MBA Alternatives: Most Popular Business Books

There are several alternatives for those interested in business administration but who do not want to enroll in a graduate or undergraduate business program. One is reading books written by some of the world’s most successful businessmen and women. has curated a list of books from a wide variety of authorities for those who wish to understand business strong enough to lay the foundation for a successful management career. While these are not a substitute for pursuing an MBA—especially from a networking standpoint—the texts below cover the fundamentals at length, and many are part of top business programs’ syllabi.

Below you’ll find textbooks, compilations, classics, biographies, contemporary case studies, and forward-thinking MBA books that will help you build your own MBA curriculum. To get started, read on.

Compilation MBA Books

The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America (5th Edition)
Warren E. Buffett, Lawrence A. Cunningham
For over 25 years, Buffett and Cunningham have been collaborating to share the strategies of Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway in this informal and illuminating collection of essays.

The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
Josh Kaufman
Kaufman’s collection includes pragmatic excerpts from 99 useful books that teach the fundamental principles of business and methods for success.

The Portable MBA (5th Edition)
Kenneth M. Eades, Timothy M. Laseter, Ian Skurnik, Peter L. Rodriguez, Lynn A. Isabella, Paul J. Simko
Touted as inventing the ‘MBA-in-a-book’ category, The Portable MBA is a bestselling guide to the business school curriculum, written by faculty members from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

The Ten-Day MBA
Steven Silbiger
Based on the author’s own experience while studying for his MBA at the University of Virginia, this compilation aims to deliver the basics of an elite business school education to a broad audience in as little as ten days.

The Visual MBA
Jason Barron
While many compilation-style books attempt to distill a business school curriculum into a smaller, more digestible format, perhaps none do it as uniquely as Jason Barron. In The Visual MBA, he presents his notes from the 516 hours he spent in class: not lecture notes, but sketches and drawings that elegantly illustrate the lessons learned along the way.

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You
Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten
This volume updates the compilation initially published in 2009 by the management of the specialized 800-CEO-Read online business bookseller.

Boarding Pass to MBA: Compilation of Business Decisions
P. Hari
The Boarding Pass to MBA book is a compilation of micro business case studies. The author includes bad and good business decisions to highlight their importance and impact.


Cost Accounting (16th Edition)
Charles T. Horngren, Srikant M. Datar, and Madhav V. Rajan
With clear and succinct explanations of methods that are consistently superior to those offered by competitors, Stanford professor Charles Horngren’s textbooks like this one have helped undergraduates and MBA students learn managerial accounting and prepare for CPA examinations for more than four decades.

Economics (22nd Edition)
Campbell R. McConnell, Stanley L. Brue, and Sean Masaki Flynn
Famous for its methodical approach and qualitative emphasis, Economics amounts to the most widely used and the most comprehensive textbook of microeconomics and macroeconomics ever published—a celebrated canonical work that since the early 1970s taught millions of MBA and undergraduate students the principles of economics during their first business school core course.

Essentials of Accounting (11th Edition)
Leslie K. Breitner and Robert N. Anthony
“If you want to learn the basics of accounting, there is no better book,” says Josh Kaufman of this principles textbook written by a Harvard Business School (HBS) professor and former president of the American Accounting Association.

Financial Management: Theory & Practice (16th Edition)
Eugene F. Brigham and Michael C. Ehrhardt
Fifty-two years after the introduction of its predecessor text, Essentials of Managerial Finance, Financial Management, remains the field’s most durable textbook—and required reading at many business schools. It continues to garner almost half of the 100,000-strong annual market for such books in recent years.

Marketing Management (16th Edition)
Philip T. Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller
Known as the leading textbook in the field, this engaging and practical read by Dr. Philip Kotler of Northwestern University continues to reign as the world’s most widely used graduate-level textbook in marketing.

New Business Ventures and The Entrepreneur (6th Edition)
Michael Roberts, Howard Stevenson, William Sahlman, Paul Marshall, and Richard Hamermesh
HBS entrepreneurship courses continue to use this textbook when teaching the organization and operation of venture-backed startups. This textbook has profiled the personality characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and included case studies on the early days of market leaders like Sun Microsystems and Starbucks.

Statistics, Data Analysis, and Decision Modeling (5th Edition)
James R. Evans
This textbook has been consistently ranked as the top-selling MBA-level economic statistics textbook in the United States.

