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Wharton School Press  |  August 5, 2021

The Wharton School Press Summer 2021 Reading List

Top Picks From Our Authors for Your End-of-Summer Read

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Is it really summer vacation without a good book?

Wharton School Press asked its authors what books are on their summer 2021 reading lists. Here are their recommendations.

BUSINESS, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, AND TECHNOLOGY

GREGORY SHEA, COAUTHOR OF LEADING SUCCESSFUL CHANGE

Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, by James Suzman

From Shea: At their best, organizations help people to perform “work,” a central and defining human activity. Yet, just what is “work” and how did we end up with our current (brace yourself) “working” definition of it?  Anthropologist James Suzman approaches answering those questions in his thoughtful and highly readable book.

PETER FADER, AUTHOR OF CUSTOMER CENTRICITY AND COAUTHOR OF THE CUSTOMER CENTRICITY PLAYBOOK

The Forever Transaction: How to Build a Subscription Model So Compelling, Your Customers Will Never Want to Leave, by Robbie Kellman Baxter

From Fader: It seems like every company is trying to turn their product or service into a subscription. While this will be a great idea for some firms, it will fail for others. Nobody has greater insight about this important topic than Robbie Kellman Baxter. Anyone interested in learning more about the “membership economy” must read this book.

PAULA DAVIS, AUTHOR OF BEATING BURNOUT AT WORK: WHY TEAMS HOLD THE SECRET TO WELL-BEING & RESILIENCE 

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload, by Cal Newport

From Davis: Cal Newport is always ahead of the curve in his research and thought leadership on various workplace topics, and this is no exception.

RODNEY ZEMMEL, COAUTHOR OF GO LONG: WHY LONG-TERM THINKING IS YOUR BEST SHORT-TERM STRATEGY

Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else, by Jordan Ellenberg

From Zemmel: This book takes some concepts in geometry and explains their relevance to everything from winning games to combating mosquitoes to designing fair elections.

Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside, by Xiaowei Wang 

From Zemmel: A unique read about the impact that technology has had in rural China, in places a celebration and in part quite dystopian. While not personally in support of the “technology will subsume humanity” view, I recommend this read as an interesting look at the other side of that debate.

GEORGE DAY, AUTHOR OF INNOVATION PROWESS: LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES FOR ACCELERATING GROWTH

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson

Jennifer Doudna won a Nobel Prize for her work with CRISPR technology. This book details Doudna, her colleagues, and a scientific “revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.”

KARL ULRICH, COAUTHOR OF WINNING IN CHINA 

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World, by Michelle Gelfand

Michelle Gelfand uses her extensive background in cultural psychology to explain how “much of the diversity in the way we think and act derives from a key difference—how tightly or loosely we adhere to social norms.”

MAURO GUILLÉN, AUTHOR OF THE PLATFORM PARADOX: HOW DIGITAL BUSINESSES SUCCEED IN AN EVER-CHANGING GLOBAL MARKETPLACE 

How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, by Katy Milkman

Wharton School professor Katy Milkman details her proven plan for success in this Wall Street Journal bestseller.

Iconoclasm: A Survival Guide in the Post-Pandemic Economy, by Tony Zorc

Tony Zorc explores iconoclasm, which is about “unlocking doors that seem to be shut.” This book is an extremely timely look into the pandemic-driven “new era of business.”

SARAH TOMS, COAUTHOR OF THE CUSTOMER CENTRICITY PLAYBOOK

Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything, by Ulrich Boser

From Toms: Knowledge has become cheap to acquire—but invaluable. It used to be to gain knowledge, we had to work at the elbow of an expert (think: apprenticeship). But gaining knowledge now takes no longer than a Google search. This book lays it all out with what we need to do on a micro and macro level to learn better and the implications for schools, businesses, and becoming an expert in just about anything.

KEVIN WERBACH, COAUTHOR OF FOR THE WIN

Framers, by Kenneth Cukier, Francis de Véricourt, and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

From Werbach: There are many excellent recent books about artificial intelligence, including Wharton professor Kartik Hosanagar’s  A Human’s Guide to Machine Intelligence. This one is, to some extent, the opposite: a book about what AI cannot do. Humans have a unique ability to frame problems, which is often the most important factor in finding novel solutions. This book identifies the important dimensions of framing and how we can improve our skill in doing so.

PAUL j. h. SCHOEMAKER, AUTHOR OF BRILLIANT MISTAKES

Inside Private Prisons, by Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Inside Private Prisons “blends investigative reportage and quantitative and historical research to analyze privatized corrections in America.”

BEYOND BUSINESS BOOKS

RODNEY ZEMMEL, COAUTHOR OF GO LONG: WHY LONG-TERM THINKING IS YOUR BEST SHORT-TERM STRATEGY

Call It Sleep, by Henry Roth

From Zemmel: Mentioned by Fran Leibowitz in the documentary series “Pretend It’s a City,” this novel is stunningly original and might be the best thing Roth wrote about the immigrant experience in NYC.

MICHAEL PLATT, AUTHOR OF THE LEADER’S BRAIN

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

From Platt: It’s a lyrical account of the social lives of trees and the people who connect with them. A terrific read that makes Suzanne Simard’s scientific work on the social lives of trees accessible and relatable to any audience.

KARL ULRICH, COAUTHOR OF WINNING IN CHINA

Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, by Edward Slingerland

Edward Slingerland’s book entertains readers with a “deep dive into the alcohol-soaked origins of civilization.”

KEVIN WERBACH, COAUTHOR OF FOR THE WIN

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro

From Werbach: A brilliant meditation about what it means to be human, by telling a story through the alien eyes of a robot.

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