My Best Books of 2010 Booklist

December 27th, 2010

I read a lot of books this year (one of the job perks :)). Here are the ones I like and recommend (rule: they were all published in 2010):

Business Books

The Big Short by Michael Lewis: if you want to read just one book about the financial crisis, read this one. Michael Lewis is sharp and funny; I listened to the audio version of this book and was laughing out loud while walking to the office in the morning.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh: from the founder of Zappos, this book is a great read for anyone interested in innovation, starting companies, and “company culture”. Especially if you don’t believe such a thing exists.

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely: if you liked Predictably Irrational, Ariely’s previous book, you’d like this one too.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson: by the founders of 37 Signals (and creators of Ruby on Rails), this book is a collection of short, easy to digest (maybe not to implement…) chapters about starting a company that might be different than the usual run of the mill startup. Couple of representative chapter names – “ignore the real world”, “learning from mistakes is overrated”, “planning is guessing”, “why grow?”.

Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face—and What to Do About It, by Richard S. Tedlow: Tedlow is an HBS professor and if you’re missing HBS cases, this is the book for you. Interesting stories from the days of Ford Motors to the present about companies and business leaders being in denial.

Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert I. Sutton: will make you think about the people you manage and your own boss. Some of the advice isn’t exactly ground-breaking (along the lines of “don’t be a jerk”. Really?) but some is more useful.

Being Geek: The Software Developer’s Career Handbook by Michael Lopp: I would argue this is useful reading for anyone working in a technology company, not just software engineers.

Wired Magazine: it’s not a book, but Wired was a lot of fun to read this year. I just renewed my subscription – figured that for less than $1 an issue, I can afford it.

Non-Business Books

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (Deluxe Boxed Set: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Plus On Stieg Larsson): one of these rare cases where the hype is justified. This was my favorite book (or 3 books, to be precise) of the year by far. Original, breathtaking plot taking place in Sweden, with a cool female hacker as the protagonist. Who needs more?

I just got this specific edition two days ago and it’s beautiful – 3 cloth-bound hardcovers, plus an additional booklet with essays about Stieg Larsson.

After you’re done with the books, you can enjoy the movies – which surprisingly manage to stay true to the spirit of the books and are highly recommended too.

Worth Dying For by Lee Child: I didn’t think a book about a modern day cowboy in middle America with no cellphones or other technology would even keep me awake, but this page turner didn’t let me go to bed. I finished it in about two days and enjoyed every second.

Faithful Place by Tana French: a detective mystery taking place in Dublin, Ireland. Half the fun is the Irish jargon, the other half is the realistic characters and the surprising plot.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: not a bad read, and will definitely make you feel like you’re in the know, reading one of the most talked about books this year (and an Oprah pick!). Franzen’s book will make you annoyed, sad, entertained but you won’t stay indifferent. Very readable and funny.

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball: if you like Michael Pollan-like books, you’d like this one. Not much of a plot but the subject matter is different enough from normal life to make it interesting.

If you’re an MBA student or applicant, check out my older b-school book recommendations post.

oh, and hi everyone, long time no see! Happy Holidays & Happy New Year from Seattle!

And as always, curious to hear what other people think – what books did you enjoy this year?

Ahead of the Curve?

September 20th, 2008

I originally planned to write this post about “Ahead of the Curve”, the new “Sensational” book about HBS. But considering the last week’s events, it felt more appropriate to start with that. More than anything, I think this week meant a lot of confusion and insecurity among HBS students. HBS administration did send us an email saying that recruiters (including in finance) are still recruiting MBA graduates and do not plan to decrease recruiting levels (or at least not at HBS) – not sure how much it helped to reduce stress levels. Networking events on campus this week held an impressive number of companies from all sectors – though I don’t know how this number compared to last year.

Many students at HBS are stressed and waiting to see how things unfold. I think that in our narrow world of MBAs, we still need to wait and see, but no doubt everyone acknowledges that this crisis will have a profound impact on Wall Street in particular and the US economy in general. In this context, the title of the book – and the post – seems quite ironic now.

But anyway, to the book…

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Spring, School, Stuff

April 17th, 2008

Weather Update

After endlessly complaining in my last post about the foul weather here, we had a few amazing sunny days of more than 15 degrees and the forecast for the rest of the week is sunny, with temperatures well above 10 degrees. The trees finally start to go out of their naked cemetery mode and there are even birds here. And they’re chirping.

Conclusion? complaining works!

On the other hand, it’s Boston, so on the very same sunny day of >20 degrees, at around 4pm there was a crazy thunderstorm, complete with lightning, thunder and rain. However it was one of these lucky days when the storm started exactly 5 minutes after I returned home from walking around and taking photos:

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What do HBS Students Read?

February 3rd, 2008

One of the small things I like at HBS is that the school gives us all course-related books for free. I don’t think it’s the same at other schools, and it could have easily mounted to thousands of dollars per year just for books. Not a big deal maybe compared to the ridiculously high amount of money we pay as tuition, but still a nice touch.

