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  Albert Madansky

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Read a Business Book
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How to Read a Business Book
...Plus a Supplemental Syllabus

Three "preclassics" that do not speak specifically to business management have often been used as the basis for deriving lessons in how to conduct business. The earliest of these is Sun-Tsu's The Art of War, written in the 6th century B.C., whose recent translation by R. L. Wing was retitled The Art of Strategy (1988, Doubleday) and is interpreted in Mark R. McNeilly's Sun Tsu and the Art of Business (Oxford, 1996).

The next is quite familiar to College alums, Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince and The Discourses, published in 1513 and digested in such bizbooks as Antony Jay's Management and Machiavelli (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), Richard Buskirk's Modern Management and Machiavelli (Cahners Books, 1974), and Michael Ledeen's Machiavelli on Modern Leadership (St. Martin's Press, 1999).

The third is a book popularized in business schools with the rise of Japanese management as a management paradigm, Miyamoto Musashi's Gorin No Sho, written in 1645 and translated as The Book of Five Rings (Bantam Books, 1982).

What these books have in common is the use of war as a metaphor for business. (I know of no attempt, though, to recast Machiavelli's lesser known work, The Art of War, into a bizbook.) If you are interested in this slant on business strategy, I also recommend Mao Tse-tung's 1938 monograph, Strategic Problems in the Anti-Japanese Guerilla War, translated into English in 1954 by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Again, no one has turned this into a bizbook. But stay away from others of this genre, for example, Wess Roberts's Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (Warner Books, 1985), or some of the more recent publications, including Alan Axelrod's Patton on Leadership (Prentice Hall, 1999) and Al Kaltman's Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant (Prentice Hall, 1998).

One shouldn't look only in books for seminal material. Many of the great ideas first (or only) appeared as journal articles-and not surprisingly, many of the authors had Chicago connections.

1. Coase, Ronald. 1937. The Nature of the Firm. Economica 4:386-403. The 1991 Nobel Prize-winning paper by the Clifton R. Musser professor emeritus in the Law School showed the importance of the institutional structure of production, in particular transaction costs, in the study of the firm.

2. Lindblom, Charles E. 1959. The Science of "Muddling Through." Public Administration Review 19:79-88. A highly influential work, both in justifying non-optimal, incremental decision-making in public management and in stimulating business theorists (e.g., James Quinn, Ed Wrapp) to apply and formalize his approach to business as well.

3. Simon, Herbert A. 1964. On the Concept of Organizational Goal. Administrative Science Quarterly 9:1-22. A good starting point for a gaze into the evolving thinking of 1978 Nobel laureate Simon, AB'36, PhD'43, and how it applies to business.

4. Jensen, Michael and Meckling, William. 1976. Theory of the Firm. Journal of Financial Economics 3:305-60. Jensen, MBA'64, PhD'68, and Meckling apply microeconomic analysis to the role of the CEO as agent of the shareholders of a firm.-A.M.

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