Quantitative Analysis for Management (13th Edition)
Barry Render, Ralph M. Stair Jr., Michael E. Hanna, and Trevor S. Hale
No modern MBA program would be complete without presenting operations research topics. This book highlights recent developments in linear programming, PERT/CPM project management, and supply chain optimization, among others.

Innovating in Healthcare: Creating Breakthrough Tech, Services, Drugs, Products, and Business Models (1st Edition)
Regina E. Herzlinger
Written by Harvard Business School professor who has been named the “Godmother of consumer-driven healthcare”, Innovating in Healthcare offers strategies for innovating in the field of healthcare, from redesigning services to implementing new business models. It is a useful resource for anyone working in healthcare development, regardless of their experience level.

Legacy Business Classics

The Art of War
Sun Tzu
For over 2,000 years, the violent parallels between war and business have leaped off the pages of Sun Tzu’s treatise on military operations, and Tzu’s strategies and tactics are common knowledge for today’s MBA graduates.

Think and Grow Rich
Napoleon Hill
This 1937 classic, written in the shadow of the Great Depression, asserts that positive qualities, including desire, faith, and persistence, will propel one to great accomplishments—so long as one suppresses their pessimism and focuses on long-term objectives.

The Richest Man in Babylon
George S. Clason
Teaching simple lessons in financial wisdom, the parables contained in this 1926 volume are reported to have been a significant influence that has contributed to the success of CEO coach and peak-performance expert Anthony Robbins, whose net worth has recently surpassed half a billion dollars.

How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie
At some point in the curriculum, almost all business students read this 1936 seminal work about networking and persuasion. The book has sold 30 million copies worldwide and is ranked nineteenth on TIME Magazine’s 2011 list of the 100 most influential books of all time.

How to Lie with Statistics
Darrell Huff
Economic statistics textbooks frequently cite Huff’s famous 1954 treatise on quantitative deception and often recommend his work as a companion volume.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert Cialdini
This 1984 classic by an Arizona State University psychology professor may be one of the most important books on persuasion ever written.

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street
John Brooks
First published in 1969 by longtime New Yorker contributor, “Business Adventures” is a book about the drama and adventure of Wall Street and the evolving, yet unchanging world of finance. The book is full of personality and critical detail, and offers a unique perspective on business and economics over several decades. Bill Gates remarks: “Business Adventures remains the best business book I’ve ever read.”

Modern MBA Classics

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers
Geoffrey A. Moore
Almost every Silicon Valley professional has read Moore’s book. In a typical technology product lifecycle, a psychological chasm separates easy-to-sell early adopters from the difficult-to-sell early majority who delay buying until they are convinced the technology will boost their productivity; this book argues that the only way to accelerate adoption is by rapidly collapsing this chasm.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Timothy Ferriss
This famous 2009 account remains the ultimate blueprint for how to live more and work less, explained by an author who quit struggling for 80 hours each week only to earn $40,000 per year, yet soon found himself averaging only four hours of work per week and making $40,000 each month.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Roger Fisher and William L. Ury
This classic and perennial bestseller from two Harvard Law School professors captures the Harvard Negotiation Project’s approach called “principled negotiation,” which searches for optimal solutions through separation—more specifically, by separating fixed, non-negotiable needs from flexible needs available for negotiation, and by separating people from the problem facing negotiators.

How Will You Measure Your Life?
Clayton Christensen
MBA program admissions deans frequently recommend this second book by Clayton Christensen to MBA students as an unconventional source of inspiration and wisdom for achieving an innovative and fulfilling life.

