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Read Like an MBA: Top 5 Books Ivy Leaguers Read in Business School

Traci Cox
Traci Cox
Updated Jan 23, 2023

Want to get an Ivy League MBA education without the six-figure cost? It’s simple: read like an MBA student!

We dug into the best school’s required reading lists

Take a look at what MBA seekers at America’s top Ivy League schools are reading.


See what’s on Harvard Business School’s required reading list.

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Robort Sutton and Huggy Rao   

“A great read that provides practical advice whether you’re a team of five or fifty thousand.” 
–– Lazlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations, Google

Book Cover: Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton

In Scaling Up Excellence, bestselling author, Robert Sutton and Stanford colleague, Huggy Rao Sutton offer a comprehensive guide to management in a package of enticing stories, subtly supported by references to high-end research.

Their personal history in the Silicon Valley and their global access to interesting organizations provides a relevant backdrop.

The main theme is that, while many good practices exist in organizations, they either get lost or there are difficulties when attempts are made to spread them (scale them) across the organization.

The breadth of this theme means that this book will provide value to anyone who would like to see organizations improve. The benefits are not limited by industry, functional area or organizational size. 


What books do alumni from the Stanford Graduate School of Business recommend? Here’s one: 

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie   

“It was written by a guy who made Hallmark cards. It’s about maintaining creativity in a corporate structure.” 
–– Tristan Walker, founder of Walker & Company

Orbiting the Giant Hairball Cover

Any business can morph into a giant hairball, a tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, traditions, and systems based on what worked in the past that can plunge it into mediocrity.

Gordon MacKenzie worked at Hallmark Cards for thirty years. Much at that time he worked hard to get his collegues to go into “orbit”, to a mode of dreaming, daring and doing above and beyond the rubber-stamp confines of the administrative mind-set.

In his deeply funny book, exuberantly illustrated in full color, he shares the story of his own professional evolution, together with lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius.

Originally self-published and already a business “cult classic”, this personally empowering and entertaining book explores the intersection between human creativity and the bottom line.

A must-read for any manager looking for new ways to invigorate employees, and any professional who wants to achieve his or her best, most self-expressive, most creative and fulfilling work.

Related Article: Inspiration Awaits: 5 Influential Business Books You Need to Read


The syllabus for Managerial Decision Making at the Tuck School for Business at Dartmouth includes this unexpected yet captivating read:

Moneyball:  The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

“One of the best baseball, and management, books out…. Deserves a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.” — Forbes

Book Cover: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Discover the compelling story of the low-budget Oakland A’s and their unorthodox general manager, Billy Beane as they use statistics and the scientific method to succeed against teams with much larger payrolls.

This is a book that can be appreciated from so many different angles.

For fans of baseball the allure is obvious. For fans of statistics, this book offers amazing insight into how numbers can be employed in real life with very powerful and very real results.

For fans of human nature, this book offers a great look at how mistakes can be repeated and then perpetuated until someone with a strong mind and a stronger will comes along to break the cycle.

And for fans of character-driven stories, Moneyball hits it out of the park. 

Related Article: The Most Inspiring Books for Small Business Owners


What’s on tap at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell 

When Genius Failed:  The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstien

Book Cover: When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein

The story of The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management is a compelling one not only for people interested in finance, but for anyone fascinated by the spectacle of very smart people losing enormous sums of money.

Lowenstein’s book makes this story accessible by glossing over some of the technical details, a tradeoff of readability for depth, but still provides insight into the causes of LTCM’s collapse.

In this business classic, now with a new afterword in which the author draws parallels to the recent financial crisis, Lowenstein captures the gripping roller-coaster ride of Long-Term Capital Management.

Drawing on confidential internal memos and interviews with dozens of key players, Lowenstein explains not just how the fund made and lost its money but also how the personalities of Long-Term’s partners, the arrogance of their mathematical certainties, and the culture of Wall Street itself contributed to both their rise and their fall.

Related Article: A Gift Worth Opening: The 10 Best Business Books for 2016


In the course, Mastering Influence and Persuasion at Yale School of Management this read was on the syllabus.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Influence should be required reading for all business majors.”  –– Journal of Retailing

Book Cover: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Influence has established itself as the most important book on persuasion ever published. This book explains the psychology of why people say, yes and how to apply these findings to others and your own life.

Distinguished psychologist, Robert B. Cialdini Ph.D., explains why some people are remarkably persuasive and how you can beat them at their own game.

This indispensable book guarantees you’ll never again say, yes when you really mean, no, and how to make yourself into your most influential self.

Most books of applied psychology fall prey to one of two weaknesses: Either they lack scientific content (or over-simplify) or they present solid information in an academic manner that readers find difficult to absorb and apply.

Robert Cialdini’s book stands out brilliantly from these books. 

Traci Cox
Traci Cox
Traci is a marketing copywriter with over twelve years experience developing multi channel content and branding strategies for financial products and services for a fortune 100 company, including but not limited to banking, credit cards, lending, and small business. Making complicated subject matter more interesting and easier to understand is her specialty. A fan of all things entrepreneurial, she creates branding and marketing materials for start-ups and small businesses.