June 2024 | 

Faculty Recommendations: Nonfiction to Read Now

Faculty Recommendations: Non-fiction to Read Now

As summer begins in Philadelphia, we asked Wharton professors what they’ve been reading lately. The list offers a range of nonfiction titles, only some of which relate directly to business. Check their recommendations before you pack or download volumes for your next getaway.

Lindsey Cameron, assistant professor of management, recommends a book by University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Ben Shestakofsky. Behind the Startup: How Venture Capital Shapes Work, Innovation, and Inequality is based on 19 months of observational research in a successful Silicon Valley tech startup. Professor Shestakofsky explores how the company and others like it are organized to satisfy its investors’ needs and argues for change in the financial infrastructure that funds tech startups.

Professor Cameron also suggests Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends, by Marisa Franco, which examines modern friendships and offers research-based approaches for improving the number and quality of our connections. Private Equity: A Memoir, by Carrie Sun, is part exposé of the world of high finance, toxic work culture, and extreme wealth, and part awakening to what it takes to create a life of meaning and substance. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Kate Manne, investigates gender, power dynamics, and how misogyny affects our private lives and politics. 

For Mike Useem, professor emeritus of management and director of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, leadership lessons are often grounded in history. His reading suggestions include two books representing leaders both past and present. The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, by Stacy Schiff, illuminates the life of the often-overlooked founding father who provided “the moral backbone of the American Revolution,” according to the book. Elon Musk, by Walter Isaacson, offers insights into one of the most controversial leaders of today. Musk’s views on AI and his vision for the future are particularly noteworthy.

Marketing professor Pete Fader recommends Built for People: Transform Your Employee Experience Using Product Management Principles, by Jessica Zwaan. “This may seem like an unusual topic for me, since I’m usually focusing on measurement/management for customers, not employees. But my new startup, Incompass Labs, is trying to bring a much higher level of rigor to employee measurement/management than current practices — and Zwaan’s book is excellent in this regard,” says Professor Fader. “I really like the way she brings concepts/frameworks from product management to the people function. It’s a worthy read for anyone who is currently grappling with the complexity/uncertainty of managing people — as well as for outsiders like myself who want to bring new kinds of scientific thinking to this vitally important domain.”

Matthew Bidwell, professor of management and academic director of Leading Today’s Talent: Management Strategies for an Evolving Workforce, says The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep Ton is “a detailed look at how operations and management come together to shape companies’ success. The book does a great job of showing how false economies in staffing and rewarding employees can end up undermining profitability in the long run.”

Professor Bidwell also recommends Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein, saying “It is a really thoughtful description of the value of building broad experiences rather than over-specializing. It is particularly powerfully written with a nice blend of social science and detailed reporting.”

Iwan Barankay, behavioral economist and associate professor of management, suggests Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle over Technology and Prosperity. MIT professors Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson consider whether the rise of AI will be good for everyone and how getting regulation of new technologies right is key to a more equitably prosperous future.

Professor Barankay also suggests Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, in which economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton examine the social and economic forces driving the working class to new depths of pain and despair. The authors attribute the crisis to the declining strength of labor, the increasing dominance of corporations, and a predatory health care sector that funnels working-class wages into the hands of the wealthy.

John Paul MacDuffie, management professor and director of the Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation (PVMI) at Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management, says, “In a time when we need to be building things, I recommend Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge, by Erica Wagner.” The book illuminates the requirements of industrial process, both mathematical and psychological. Professor MacDuffie also recommends The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future by Gretchen Bakke, which he calls “a challenge for the coming electrification transition.”