The Innovator’s Dilemma
Clayton Christensen
Arguing that leading companies can become shells of their former selves if unwilling to “disrupt” their operations, HBS professor Clayton Christensen wrote the first widely-read treatise proposing the disruption concept that has fueled innovation for the past 20 years. Apple’s Steve Jobs said this book profoundly influenced him.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg
Written by Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook, Lean In has become a modern classic for a business world that is beginning to consider people other than straight white men. While Lean In has had its share of both fair and unfair criticism, its entry into the mainstream has undeniably helped spark important discussions on 21st-century business and led the way for more diverse voices to come forward.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Eric Ries
A former entrepreneur-in-residence at HBS wrote one of the first books to consolidate and encapsulate the three now-common “lean” trends that in 2011 began transforming Silicon Valley’s startup landscape: agile development methodologies, open source-enabled platforms, and customer-centric rapid iteration.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
Chris Voss
The most important aspects of life—including relationships—sometimes require tense negotiations. This frequently-recommended book by a former FBI hostage negotiator provides street-smart strategies that MBA students will find useful in negotiations involving complex tradeoffs.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
Gordon MacKenzie
This funny business book is a cult classic based on anecdotes from the author’s three-decade career with Hallmark Cards. It encourages rising above the bureaucracy of traditional policies, procedures, and systems that often kill motivation and creativity.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen Covey
President Clinton reportedly called this book a “handbook for every man striving for success” as it offers a set of instructions on life and career improvement.

First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
Jim Harter
Gallup presents the findings of its revolutionary study of more than 80,000 managers. The study reveals what the world’s greatest managers do differently, and includes vital performance and career lessons and ideas for applying them. The book also has updated meta-analytic research and access to the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey.

Contemporary & Forward-Thinking MBA Books

The Economic Case for LGBT Equality
M. V. Lee Badgett
The Economic Case for LGBT Equality puts a moral issue into concrete financial terms and calculates the pricey consequences of anti-LGBT practices in several countries (including the US).

Badgett is a professor of economics, and former director of the School of Public Policy, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also a Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA.

Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage
Laura Huang
Huang is an associate professor at Harvard Business School; previously, she was an assistant professor at Wharton. In Edge, Huang posits that success does not come from a lack of obstacles, but rather from turning one’s shortcomings into assets.

Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism
John Elkington
Referred to as the Godfather of Sustainability, John Elkington is a serial entrepreneur and a prolific author on the subjects of corporate responsibility and sustainable development. His latest book, Green Swans, explores the idea of regenerative capitalism and looks at ventures that promote healthier societies, economies, and biospheres.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Angela Duckworth
Author Angela Duckworth explains how the most successful are generally the most driven—not the most intelligent—because they employ three habits: interest, practice, and above all, hope.

How to Be Anti-Racist
Ibram X. Kendi
The first line of defense against racism is identifying and describing it. Kendi’s bestselling nonfiction goes one step further, using ethics, history, law, and science to define and identify not only racism but anti-racism: a philosophy which takes action towards a more just and equitable society.

Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams
Stefanie K. Johnson, PhD
Dr. Johnson covers the common challenges leaders encounter and focuses on actionable solutions in this bestselling modern handbook for creating a continuous and virtuous cycle of diversification and inclusivity in business teams.

The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table
Minda Harts
Marketed as the Lean In for women of color, The Memo is written by Minda Harts, an assistant professor at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and the founder of a career development platform for women of color. The Memo takes a candid look at the disproportionate number of challenges women of color face in the business world and includes actionable takeaways.

The Power of Disability
Al Etmanski
Over a billion people live with disabilities, and constitute the world’s largest minority group. Etmanski’s The Power of Disability provides that group with some much-needed visibility and recognition, detailing how people with disabilities have been instrumental in the growth of freedom and the birth of democracy.

Success Through Diversity: Why the Most Inclusive Companies Will Win
Carol Fulp
Using case studies of corporate cultures at places like the NFL and PepsiCo, Fulp demonstrates how racially and ethnically diverse workforces make businesses more powerful, dynamic, and profitable. An alumnus of Harvard’s Kennedy School, Fulp is the president and CEO of The Partnership, an organization dedicated to enhancing competitiveness by attracting, developing, and retaining multicultural professionals.

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (1st Edition)
Ruha Benjamin
This essay discusses how automation can hide, speed up, and deepen discrimination while appearing neutral and even benevolent. It provides conceptual tools for decoding tech promises with sociologically informed skepticism to question the technologies we sell and the ones humans manufacture.

Popular Case Studies & Biographies

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
These INSEAD professors argue that firms usually achieve lasting success through a paradigm shift: offering innovative products in uncharted, competitor-free market spaces—the “blue ocean”—rather than battling shark-like contenders for bloody slices of overcrowded markets with limited margins and shrinking growth opportunities—the “red ocean.”

Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors and Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance
On Competition
Michael E. Porter
The most cited scholar today in economics and business, Harvard’s Porter almost single-handedly invented the business school discipline of competitive analysis and strategy—the study of how firms identify and seize upon opportunities they can exploit against competitors.

Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business
John Mackey and Raj Sisodia
Whole Foods Market co-founder Mackey joins educator Sisodia in arguing for an ethically-grounded blueprint for creating value based on new tenets: higher purpose, conscious leadership, culture and management, and stakeholder integration. The authors demonstrate how this movement is already gaining traction at Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, The Container Store, and UPS—along with Amazon and the Seattle giant’s latest acquisition, Whole Foods.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
Ed Catmull
Written by a co-founder of Pixar, this bestselling book explores how leaders can foster an environment of creativity within the business world, and it presents and explains the practices that helped Pixar achieve an incredible run of success on both artistic and financial terms.

First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
These two researchers present the remarkable findings of the Gallup Organization’s 1999 study of more than 80,000 managers, revealing how most great managers optimize results from their high-performance teams and attract winning talent.

Good to Great
Jim Collins
In Poets & Quants, John A. Byrne calls Collins “the most successful business book author of our generation,” noting that his books are some of the best-selling books of all time. In Good to Great, Collins studied 1,435 companies and found 11 breakout firms that—after decades of mediocre performance—suddenly started outperforming the stock market by an average of seven times; he identified mechanisms such as the “Flywheel Effect” that seemed to suddenly transform firms like Kroger, Wells Fargo, Kimberly-Clark, and Abbott Labs into stellar performers.

Built to Last
Jim Collins
Collins’ second book documents a 1995 Stanford study that revealed six timeless fundamentals enabling venerable performers like Hewlett-Packard, 3M, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Nordstrom, Sony, Disney, Marriott, and Wal-Mart to flourish, in contrast with failures like Zenith Electronics.

Moneyball and Liar’s Poker
Michael Lewis
Financial journalist Lewis wrote Liar’s Poker about his experiences as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers. His later work Moneyball chronicles how the Oakland A’s—led by their relentless, tradition-defying general manager Billy Beane—won against better-funded teams by keenly applying probability theory and statistics to all aspects of the game, from player trades to home runs.

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
We study failure so that we don’t repeat it. We also read about failure because it can be entertaining. The failure in The Smartest Guys in the Room scratches both itches. Later adapted into an award-winning documentary, this book can sometimes read like fiction and satire, but its lessons are perennially important for MBA grads.

Soul of a New Machine
Tracy Kidder
Kidder won the Pulitzer Prize for covering Data General’s efforts to build a next-generation minicomputer during the 1970s, resulting in one of the best books on technology project management ever written.

Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson
Anyone interested in business can benefit from learning about Steve Jobs’ extraordinary business acumen. He made Apple the world’s largest company with only a handful of legendary products. Nobody yet has captured a more thorough, insightful, and touching portrayal of him than TIME Magazine’s Managing Editor Walter Isaacson.

The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career
Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
LinkedIn co-founder and CEO Hoffman and investor Casnocha draw parallels between the entrepreneurial thinking driving successful Silicon Valley startups and optimal strategies to launch and manage business careers.

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World
Brad Stone
In this 2017 work, Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone investigates two incredibly well-funded, high-flying “Unicorn” startups of the new economy: Uber and Airbnb. Stone explores how such disruptive firms navigate regulatory challenges that could disrupt their marketplace strategies.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Peter Thiel
Based on his 2012 lectures at Stanford, PayPal founder Peter Thiel echoes the paradigm shift expressed in Blue Ocean Strategy that future champions will never win through ruthless competition in existing markets. They will instead create unique new businesses that exploit new market spaces completely free from competitors.

Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms
Shellye Archambeau
This book shares the stories of Shellye Archambeau, one of Silicon Valley’s first African American woman CEOs. She details how she achieved her personal and professional goals and offers advice on how others can do the same.

Getting It Right: How Your Business Can Profit by Tapping Today’s Most Powerful Trendsetters and Tastemakers
Tina Wells
A marketer who has made a name for herself by understanding millennials, Tina Wells, has identified four different types of millennial consumers: the Wired Techie, the Conformist But Somewhat Paradoxical Preppy, the Always-Mellow Alternative, and the Cutting-Edge Independent. Each of these groups represents a unique segment of the millennial population, and marketers looking to reach this demographic would do well to understand their needs and preferences.

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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