Self-Study MBA Reading List

Business | . 15 min read (3570 words).

This is my own learning plan for getting similar knowledge to that of an MBA, without the high cost of actually getting a degree.

Topics:

Introduction

I have long been interested in business administration and related topics (economics, finance, leadership, maths, etc) and even getting an MBA degree is tempting at times. On the other hand, getting a good MBA degree is very expensive and I enjoy learning through reading which is both cheaper and allows me to continue working and building experience at the same time. This blog post goes through my current plan for self-study of MBA-related knowledge.

An obvious downside of self-study is that of not getting a degree, of course, but everyone already figured that out. More on pros and cons further down.

This blog post has two purposes:

  1. Documenting my own learning in a structured way.
  2. Providing others with pre-packaged recommendations for learning the same.

If you decide to use this for your own learning, I would suggest most people to select some of the books from each category (or one category) to tailor it to your interests and needs. On the other hand, if someone goes through the entire core reading list, then I would be very happy and I wish you luck on your way!

I have only read some of these books so far myself (~50%), so this is a plan that I intend to follow in the coming 1-3 years or so. I will post updates later on and probably update this post with read books.

Method of learning

I prefer learning from books, so the foundation here will be books. Without compromising quality, my goal is also to make the learning as affordable as possible and to make sure all learning resources can be found as e-books and/or audiobooks. I will also discuss complementing with some online courses.

My recommended way of accessing academic books nowadays is to subscribe to Perlego. By paying yearly, this will cost you 86 SEK / month (for me in Sweden), which equals 8.20 USD, 6.02 GBP, or 8.13 EUR. In other words, Perlego is very far from expensive. It also gives you unlimited access to an impressive library of over 900,000 high-quality e-books across every major academic subject. This includes great textbooks in business and economics. Therefore, almost all my recommended reading below is available from Perlego with a link straight there! Note that Perlego is British and this has some influence on the selection of books.

To save time, I also find it useful to listen to some books as audiobooks. This obviously depends on the book, but for some books it works really well and allows me to take long walks and listen to books at the same time. I will not include links to audiobook versions, but I recommend checking for them yourself.

To optimise learning, I would suggest reading one short book about learning first: Small Teaching. One take away for me is the advantage of coming back to the same topic multiple times (i.e. ‘interleaving’). It also helps to practice skills.

Learning plan

Here is my learning plan itself. It is split into one core part, which covers the basics that most MBA educations appear to include, and a specialisation part for additional reading. Overall, this is based on a combination of my interests and looking into what popular MBA educations include in their degree programs.

Each book is marked as [DONE] if I have read it so far (these are more well-informed recommendations). Each subject is intentionally covered by at least two books by different authors to ensure multiple perspectives throughout.

The order that books are listed in is the order that I would read them in, but some re-ordering might be necessary for others.

Core reading (100 books)

Books on Perlego are presented under one subject each first and then some famous mixed books that are not available on Perlego are presented together.

Mathematics and statistics (3 books)

Personally, I have a degree in mathematics, but I still include some business maths:

Corporate finance (11 books)
Financial and managerial accounting (9 books)
Organisational behaviour (4 books)
Economics (6 books)
Strategy (6 books)
Marketing (5 books)
Operations (5 books)
Communication (6 books)
Management and leadership (12 books)
Negotiation (2 books)
Ethics (6 books)
Sustainability, politics, and governance (4 books)
Business law (2 books)
Problem-solving and decision-making (5 books)
Human resource management (1 book)
Mixed books that are not available on Perlego (13 books)

Specialisation reading (50 books)

I have put together my top recommendations for additional reading based on my current interests for this part and I intend to read all these (and have read most already). These have been left uncategorised, since we have already covered each basic subject by now anyway. The order is insignificant here. Those that are available on Perlego are linked there as above.

