11 Fascinating Books on Harvard Business School‘s Required Reading List

Top 12 Books on the Harvard Business School Reading List for 2024

As one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, Harvard Business School (HBS) is renowned for producing some of the top business leaders and executives. A key part of the HBS curriculum is an extensive reading list that exposes students to some of the most influential and insightful business books. Many of these books have shaped the business world and contain timeless lessons that are still relevant today.

Examining the HBS reading list can provide a glimpse into the knowledge and skills that MBA graduates possess. It can also serve as a valuable guide for business professionals looking to enhance their own expertise and leadership abilities. Here are 12 of the most compelling books on the HBS reading list for 2024:

  1. True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George (Updated Edition 2023)
    First published in 2007, this leadership classic continues to resonate today. Based on interviews with 125 of the world‘s top leaders about what it means to be an authentic leader, True North outlines five key steps: knowing your authentic self, defining your values and leadership principles, understanding your motivations, building your support team, and staying grounded by integrating all aspects of your life. The updated 2023 edition includes new case studies and addresses issues like leading through crisis and championing diversity, equity and inclusion. For current and aspiring leaders looking to lead with purpose and authenticity, True North remains an essential read.

  2. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini (Updated Edition 2021)
    Originally published in 1984, Influence is a classic examination of the key psychological principles behind persuasion and influence. It outlines six key principles: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. While initially aimed at marketers, the principles have wide-ranging applications for leadership, negotiation, and communication. The 2021 edition has been extensively updated with new research and modern examples, ensuring its continued relevance. For leaders and executives looking to enhance their influencing skills, Influence is a must-read.

  3. The Innovator‘s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen (With a New Afterword)
    In this hugely influential book first published in 1997, Clayton Christensen examines how successful companies can fail by doing everything "right". He argues that catering to current customers and focusing excessively on the bottom line can blind companies to disruptive innovations in their industries. The book provides a framework for how companies can proactively invest in innovations to avoid disruption. While the original examples may feel dated, a new afterword discusses how the book‘s core concepts are playing out today with the rapid pace of technological change. For executives responsible for navigating disruption and crafting innovation strategies, The Innovator‘s Dilemma remains essential.

  4. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    Published in 2011, this tour de force by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman delves into the two systems that drive how we think—the fast, instinctive and emotional system, and the slower, more logical and deliberate system. Kahneman reveals the various biases and mental shortcuts that affect our judgment and decision making, often without us realizing. He then provides strategies for how to recognize and overcome these biases to make better decisions, both in business and in life. For leaders looking to sharpen their critical thinking skills and judgment, Thinking, Fast and Slow is a challenging but rewarding read.

  5. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael E. Porter (Updated Edition 2020)
    First published in 1980, this hugely influential book outlines Michael Porter‘s famous "Five Forces" framework for analyzing the competitive dynamics of industries. It examines factors like the bargaining power of suppliers and buyers, the threat of new entrants and substitutes, and rivalry among existing competitors. Porter then provides tools for crafting effective strategies to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. The 2020 update features new examples and case studies. As a foundational strategy text, familiarity with Competitive Strategy is a must for business students and practicing executives.

  6. The Lean Startup: How Today‘s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
    Published in 2011, The Lean Startup sparked a revolution in how new ventures are built and products are developed. Ries advocates a scientific approach of developing "minimum viable products", rapidly experimenting, measuring results, and iterating based on validated customer learnings. This methodology promises to reduce waste, manage risk, and accelerate the path to product-market fit. While aimed at startups, the lean startup methodology has been widely adopted in corporate innovation and R&D labs as well. For entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs seeking to launch new ventures, The Lean Startup is required reading.

  7. Negotiation Essentials for Business Professionals by Leigh Thompson (First Edition 2023)
    World-renowned negotiations expert Leigh Thompson translates key concepts from her popular MBA course into this new book aimed at business professionals. It provides a comprehensive overview of the strategies and psychological principles for conducting effective negotiations, from two-party dealmaking to complex multi-party situations. Interactive cases and exercises help readers practice their skills. With an emphasis on creating win-win outcomes and long-term relationships, this book is an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs and executives engaged in frequent negotiations.

  8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Updated for the Digital Age)
    A self-help classic first published in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People has helped millions of readers become more likeable, persuasive, and successful in their personal and professional relationships. Carnegie advocates timeless principles such as taking a genuine interest in others, avoiding arguments, graciously admitting mistakes, and offering sincere praise. While the quaint examples can make the book feel dated, a recent update translates Carnegie‘s wisdom for the digital age of remote work and online networking. For anyone looking to improve their people skills and emotional intelligence, this book remains a fount of insight.

  9. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don‘t by Jim Collins
    Published in 2001, Good to Great presents the findings from Jim Collins‘ extensive research into how good companies become great ones. He and his team identify seven characteristics that distinguish great companies, including Level 5 Leadership, the Hedgehog Concept, a Culture of Discipline, and others. While the case studies are now over 20 years old, Collins‘ principles have stood the test of time and continue to be widely referenced. For executives and managers seeking to elevate their organizations from mediocrity to sustained excellence, Good to Great provides a roadmap.

  10. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Updated Edition 2022)
    In this provocative book first published in 2007, statistician and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb examines "Black Swans"—rare and unpredictable events that have an outsized impact, like the 2008 financial crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic. Taleb argues that humans chronically underestimate the likelihood and potential impact of Black Swan events due to psychological biases and the limitations of statistical models. The book provides strategies for positioning oneself to benefit from positive Black Swans while protecting against negative ones. The 2022 edition contains a new essay on risk management in an increasingly uncertain world. In today‘s volatile and complex environment, The Black Swan is essential reading for executives charged with strategic planning and risk management.

Three notable books that just missed this list but are also worthy reads:

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins – A practical guide for leaders transitioning into new roles.

Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott – Insights for giving effective feedback and guidance to motivate teams.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath – Reveals the anatomy of memorable ideas and how to craft messages that resonate.

In conclusion, the HBS reading list is a trove of knowledge and insight from many of the most renowned business thinkers past and present. While extensive, this carefully curated selection provides a comprehensive business education, covering key topics like leadership, strategy, innovation, decision making, and interpersonal skills. Most of these books have stood the test of time, and their lessons will continue to be applicable well into the future.

For business professionals hungry to accelerate their learning and careers, slowly working through the HBS reading list is a worthwhile investment. By combining the wisdom gained from these books with real-world experience and a commitment to continuous growth, individuals can dramatically expand their leadership capacity. And organizations that widely promote the reading and discussion of these texts will see their teams level up and become more aligned around proven best practices.

Ultimately, the HBS reading list is much more than a collection of books—it is a roadmap for business excellence. As the pace of change accelerates and the challenges leaders face grow more complex, the fundamental insights contained in these pages will only become more relevant and vital. If you consider yourself a lifelong student of business, you can‘t go wrong by diving into the HBS reading list, book by book. The ROI will pay dividends for years to come, in your career and for your organization.