Five books to expand your mind as an MBA student

October 20 2023

Full-time MBA alumnus Michael Kerr from Jamaica shares with us his top five books he would recommend for MBA students to read. "Reading teleports you to new worlds and books can open doors to places we’ve never been and inspire thoughts we’ve never pondered." Early on Michael unlocked this transcendent power of reading. He recalls, “Growing up as a kid on a small island with limited global resources, I found solitude in reading. It was like tapping into the minds of Napoleon or Albert Einstein. Suddenly, I was seeing life from an entirely different perspective”. “It pushed me to understand that there’s more to the impact we can make on the world,” he says.  

1. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

You might not expect a historical account of an ancient war to be a choice for an MBA reading list but it’s on Michael’s. That’s because this tale of an ancient Greek war has numerous parallels to business today. “History always repeats itself, and I think for an MBA student, it’s actually good to tap into what history actually means,” he says. “Because a lot of these decisions that we’re making today in this modern time have been made before.”  

For Michael, The Peloponnesian War teaches as much about diplomacy and critical thinking as traditional books for MBA students. These skills proved useful in the book as a way to try to convince a large group of people to avoid going to war. They’ll prove equally useful in a business context to convince others to make a decision you know to be right.

2. Analects by Confucius

Analects is a book of sayings written thousands of years ago in China by the philosopher Confucius. But despite its antiquity, many of its teachings still ring true today. Michael outlines two key concepts that he has taken from the book into the MBA classroom. “It shows you how to engage with people in a very civil, a very harmonious way,” he says. Confucius also extends his harmonious philosophy to the Earth as a whole. It’s a good read if you want to become a socially responsible leader.

3. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Michael’s third book recommendation is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The novel, published in 1957, tells the story of American businesses struggling under the weight of bureaucracy and regulation. The text champions individualism and free thinking as drivers of societal progress. Michael summarizes the novel’s lessons, “You should be very innovative, you should be creative [and] you should push that onto the world because that’s how development goes through… That’s how growth actually takes place.” Atlas Shrugged is a testament to human creativity and innovation. Both are highly valued at Nyenrode Business University, making the MBA an effective way to launch a career.

FTMBA Books by Michael Kerr

4. Leonardo da Vinci: A Biography by Walter Isaacson

The next book on Michael’s list also relates to the theme of innovation. It’s a biography of the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. While Atlas Shrugged promotes innovation through a fictional story about business, Isaacson’s book centers around the extraordinary innovations of a historical figure. Michael says that as an MBA graduate, “you really want to tap into that forefront of being innovative.” 

It’s easy to draw inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s multi-faceted life, he is the quintessential model of multidisciplinary genius. For MBA candidates, Michael believes it’s important to get acquainted with various topics outside of business. Having broader knowledge can help you in your MBA and the wider business world. “When it comes back to solving a problem in a very unique business case, or talking to people, then you [need to] tap into this wide variety of topics.” Michael adds. 

5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations is a collection of the daily thoughts of the Ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In this diary, he tried to understand his feelings and the world around him. Marcus Aurelius adhered to the philosophy of Stoicism, a school of thought focused on taking emotion out of thinking and decision-making. 

As Michael puts it, Stoics are “just rational people who project themselves in this world [by saying], ‘OK, well, if I can’t control something, then I won’t act on it, so I’ll only act on the things that I can control.” So, what does this mean for MBAs? Well, given that decision-making is a vital part of business, is useful to make emotionless decisions. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are as relevant today as they ever were.

Benefits of reading for MBA students

Reading expands the mind, fosters creativity, enhances emotional intelligence, and nurtures critical thinking. These are all traits that are pivotal attributes of effective business leadership. As Michael’s list reveals, reading helps cultivate a perspective that extends beyond the confines of our immediate environment. Books can be some of your wisest mentors, let them guide your leadership journey.

This article was originally published by MBAGRADSCHOOLS, a leading source of information for prospective MBA students worldwide.

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