Extra reading:

  1. The Innovator's Dilemma (2015) by Clayton M. Christensen

  2. Employment Law (in Plain English) (2021) by Leonard D. DuBoff, Kenneth A. Perea, Christopher Perea, Lauren Barnes

  3. Applied Mergers and Acquisitions (2021) by Robert F. Bruner

  4. Mergers, Acquisitions, and Corporate Restructurings (2017) by Patrick A. Gaughan

  5. Vertical Integration and Technological Innovation (2018) by Yeong Heok Lee [DONE]

  6. Nudge (2008) by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

  7. Discover Your True North (2015) by Bill George [DONE]

  8. Accelerate (2014) by John P. Kotter [DONE]

  9. Scrum (2014) by Jeff Sutherland [DONE]

  10. Leadership Strategy and Tactics (2020) by Jocko Willink [DONE]

  11. Good to Great (2011) by Jim Collins [DONE]

  12. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker [DONE]

  13. The Hard Thing About Hard Things (2014) by Ben Horowitz [DONE]

  14. The Art of War by Sun Tzu [DONE]

  15. Barbarians at the Gate (2019) by Bryan Burrough, John Helyar [DONE]

  16. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2010) by Patrick M. Lencioni [DONE]

  17. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox [DONE]

  18. A Random Walk Down Wall Street (1973) by Burton G. Malkiel [DONE]

  19. Talent Makers (2021) by Daniel Chait, Jon Stross [DONE]

  20. The 48 Laws of Power (1998) by Robert Greene [DONE]

  21. The Power of Habit (2012) by Charles Duhigg [DONE]

  22. The 5 Levels of Leadership (2011) by John C. Maxwell [DONE]

  23. Insight (2017) by Tasha Eurich [DONE]

  24. Understanding Michael Porter (2011) by Joan Magretta [DONE]

  25. Bean Counters (2018) by Richard Brooks [DONE]

  26. Flash Crash (2020) by Liam Vaughan [DONE]

  27. Pre-Suasion (2016) by Robert Cialdini [DONE]

  28. Safe 5.0 Distilled (2020) by Richard Knaster, Dean Leffingwell [DONE]

  29. Team Topologies (2019) by Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais [DONE]

  30. The Culture Map (2014) by Erin Meyer [DONE]

  31. The Mythical Man-Month (1975) by Frederick P. Brooks Jr. [DONE]

  32. Antifragile (2012) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb [DONE]

  33. No Rules Rules (2020) by Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer [DONE]

  34. Sprint (2016) by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky [DONE]

  35. Cost Estimation (2015) by Gregory K. Mislick, Daniel A. Nussbaum [DONE]

  36. Managers Not MBAs (2005) by Henry Mintzberg [DONE]

  37. Teaming (2005) by Amy C. Edmondson [DONE]

  38. This Time Is Different (2009) by Carmen Reinhart, Kenneth Rogoff [DONE]

  39. Management, Revised Edition (2008) by Peter F. Drucker [DONE]

  40. Inspired (2017) by Marty Cagan [DONE]

  41. Agile Estimating and Planning (2005) by Mike Cohn [DONE]

  42. Hal Moore on Leadership (2017) by Harold G. Moore, Mike Guardia [DONE]

  43. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2004) by Stephen R. Covey [DONE]

  44. Think Again (2021) by Adam M. Grant [DONE]

  45. Trillion Dollar Coach (2019) by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg [DONE]

  46. Zero to One (2014) by Peter Thiel [DONE]

  47. The Manager's Guide to HR (2013) by Max Muller [DONE]

  48. Project Management (2010) by Harvey Maylor [DONE]

  49. Small Teaching (2016) by James M. Lang [DONE]

  50. Built to Last (2004) by James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras [DONE]

Other learning resources

Mixing things up is always a good idea. Here are even more ways to learn.

Business and economics news

I have subscribed to Harvard Business Review and The Economist for over a decade. Together, they provide great in-depth coverage of business and economics news and useful knowledge. At times, I have also subscribed to Financial Times, which is a great news paper (but a bit expensive).

Lately, I have started subscribing to Noa, which provides selected news from both HBR, The Economist, MIT Tech Review, and several other great news papers. The price is very affordable too! This is my new favourite way of getting news.

In addition to subscriptions like this, I recommend following some good podcasts from HBR, The Economist, FT, Nature, various business schools, and similar. I will not list all that I follow here.

Online short courses

I prefer learning through books and experience. However, to mix it up and get some formal proof of my learning in the form of course certificates, I also add in some online courses from time to time. For this, I highly recommend getsmarter. It is more expensive than Coursera or similar, but it is worth it.

