letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. These correspondences form "The Essays of Warren Buffett" (1997), providing a distillation of fundamental business practices.
Buffett contends that successful investors identify good businesses without worrying about fluctuating market values, buy them at reasonable prices, and hold on to them for the long term. These writings can help future financial analysts and investment bankers assess risk and oversee mergers and acquisitions.
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
By Peter F. Drucker
As one of the most influential business thinkers of the 20th century, Peter F. Drucker helped define the modern corporation. In "The Effective Executive" (1967), Drucker discusses the core philosophies and best practices used by successful leaders. Examples are used to illustrate each concept, helping the reader understand how managers in different industries put their skills to use.
Drucker argues that any business professional can develop executive leadership skills through careful study and extensive experience. Such competencies include clear communication, time management, and the ability to make data-supported decisions.
In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best-Run Companies
By Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.
Originally published in 1982, "In Search of Excellence" examines the best practices of successful American businesses, rather than following the day's trend of following Japan's lead as a rising economic superpower.
The two authors identify eight basic management principles based in the rationalist intellectual tradition. These principles include action over analysis, catering to customer preferences, motivating employees through collective incentives, and keeping a lean administrative staff.
For students interested in organizational governance and structure, this book also explains the value of breaking a corporation into smaller independent companies driven by competition.
The Art of War
By Sun Tzu
Around the 5th century B.C., Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote a treatise consisting of 13 chapters, each of which covers a single aspect of warfare along with relevant tactics and strategies. Now known as "The Art of War," this enduring work has influenced business tactics, legal strategies, and personal philosophies all over the world.
Tzu offers 31 pieces of advice that can help anyone become a great leader. These points include leading by example instead of force, engaging in self-reflection to better understand your strengths and weaknesses, and perfecting the timing of your actions.
The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter
By Michael D. Watkins
Business professor and consultant Michael D. Watkins teachess new leaders how to transition into their role during this crucial time frame in his international bestseller "The First 90 Days" (2003). This updated and expanded edition from 2013 offers tips on how to build a counsel network, avoid predictable surprises, and secure early wins.
In addition to employing clear and descriptive writing, Watkins uses mental figures and models to help the reader grasp complex ideas. Aspiring business managers can benefit from checklists and templates that help them apply learned concepts and more efficiently organize their goals.
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
By Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
"The Smartest Guys in the Room" (2003) expands on the Fortune article Bethany McLean wrote critiquing the high valuation of the corporation Enron. The book draws on hundreds of interviews as well as information gathered from emails, performance reviews, and personal calendars to show how the Enron accounting scandal doomed the company to bankruptcy.
At its core, "The Smartest Guys in the Room" is a story about human greed that speaks to readers of all backgrounds. The authors' use of information and evidence is particularly useful for students who want to establish a career in business journalism.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It
By Michael E. Gerber
In "The E-Myth Revisited" (1995), Michael E. Gerber uses his experience as a small business owner to help entrepreneurs strategically grow their ventures. He begins by defining the E-Myth as the misconception that anyone who understands a type of technical work can successfully operate a business that uses that work.
An obvious read for future entrepreneurs, Gerber's book is also useful for students interested in the project life cycle and business psychology.
The Intelligent Investor
By Benjamin Graham
Benjamin Graham was a British-American economist, Columbia University professor, and mentor to business tycoon Warren Buffett. As one of the foundational works on neoclassical investing, "The Intelligent Investor" (1949) refines Graham's strategy of "value investing."
Here, Graham explains that successful investors analyze a company's long-term trajectory before buying to protect themselves from "Mr. Market," an allegory used to describe the volatility of the stock market.
Business students who specialize in investment banking and/or financial advising will find the book's coverage of concentrated diversification particularly illuminating.
The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
By Peter M. Senge
Peter M. Senge contends that the only advantage a business can sustain is the ability to outlearn its competitors. "The Fifth Discipline" (1990) describes the five strategies that turn an average company into a high-performing learning organization.
