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6 Business Books to Read this Summer

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Are you taking time off this summer but want to stay on top of your game in the business world? Here are six of the best business books, novels and memoirs the University of Vermont’s School of Business Administration faculty recommends for your summer reading list.

Business Books to Read this Summer

1. And The Money Kept Rolling In (and Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina, by Paul Blustein

Allison Kingsley

Recommended by: Allison Kingsley, MSL, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Management

What it’s about: Washington Post journalist Paul Blustein writes about Argentina’s 2001 sovereign default in an engaging and approachable way for both amateurs and experienced business professionals. It’s an education in how the international economy really works. Think sovereign bonds, credit default swaps, currency devaluations, IMF lending, and the Washington Consensus.

Why should you read this book? Learn about the fundamental tension among exchange rates, monetary policy, and capital flows. Realize the visceral, human impact of high-level policy (in)decisions. Not only is Blustein’s writing superb, but the storytelling is captivating. Who knew that a complicated political economy tale could be such a page turner? Given recent sovereign defaults and crises in Europe and Latin America, understanding the causes and consequences of sovereign defaults matters to any student of business.

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

Dann Van Der Vliet

Recommended by: Dann Van Der Vliet, M.Ed., Faculty & Director of Vermont Family Business Initiative

What it’s about: The thought of trudging 2,650 miles though sand, sun, mud, rain and snow with 80 pounds on your back appeals to only a select few. Truthfully, the 80 pounds on the back likely appeals to no one. However, if leadership begins with self, there is no better way to examine that hypothesis than to venture out on the trail alone.

While a fundamental tenet of leadership may be preparation, Cheryl Strayed embarked on her journey with little preparation other than purchasing the Pacific Crest Trail guidebook on a whim. Having a clearly defined goal, as many long-distance hikes do, will often help overcome the lack of preparation. At a tumultuous time in her young life, the author set out to discover the wild and her inner limits, and in the tradition of Muir and Thoreau before her, found herself along the way.

As they routinely do in life, setbacks abound along the trail; failed equipment, unnecessary luxuries and obstacles sometimes beyond her control, yet her resilience and dedication toward the goal pulls her onward. A lesson any leader would do well to heed.

Why should you read this book? Strayed retells her tale with a curiosity and longing that is easy to relate to. Leadership is an adventure, and her story draws one out before pulling you back inside to discover the most valuable lessons.

3. My Thoughts Be Bloody, by Nora Titone

Recommended by: Dann Van Der Vliet, M.Ed., Faculty & Director of Vermont Family Business Initiative

What it’s about: Sibling rivalry has torn apart many a family, and family business. Little is known of John Wilkes Booth and the motivations that stirred him on that fateful night. Bitter rivals with his brother, Edwin, and a desire to carry forth the legacy of their father Junias, himself one of the most celebrated stage actors of his time, crafted a tragedy that has left its indelible marks on this nation’s history.

Although this tale is steeped in Civil War history, several lessons for families and families in business reside here. Forced into the profession and competing with his more talented brother, John Wilkes is relegated to perform in the south while Edwin claims the more populace north (to avoid the brand-dilution of two Booth’s appearing in the same region). Readers explore the Wilkes family dynamics and how many unresolved issues have a persistent habit of manifesting in unforeseen and unwelcome ways.

Why should you read this book? Legacy carries a heady weight, family systems may help to create the individual but only one’s actions can define them, and competition is not always the most efficacious way of resolving differences.

4. High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places, by David Breashears

Recommended by: Dann Van Der Vliet, M.Ed., Faculty & Director of Vermont Family Business Initiative

What it’s about: There is perhaps no singular human feat that pushes the individual so close to the brink of survival as summiting one of the world’s highest peaks. David Breashears has pioneered high altitude photography both through big screen motion pictures (Cliffhanger) and real-life documentaries (Everest – IMAX).

In High Exposure, Breashears shares the many leadership lessons that climbing has taught him. First, clearly state the goal and stick to it. Communicate that goal throughout the team incessantly to keep everyone moving in the same direction. Next, know your limits. Momentum can be dangerous; often planning is a non-issue when business is thriving or people are young and healthy. Finally, complete the task at hand. Getting up the mountain is optional, getting down is mandatory. Too often ego outweighs the more important group goal. Danger comes, argues the author, when ambition blinds reason. Selfishness will eventually disrupt teams and derail goals.

Why should you read this book? A lasting and important message throughout the book is the need for humility and respect; these will take you further in your climb than arrogance and hubris. In mountaineering, climbers die because they do not know their limits. Violent storms arise, allow for wiggle room, take constant inventory of your resources, and be patient. And set out to test your own limits.

5. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, by Tony Hsieh

Jie Zhang
Jie Zhang

Recommended by: Jie Zhang, DBA, ScM, MA., Assistant Professor of Operations and Information Systems Management

What it’s about: In this 2010 bestseller, Tony Hsieh tells a series of personal stories on topics ranging from his Asian heritage to lessons he learned as the CEO of Zappos. Under his leadership, Zappos, an e-commerce retailer, achieved USD 1.2 billion sales within 10 years of founding.

In his fun – and sometimes a little weird – writing style, Hsieh talks in great detail about his thought process and personal reflections as a decision-maker. Readers are given an intimate view of the tough tradeoffs central to business decisions. The approach lets readers appreciate not only the challenges but also the problem-solving procedure and resources (e.g., connections, books, and experiences) leveraged by Hsieh.

Why should you read this book? Business professionals and students will find Delivering Happiness a fun summer reading that also offers serious insights on critical business concepts such as core competence, culture, branding, operational excellence, change management, customer service, vendor relationship and human resource management.

6. Daemon and Freedom, by Daniel Suarez

Rocki Lee DeWitt

Recommended by: Rocki-Lee DeWitt, Ph.D., Professor of Management

What it’s about: In Daniel Suarez’s two-part novel, Daemon and Freedom, you are introduced to an online game that exceeds your wildest imagination of what online gaming is about and who is involved. It brings into sharp focus questions about the Internet and human behavior.

Characters come and go, transported in mechanisms that one wonders if they are just fantasy or have the possibility of being real. At the end of Daemon, you are left suspended in the story and will greedily reach for Freedom. If possible, the tempo of the story picks up even more. The construction of the story continues to reflect the tension between the role of large, dominant commercial enterprise and small, local communities of entrepreneurial effort with the web and players’ roles forming the story’s landscape.

Why should you read these books? You shouldn’t assume that what is represented is real, but it is sufficiently believable that you are likely to call up one of your IT-savvy friends and ask for a primer on the current state of the web, the cloud and online gaming. And isn’t that what the summer if for, after all? Read something to refresh and reach out to your friends and say, “Hey, how are you doing?” These two books will make you appreciate those interpersonal relationships.