Some courses that I have taken and can recommend:

  1. MBA Essentials by London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE)

  2. Oxford Executive Leadership Programme

  3. Leadership in 21st Century Organizations (Coursera)

These courses are a good complement to book reading! MBA Essentials gives a good overview of business administration over 100 hours in 10 weeks.

The primary downside of this type of courses is that they can be quite pricey compared to reading quality books yourself, take plenty of time, and are not nearly as detailed or comprehensive. In my opinion, they are best used to get a quick overview or to add occasional certificates to your CV.

Comparisons

The above resources are all you need if you are only looking for recommendations on how to learn more about these subjects or want to know what I am reading. Some analysis and comparisons follow!

MBA reading lists and programs

This is far from the first reading list of this kind. It seems to be the most ambitious and longest one that I have seen so far, but here are some others for comparison:

It is also worth having a look at top MBA educations:

I even found texbook lists from some MBA programs.

My intention was to stay close to what typical MBA programs appear to study, make sure to cover each important subject comprehensively, and also lean towards academic textbooks rather than opting for more popular easy-to-read business books. On the other hand, I mixed in some lighter reading too in order to cover more perspectives. This heavier focus on (potentially dry) textbooks seems to be a difference in comparison to the other self-study reading lists online.

Cost and benefit comparison

What does it cost to read the above books? Assuming that you read one book a week (I usually read more), this will take you approximately 3 years. This would turn into 295 USD of subscription cost on Perlego. Additionally, you would need to buy some additional books, but in the end that is optional and could be skipped with no great loss. The cost of reading the above is therefore around 300 USD.

How much does a good MBA degree cost? Quite a bit more. Let us have a look at MBA Today’s fee guide. The tuition alone can be between 50,000 USD and 160,000 USD. Additionally, you need to look at non-tuition expenses and the opportunity cost of not working (for a full-time degree at least). All in all, it seems fair to say that an MBA from a good university will set you back at least 100,000 USD.

In other words, a self-study MBA only based on Perlego would be 300 times cheaper and you could save over 100,000 USD. The pure cost advantage is clear however you count.

We should also look at the benefits. At least in the short term, getting a well-recognised MBA degree is very likely to lead to a bigger income increase than learning similar knowledge from books while getting work experience. Getting the degree is also a fun experience (although books are too!) and provides status and connections. By not getting the degree, you can instead invest the money it would have cost and this should also be included if comparing. You also have the opportunity to build work experience while learning, but it will take longer.

Long-term, I believe the best choice varies highly from person to person. It is good that there are multiple ways to learn, therefore.

Other advantages

Similar to taking an Executive MBA, one non-cost advantage of self-study is that you can continue to get valuable work experience in parallel and even apply your learning in your actual career as you learn. Depending on your career goals, this could be valuable even though you will need to give it more time since work experience takes time to get.

Another advantage is the extraordinary level of flexibility, since you can learn exactly at your own pace and in the way and order that best fits yourself.

For some skills, such as leadership and management, experience is arguably much more valuable than a degree. See for example Managers not MBAs.

Disadvantages

There are obviously some disadvantages to learning on your own too. Otherwise, everyone would (hopefully) do so instead of getting an MBA. In the end, you can acquire knowledge both cheaply and easily on your own nowadays. However, an MBA degree is obviously about more than knowledge, such as:

Getting only the knowledge through books will not make it possible to put ‘MBA’ on your CV and will not give you those connections. For some people, the networking aspects could be highly valuable. Also, for some types of jobs, having the formal degree might be highly expected or practically required.

Overall, it is much harder to describe and prove your knowledge without a degree.

Conclusions

The above is a summary of my current learning plan related to business and a suggestion for anyone else who wants to learn more about this. I have many other theoretical interests (including mathematics, computer science, data science, economics, politics, and law) and I typically read and learn about all these too.

A combination of learning through books and hands-on experience is my favourite way to improve my skills and knowledge and it is great that this is so easy and affordable nowadays!

I keep track of all my recent book reading on goodreads.com. You can find most business-related books I have read here (over 200 books).

To summarise, I self-study business knowledge in these ways as described above:

I think more people should do the same, since it is both great fun and useful.