Dominic Barton’s summer reading list

by Dominic Barton—The dog days are upon us in the northern hemisphere, as the United States celebrates the Fourth of July and we welcome a new intake of summer associates and business analysts to many of our offices. In addition to enjoying some downtime with family and friends, I hope to use some of my vacation to make a dent in my ever-growing reading list. Clients and colleagues have given me many great suggestions of books to read, podcasts to listen to, and summer events to go to—many more than I suspect I will be able to get through.

The list below is not exhaustive, but it includes recommendations that have come up a few times or with very high praise and are at the top of my reading list this summer.


The Road to Character (Random House, April 2015) by David Brooks

Separating “résumé virtues” (our external successes) from “eulogy virtues” (our character and relationships), Brooks challenges us to invest more in the personal qualities that truly define us and less in our short-term advancement.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2015) by Evan Osnos

From his vantage point as long-time Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker, Osnos provides incisive commentary on life in China through detailed portraits of well-known leaders, media figures, and dissidents, as well as everyday people. Dividing his book into three sections, Osnos focuses on modern China's search for wealth, freedom, and meaning.

The Wright Brothers (Simon & Schuster, May 2015) by David McCullough

This Pulitzer Prize-winning author draws on an extensive collection of private diaries and letters to tell the human side of Wilbur and Orville Wright's story, beginning with their childhood in a Dayton, Ohio home with no plumbing or electricity. Rejecting recent historians' depictions of the brothers as fortunate tinkerers, McCullough argues that it was the Wrights' courage, dedication, and ingenuity that helped them succeed. McCullough also explores the contributions of their sister Katharine Wright, overlooked by earlier historians.

The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014) by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh

The authors argue that in the networked age, managers and employees must see one another as neither family nor free agents but allies, with different but complementary goals. They offer recommendations for how both sides can get the most out of the relationship, including investing in one another's success and recognizing that talented employees may leave for other opportunities—and that this is no great insult.

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money (Harper, May 2015) by Nathaniel Popper

Popper, a New York Times technology and business writer, tells the story of Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency produced via mathematical formula with no central-bank oversight. Digital Gold describes how Bitcoin grew from a radical new idea on the outskirts of the web to a technology with a market capitalization of more than $3 billion.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Ecco, May 2015) by Ashlee Vance

The first journalist to obtain exclusive access to Musk, his family, and his friends, Vance provides an inside view of Musk's journey. He argues that Musk's incredible work ethic and deep desire to see his ideas proven right, partially influenced by his challenging upbringing in South Africa, have driven him to relentlessly pursue game-changing ideas.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan Books, 2014) by Atul Gawande

Gawande, a surgeon and best-selling author, argues that end-of-life goals for patients and families are dignity and quality of life—and that much of current care runs counter to these goals. He explores different models of hospice care, ones that are more likely to offer comfort and meaning.

Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will (Portfolio, August 2015) by Geoff Colvin

Colvin responds to growing concern about a “jobless future,” in which working people are replaced by machines, by arguing that technology is giving rise to a new economy where uniquely human skills—creativity, empathy, an ability to build relationships—are the most highly prized.

Thirteen Days in September: the Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace (Vintage, April 2015) by Lawrence Wright

Wright combines political analysis with research into the personal histories of Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin of Israel, and Anwar Sadat of Egypt to tell the story of the 1978 Camp David Accords, which laid the foundation for the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage, April 2015) by Richard Flanagan

Centering his story around the building of the “Death Railway” from Thailand to Burma by captured Allied soldiers in World War II, Flanagan explores the depth of our capacity for both cruelty and compassion.

Go Set a Watchman (Harper, July 2015) by Harper Lee

Believed to have been lost, this book is Harper Lee's earliest known work, submitted to publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Rediscovered and published, it explores the events transforming 1950s America and their effects on life in Maycomb, Alabama.

All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014) by Anthony Doerr

A finalist for the National Book Award, this moving story depicts a German boy and a blind French girl whose lives become intertwined in World War II.

McKinsey colleagues have published a number of excellent books and reports this year. Three I want to highlight in particular are: No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends (PublicAffairs, May 2015) by Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel; Beyond Cybersecurity: Protecting Your Digital Business (Wiley, April 2015) by James Kaplan, Tucker Bailey, Derek O'Halloran, Alan Marcus, and Chris Rezek; Brighter Africa: The growth potential of the sub-Saharan electricity sector by Antonio Castellano, Adam Kendall, Mikhail Nikomarov, and Tarryn Swemmer.

Finally, I am modernising the summer reading list this year to include a podcast series: Invisibilia by Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller. In six one-hour-long podcasts, Invisibilia explores the invisible forces shaping our world, from the mechanical (e.g., digitisation, our ability to see) to the philosophical (e.g., where our thoughts come from.)

Dominic Barton is McKinsey's global managing director.

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