Essential Books to Read Before Considering an MBA

Preparing for an MBA? Go through a list of pre-MBA reading material to help you prepare!

So you want to pursue a master’s degree in business administration but don’t know where to start? A good place might be your local library.

Thousands of business books are published every year on a wide range of topics, from accounting and investment to organizational management and marketing. They might include memoirs by business leaders, case studies by journalists who cover companies, or how-to guides to success. Whatever you read, books are a good place to start for MBA preparation.

Reading books about business can give you a sense of what you might learn in an MBA program. It can also help you figure out whether it’s a degree you really want to pursue. If you find yourself enjoying the books in this pre-MBA reading list and itching to learn more about the subjects covered, a master’s in business administration just might be for you.

The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman spent years researching business concepts to produce this treatise on essential knowledge for entrepreneurs, with the premise that much of what is learned in an MBA program can be condensed into a single volume. It might seem strange to start a pre-MBA reading list with a book that dissuades its readers from pursuing one, but I have found that this book, which is organized like an encyclopedia of key concepts, to be a good reference while pursuing my MBA. I find myself reaching for it whenever I need an alternative explanation for a subject I am learning in the classroom.

The McKinsey Way by Ethan M. Rasiel

McKinsey, one of the world’s top management consulting firms, is synonymous with the industry. Ethan Rasiel, a former McKinsey consultant, breaks down how the firm thinks about business problems and provides strategies to its clients. Even if you’re not considering a career in consulting, understanding how McKinsey’s consultants frame challenges and come up with solutions through rigorous analysis offers insights for other industries to tackle day-to-day problems. And who knows, maybe after reading this book, you, too, might want to pursue a career in management consulting.

Inside Apple by Adam Lishinsky

For this book, Adam Lishinsky, a senior editor at Fortune magazine, interviewed top executives at Apple, one of the world’s most successful but also most secretive companies, to understand how it operates. The book is a fascinating inside look at how the company is set up to inspire creativity and personal responsibility, and how it works with its complex network of suppliers. In many ways, Apple is the textbook case of a successful company, and Inside Apple tells the story of how it got there.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Phil Knight is the founder of Nike, but did you know his idea for the company began while he was pursuing an MBA at Stanford? Shoe Dog is his memoir recollecting how the world’s most valuable sports brand stemmed from a paper he wrote about the Japanese shoe industry. It’s an inspiring tale of ups and downs, lessons learned, and hardships overcome.

The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

This is one of my favorite books about finance. The Ascent of Money tells the history of how the world came to rely on complicated financial instruments. Niall Ferguson writes in a breezy, engaging manner that makes you forget you’re reading a history book. He includes anecdotes about society’s first coins, Italy’s first lenders, and the first foreign currency traders. Even those who are not interested in finance will find themselves fascinated by this history and how our complex financial world came to be.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is one of the most famous business writers today, having written books about his time as a bond trader in the testosterone-fueled trading floors of the 1980s, the frenetic world of high-frequency trading, and the overleveraging that led to the 2008 financial crisis. But perhaps his most well-known book is not about finance at all — it’s about baseball. Moneyball is the fascinating story of how a maverick general manager at the Oakland A’s used statistics to assemble a dream team. The tale shows how data can be applied in the most unexpected of places, and it was adapted into a movie in 2011 starring Brad Pitt.

Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt

Few books have done more to popularize economics than Freakonomics. Steven Levitt is an unconventional scholar who loves to apply the rigors of statistics to questions that don’t have easy answers. In Freakonomics, he uses data to draw a connection between abortion and falling crime rates, dives into the economics of drug dealing, and explains how real estate agents work by controlling information. For those who haven’t studied economics, this book offers an easy way in.

Planet Money podcast

My final recommendation is not a book but a podcast. Planet Money is a twice-weekly podcast that explains economic and business concepts in a friendly, approachable manner. The hosts are knowledgeable and fun, and they pair their expertise with reported stories. This summer, the podcast ran a series called Planet Money Goes to Business School. Each episode explores a concept you might learn in an MBA program and gives a real-world example from one of their reported stories. It’s a great introduction to what you might learn in business school.

If you’re interested in applying for an MBA and deciding on the right program, Crimson can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of Crimson’s expert advisors. We can’t wait to meet you!

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