Bound for the Beach? Bring These Books…

For many in the Northern hemisphere, the time has come to board a plane for vacation or head to the beach — or perhaps just take a week or two off at home, avoiding email as much as possible. To help keep your mind busy while you relax, we asked Wharton faculty to send us their suggestions for summer reading. We received nominations for books on topics that include everything from hidden economic incentives and automobile nostalgia to improving decisions, the fall of the Soviet Union and how creativity works. And yes, there’s even one on statistical programming. So before you pack your suitcase or load up your Kindle, take a look below — and don’t forget the sunscreen.

Raj Choudhury, professor of management:

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo

“A well researched book that provides several counterintuitive insights on the lives and aspirations of poor people. Great read for anyone who cares about emerging markets.” (Read our interview with the authors.)

Richard Herring, professor of finance:

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World, by Tim Harford

“It pushes basic economics about as far as one can — and, perhaps, farther than some people think one should. [The book] attempts to explain such seemingly unrelated phenomena as discrimination, drug-taking, divorce, the decline of neighborhoods, dropping out of school and muggings as rational responses to economic incentives, even though the people engaged in such activities are usually not aware they are making economic decisions. The book is wittily written and well grounded in contemporary economics. Although it doesn’t deal with business decisions per se, anyone engaged in business would find it provocative to view behavior through Harford’s lens.”

Robert Holthausen and Holly Yang, professors of accounting:

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Dick Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Holthausen: “A few years old now (2008), but definitely worth a read…. The book does a really nice job of indicating how our biases interfere with our ability to make completely rational decisions and what steps (‘nudges’) one can take to overcome these. The book does so in a fun and provocative manner. The applications [vary from] retirement planning to getting kids to choose healthier foods in the lunch line at school merely by placing the healthier foods in the right location.”

Yang: “It is a well-written introductory book with many practical examples for anyone interested in behavioral economics.”

Ann E. Mayer, professor of legal studies and business ethics:

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael Sandel

How Much Is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky

“Writing for the Financial Times, Martin Sandbu … has identified two books that wrestle with a problem of such magnitude that we tend to dismiss it as imponderable: In the midst of raging free markets, are we losing our souls? [In How Much is Enough?,] Robert and Edward Skidelsky issue a warning that our lives are being corroded by material insatiability as we are incessantly prompted to seek and attain more. [In What Money Can’t Buy,] Michael Sandel proposes that our society may have shifted from having a market economy to being nothing more than a market, where what is most meaningful in life becomes obscured. Echoing these critiques, Sandbu calls for inquiry as to whether effectively treating life’s offerings as mere commodities available for purchase and sale ‘has numbed our understanding of what the good life is.’ This is an urgent question, and the fact that the answer may be elusive does not mean that we should forego grappling with it. Sandbu’s thoughtful review reminded me how easy it is to miss the wood for the trees; I look forward to reading both of these provocative books.”

Marshall Meyer, professor of management:

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll

“The best business biography I’ve read in a long time; makes you rethink what BIG really means in business.”

China Airborne, by James Fallows

“Engagingly … ponders but cannot decide whether the Great China Project will ultimately succeed.”

Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, by Paul Ingrassia

“A nostalgia tour for folks with fond memories of the original Beetle, the Corvair (forget Ralph Nader — read what Ingrassia has to say about [Chevrolet's] ill-fated vehicle), and tail fins.”

Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford

“Partly fiction, partly not; the best explication I’ve seen of the theoretical underpinnings and the corrupt unraveling of [the Soviet Union's] centrally planned utopia.”

Richard Shell, professor of legal studies and business ethics:

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

“I am reading this in connection with a book project of my own on the meaning of success. I am fascinated by the power of the unconscious mind in helping our conscious minds produce ideas, solve problems and advance projects. Creativity and innovation are areas in which this process has been studied and systematized. In addition, I know Lehrer to be a great writer.” (Editor’s note: Recently, Lehrer admitted that Imagine includes, without acknowledgment, writing that he previously published elsewhere.)

Dylan Small, professor of statistics:

The Art of R Programming: A Tour of Statistical Software Design by Norman Matloff

“Provides useful insights into R programming, a useful, freely available statistical software package for business applications.”

Mike Useem, professor of management:

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen

“Find out why the ’20-mile march’ and a high ‘return on luck’ are among the secrets of becoming a great performer when uncertainty prevails.” (Read Useem’s interview with the authors.)

Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired – and Secretive – Company Really Works, by Adam Lashinsky

“The ‘secret sauce’ of Apple’s way that is also an engine for its phenomenal growth.” (See our interview with Lashinsky.)

Gal Zauberman, professor of marketing:

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

“Kahneman is one of the founders of the field of behavioral decision research in psychology that later led to the emergence of behavioral economics…. [His] recent book provides deep insight into this highly influential work.”

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves, by Dan Ariely

“Ariely represents the new generation of decision researchers [and] focuses in his third and most recent book on the issue of dishonesty in everyday life. As in his previous books, Dan’s writing is engaging and presents interesting ideas and clever studies.”

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