As a book lover, I thought it could be nice to start a list of the books we’ve been given for courses and otherwise. Some of them are more technical reference books, but some are interesting general management / business books.

If you feel like reading the books read at HBS, there’s an Amazon link for each one. The list is divided according to courses and I’ll try to keep it updated as we get new books.

And speaking of Amazon and books, the new Kindle device is one cool thing to read books with…

The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss and Write Persuasively about Cases / William Ellet: this book was given to all HBS Pre-MBA students and proved to be useful especially when preparing for a case-based exam. It’s also an interesting read for everyone interested in the “mechanics” of HBS case method – what is a case? how do you approach a case? It also contains a few sample cases.

Microsoft® Office Excel® 2007: Data Analysis and Business Modeling / Wayne L. Winston: I wasn’t an Excel expert before starting HBS – yes, I knew how to use it and build formulas and charts, but I’ve never used Pivot Tables or did any sophisticated business analysis or financial models. This book – unlike many other Excel books I looked at – is really good because it doesn’t just explains Excel in a documentation or reference format, but rather gives practical, real-life, business examples and then shows how to solve them in Excel. So instead of just theoretically explaining Pivot Tables, it poses the question “Suppose you have data about salespeople, sales regions and sold products, and you want to know what’s the total sales of each salesperson in each region and of each product” – you get the idea. For me practical examples are the only way to learn and therefore I highly recommend this book. A similar version exists for Excel 2003 /2000 – here.

Barbarians at the Gate – The Fall of RJR Nabisco / Borrough, Helyar: a 500-pages classic we’re reading for one Finance 2 class sometime in March, and is actually quite a good read. It’s about the rise and fall of RJR Nabisco, a tobacco and food conglomerate in the ’80s, and I think an alternative title for it could have been “creative uses for corporate cash” – the CEO and his top executives were so creative in spending company’s money it’s just unbelievable – corporate jets, luxury apartments, cars, you name it.

Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths / Timothy Butler: I just love Dr. Butler, head of HBS Career Services Office at HBS. Ever since I first heard him speak at HBS Admit Weekend last year, I was impressed by his psychological / philosophical approach to life and career in a place where people are frequently driven by a cold rationale of money and power. The book is a career advice guide for people who feel stuck in their current career (=90% of MBA students), and has some practical exercises for finding a new career path. Some of the exercises are on the verge of bizarre, including guided imagination and semi-hypnosis… I’m probably the last person on earth to be drawn to such things, and yet when Dr. Butler gave us a workshop based on the book at HBS I found myself being mysteriously hypnotized and miraculously finding my goals in life. No, really!

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law / Bagley, Dauchy: I only got this book a few days ago for our Entrepreneurial Manager course – which hasn’t started yet so I can’t really comment on the book. In light of the recent events in Israel getting this book is a bit ironic, but oh well. Apparently some people need to read books and some don’t. :)

Shaping The Waves: A History Of Entrepreneurship At Harvard Business School / Cruikshank: notable entrepreneurs in the last 50 years who are HBS MBAs.

Analysis for Financial Management / Higgins: a short, concise and sometimes funny (yes!) introduction to corporate finance. HBS recommended (actually more than just “recommended”) reading parts of it before starting school, and it was definitely helpful before and during the first weeks of the first term.

Corporate Finance / Berk, DeMarzo: More than you ever wanted to know about finance in this comprehensive reference book: DCF, arbitrage, CAPM, options, bonds and other goodies. With more than 1000 pages, it can also be used as a doorstop.

Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms / Downes, Goodman: a very good dictionary to use when one of the investment bankers in your section says “market cap” / “EBIAT” / “Poison Pill”.

Excel Applications for Corporate Finance / Adair: quite useful even for people who know Excel but didn’t use all of its financial functionality before (NPV, bonds etc.). HBS required us to read parts of this book before starting school.

BGIE (Business, Government and the International Economy)
A Concise Guide to Macro Economics: What Managers, Executives, and Students Need to Know / David A. Moss: Macro Economics for dummies. No complicated graphs, equations or models. Short, too. Written by HBS Professor Moss.

Introduction to Financial Accounting / Horngren, Sundem, Elliott, Philbrick: comprehensive reference book for everything that’s accounting – balance sheet, income statement, statement of cash flow etc. Useful but a bit lengthy at times.

Cost Accounting / Horngren, Datar, Foster: Cost Accounting is taught at the second part of the FRC (accounting) course at HBS. I have to admit I never liked the topic, but the book is good if you’re into this thing.

3-d Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals / Lax, Sebenius: Most people will negotiate multiple times in their lives, however most people will never learn negotiations in a formal way. This book does a very good job in explaining and expanding a lot of concepts that feel intuitive but are actually much more complex than they seem (like ZOPA – Zone Of Possible Agreement or BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). It also presents ways of negotiating Win-Win agreements, by maximizing value creation for both sides and then claiming value (for yourself). Recommended!