Here are my top picks, in no particular order:
The Boston Consulting Group on Strategy by Carl W. Stern & Michael S. Deimler – This book is a compilation of BCG’s most famous insights over the past 40-50 years. Some of the stuff is outdated, but it gives you a really good picture of the development of business theory over the ages.
The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan – Not a book about consulting but rather a book about consultants. This book is about the insider trading scandal that involved Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar (former Managing Director and Senior Partner of McKinsey, respectively). It’s a really good picture of the psychology, lifestyle, rise, and fall of two of the world’s most famous consultants.
The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean – This book is also not about consulting directly but rather about Jeff Skilling, a McKinsey Partner that jumped to the firm and eventually became CEO of Enron. It also goes into all of the craziness that was the Enron scandal: from the left field investments in Broadband and Water, to the Romanesque internal politics, to the unbelievable accounting practices that destroyed Arthur Andersen, etc.
The Firm: The Story of McKinsey by Duff McDonald – This is an excellent book about the history of McKinsey. What was most interesting to me is how much McKinsey owes its former managing director, Fred Glock. He’s basically the Steve Jobs of the consulting world – comes completely out of left field (he was a research scientist at Bell Lab for a decade, unheard of for a consultant) and completely reshapes the firm and his entire industry.
McKinsey’s Marvin Bower by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim – Marvin Bower is a really interesting guy. He essentially created the McKinsey culture and steered the firm through its most difficult years but is unlike any consultant I’ve ever met. They just don’t make ones like him anymore.
Consulting Demons by Lewis Pinault – This is a wonderful book that shows you the dark side of the consulting world. Beautifully written and unforgettable.
House of Lies by Martin Kihn – This book is also a great expose of the negative side of consulting. Martin is a great writer, and this book is the basis for a series of the same name on Showtime.
The Lords of Strategy by Walter Kiechel – Talks about the history of the consulting industry, from Arthur D. Little to the present day. I had no idea how entrepreneurial the founders of the consulting industry (James McKinsey, Bruce Henderson, Bill Bain, etc.) were and how many consulting ideas just ended up being fads that lived a few years, were spread across the industry, and eventually died off.
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto – This book changed how I think about presentations.
Strategic Logic by J. Carlos Jarillo – Forget Michael Porter’s books (I’ve read them), Strategic Logic is by far the best business strategy book I’ve ever seen. I can’t recommend it enough.
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen – Again, not a book about consulting per say but it does explain why many businesses fail.
The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb – Also not a book about consulting directly but it shows you the difficulty of using past data to predict future results.
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig – This book successfully debunks most other business books. Read it so you understand what is fact and what is bias.