Reading Seminar: A second year, lifelong elective

(I created this syllabus back in the early ’00s, but all the readings are still relevant. Were I to update it, I’d add resources from Sophie Weiner’s An Alternative Syllabus for Understanding Corporate America (ht to @DavidHolzmer))

Books for Brave Managers

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, by allowing very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Noam Chomsky (1998)

If there is any truth in the quote above, a profound challenge for leaders in the world of practical affairs is to learn how to recognize the boundaries of “acceptable opinion” as these have been established in school, in the mainstream press, and in the dominant discourses, to reconsider what you believe to be role of business, the role of democracy and your own role as a citizen and a leader.

Students in this ongoing course are invited to take charge of broadening their conceptual boundaries and their future options by using the reading list, below, as a source of provocative ideas. The books have been chosen to complement, contradict and/or elevate ideas that you have been exposed to in the first year of your MBA program. Because so many interesting books and ideas await you in your other second year electives, I have purposefully left off of this list terrific books that are already on the syllabi of other reading seminars. Consider browsing through the books recommended for the leadership seminars, the globalizism course, and the managerial psychology courses for more mainstream ideas.

Although the issues of all of these books are interrelated, I have organized them into subgroups around central themes. Within each theme, the suggestions address more than one but certainly not all useful views. These suggestions are a place to begin, not a list to complete.

One recommended approach (of many that would work) is to read each book following Sander’s (Love is the Killer App, 2000) method for “making knowledge work for you”, or following Adler’s (1940) time-honored method outlined in “How to read a book” to aggregate, encode, process and apply some of the ideas in each book. Students should practice the five “habits of the mind” to interrogate each book for (at the very least) evidence, point of view and relevance.

These five habits of questioning include:

1. Evidence: How do we know what we know?
2. Point of view: Whose perspective does this represent?
3. Connections: How is this related to that?
4. Supposition: How might things have been otherwise?
5. Relevance: Why is this important?

Please recognize that you are not supposed to agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve these authors and their analyses—your challenge is to use their ideas to expand your understanding of and your posture towards your place in this world.

I would be delighted to provide you with a longer, annotated version of this list if you’d like more information about any of the recommended books. I’d love to hear what you think of these authors and their ideas, and to get your suggestions about what else might be added to this list. Please contact me, at any point in the future, at

As Churchill notably remarked, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and move on as though nothing has happened.”

Rather than stumble, go out and inquire. Rather than presume that what you believe is truth, seek understanding of others’ realities. Do more than just move on; move forward.

Books for Brave Managers

I. Insights from Broader Models of Economics and “The Firm”

• The Firm, the Market, and the Law by Ronald H. Coase

• What Do Unions Do? by Richard B. Freeman, James L. Medoff

The Company : A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea by John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge

• Firms, Organizations and Contracts: A Reader in Industrial Organization by Peter J. Buckley, Jonathan Michie, Ronald Coase

The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde

II. The Tensions Between Democracy & Shareholder Capitalism

• The Soul of Capitalism by William Grieder

Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann

• Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth by David Bollier

Corporation Nation : How Corporations Are Taking Over Our Lives and What We Can Do About It by Charles Derber
Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity by Lawrence Lessig

III. Globalism, Economic Justice and the Distribution of Abundance

• Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph E. Stiglitz (Nobel Prize Winning Economist)

• Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (Nobel Prize Winning Economist)

A Future Perfect : The Challenge and Promise of Globalization by John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge

IV. Authenticity and Consumerism

No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs by Naomi Klein

The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness by Virginia Postrel

• The Experience Economy by James H. Gilmore, B. Joseph Pine

Culture Jam : How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge–and Why We Must by Kalle Lasn

V. Gender, Raceoethnic, Class and Cultural Discrimination

• The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G. Johnson (if you read only one thing in your life about gender, make it this book)

Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What To Do About it by Joan Williams

• Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family by James A. Levine, Todd L. Pittinsky

• Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

VI. New Models of Leadership

• Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary? by Linus Torvalds, David Diamond

• Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]