The book's first four disciplines center on unlearning personal assumptions to create a shared vision of success, with the eponymous fifth discipline combining all other techniques. Senge's masterwork benefits students interested in the psychological aspects of organizational culture and team-building.
Too Big to Fail: Inside the Battle to Save Wall Street
By Andrew Ross Sorkin
In "Too Big to Fail" (2009), Andrew Ross Sorkin uses his years of experience as a financial reporter for The New York Times to chronicle the 2008 financial crisis, specifically the fall of Lehman Brothers. Sorkin recreates the phone calls and in-person arguments of Wall Street leaders and U.S. government regulators as they desperately tried to save the world economy — and themselves — from ruin.
Business students may view "Too Big to Fail" as a cautionary tale of the ego and greed at work in their industries. Aspiring journalists and nonfiction writers can use this book to get inspiration on how to tell a single story from multiple points of view.
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
By Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
Similar to Sorkin's book above, "Barbarians at the Gate" (1989) is a nonfiction narrative detailing the motivations and consequences of corporate greed. Investigative reporters Bryan Burrough and John Helyar delve into the minds of the players involved, with a focus on RJR Nabisco CEO Ross Johnson.
In addition to providing an intriguing story and critique of yuppie culture, this book helps business students understand leveraged buyouts. Some CEOs have engaged in this practice to avoid paying taxes and enrich themselves at the expense of their own employees.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
By Malcolm Gladwell
"The Tipping Point" (2000) examines the sociological and cultural phenomenon in which a small behavior or idea gains widespread popularity among the general population. With the help of his research team, Malcolm Gladwell identifies three factors leading to the creation of a successful trend, including the participation of key players he calls "The Law of the Few."
As one of Gladwell's bestselling and most influential works, "The Tipping Point" changed how practitioners in fields like public health develop ideas and employ strategies. The work caused a paradigm shift for business professionals, particularly marketing specialists, regarding when and how to sell a product.
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
By Josh Kaufman
"The Personal MBA" (2010) is must-read for all college students, especially undergraduates deciding whether to pursue entry-level employment or earn a master's degree. In this book, Josh Kaufman warns that hefty debt represents the only guaranteed outcome of traditional MBA programs. As such, he recommends that young professionals skip graduate school altogether, focusing instead on gaining real-world experience.
"The Personal MBA" provides clear explanations of over 200 concepts that help readers understand how people, companies, and systems work within the business field.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
By Seth Godin
Seth Godin's "Tribes" (2008) is a self-help book that offers guidance and motivation for future managers, executives, and marketers by expounding sociological theories of community. Godin defines a tribe as any group of people connected to one another, to an idea, and — most importantly — to a leader.
According to the book, human beings cannot help but pursue a sense of belonging; therefore, it's relatively easy for business leaders to create tribes of employees and consumers through clear communication and communal incentivization.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
A collaboration between economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, the incredibly popular "Freakonomics" (2005) examines major topics like parenting, racism, and inner-city gangs. Levitt argues that economically driven incentives can motivate people to perform altruistic actions or commit heinous crimes.
Each chapter illustrates this central thesis in unique ways, often coming to surprising conclusions (such as the striking similarities between KKK members and real estate agents). In addition to an entertaining narrative, "Freakonomics" provides concise introductions to concepts such as information control and nominative determinism.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
By Timothy Ferriss
In "The 4-Hour Workweek" (2007), Timothy Ferriss teaches readers how to redesign their thinking and habits to escape a traditional 9-5 career. Ferriss dismisses the widely accepted notion of deferred gratification, in which people work long hours for most of their lives to save money for retirement.
A popular text among entrepreneurs and freelancers, "The 4-Hour Workweek" provides strategies readers can use to create a life of luxury and financial security. These progressive steps include clearly defining goals, eliminating unnecessary activities, and using virtual assistants to automatize your workload.
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