The 2021 CFA Candidate Recommended Reading List

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Note: This is a reading list for candidates that are looking for an engaging read while enhancing their knowledge for the CFA exams and investment management. These books are not curriculum readings and are not intended act as preparation material for the CFA exams.

Looking for some lockdown reading? Why not read something entertaining and educational?

We have assembled a book list to help solidify readers grasp on finance, but at the same time be a fun and engaging read. And you don’t have to take an exam at the end of it – win-win!

Whether you’re CFA Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3, the books in this list will help round out CFA candidates’ perspectives, recommended by CFA Institute staff members who are former investment practitioners and the 300 Hours editors. Each carefully selected book will challenge your thinking and develop areas that typically only emerge after years of on the job.

2021 CFA Reading List: Top 20 Picks for Candidates

Daniel Susskind A World Without Work

​A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond
Daniel Susskind

Is the job threat of artificial intelligence real? How would we adapt?

This year’s FT/McKinsey business book of the year finalist, Oxford economist Daniel Susskind provides a thought-provoking analysis of the future of work in the age of artificial intelligence.

It is well-written in a clear and often amusing way; it is also exceptionally well-argued and well-referenced.


Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell

What makes high-achievers different?

Instead of focusing on what successful people are like, Malcolm Gladwell argues that more attention should be given to where they are from: their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.

​Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Significant, an easy read, and highly educational.


Investment Banking: Valuation, Leveraged Buyouts and Mergers & Acquisitions
Pearl & Rosenbaum

The textbook for you if you’re looking to break into investment banking.

Rosenbaum and Pearl once again have written the definitive book that they wish had existed when they were trying to break into Wall Street.

This book fills a noticeable gap in contemporary finance literature, which tends to focus on theory rather than practical application. It focuses on the primary valuation methodologies currently used on Wall Street comparable companies, precedent transactions, DCF, and LBO analysis as well as M&A analysis.


The Cartoon Guide to Statistics 
Larry Gonick and Woollcott Smith 

A fun and graphical guide to financial math.

This may seem a silly choice coming from CFA Institute; however, The Cartoon Guide to Statistics, explains statistics in such a way that you can understand the philosophy behind the mathematics.

​You become a better financial professional because you are able to better synthesize the elements of statistics: geometry, algebra, calculus, and probability theory.


The Handbook of Fixed Income Securities
Frank J. Fabozzi

The most trusted resource in the world for fixed income investing for decades.

Written by Frank Fabozzi, professor of finance at EDHEC Business School and a member of the EDHEC Risk Institute and on the board of BlackRock, this classic has been updated, revised and expanded to the latest major upheavals and new opportunities that have risen in the recent years.


The Intelligent Investor
Benjamin Graham

The bible of investing, by the father of value investing.

‘The Dean of Wall Street’, as Benjamin Graham was called, was considered the first proponent of value investing, an investment approach he began teaching at Columbia Business School in 1928. The Intelligent Investor, which Buffett calls “the greatest book on investing ever written”, introduced the Mr. Market analogy, perhaps the best investment analogy in history.


Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
Phil Knight

“You are remembered for the rules you break.”

​Fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan.

Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car in 1963, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In this age of start-ups, Knight’s Nike is the gold standard, and its swoosh is one of the few icons instantly recognized in every corner of the world.

​Bill Gates named Shoe Dog one of his five favorite books of 2016 and called it “an amazing tale, a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey, riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Phil Knight opens up in ways few CEOs are willing to do.”


The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
Michael Lewis

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis chronicles the events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. His dark humor and narrative makes subprime mortgages and credit default swaps almost sexy. His ragtag group of characters, the idiocy, madness and greed highlighted in the book makes it a really fun and educational read.

This book was made into a 2015 movie The Big Short, which is also recommended in our CFA movies list.


Strategic Value Investing: Practical Techniques of Leading Value Investors
Stephen M. Horan, CFA, CIPM; Robert R. Johnson, CFA; and Thomas R. Robinson, CFA  

Value investing for fun and profit

This book places value investing in the context of investing generally, highlighting the size of the valuing investing opportunity and the behavioral challenges associated with capturing it.  The core of this book describes traditional methods used to estimate the value of a stock.  It is brought to life in the last part of the book, though, where the authors match specific value styles to well-known investors like Buffet, Graham, Neff, etc.

​Although the most receptive audience is likely to be “serious amateurs”, candidates in the CFA Program would find the book helpful supplemental reading and veteran CFA charterholders will find it a pleasant refresher with a tone, composition, and flare not found in the CFA curriculum.


The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking
Saifedean Ammous

Written by economist and professor, Saifedean Ammuos, The Bitcoin Standard takes you on a journey starting from the introduction of money through its stages of evolution to present day.

It focuses on the economics of Bitcoin – rather than the technical details – to give you a big picture potential of Bitcoin, and how it can be the next global reserve currency.

A great, relevant read which complements your CFA studies as well.


Money of the Mind: Borrowing and Lending in America from the Civil War to Michael Milken
James Grant  

An engaging history of finance

Credit makes the world go ‘round, and can just as easily make it stop, as we have learned all too recently.

It’s a shame so many people in finance are ignorant of its fascinating history, which contains lessons of potential relevance today. If you are one of those people, Jim Grant’s Money of the Mind will go a long way towards curing you.


Capital Ideas: The Improbable Origins of Modern Wall Street
Peter L. Bernstein  

The evolution of modern investment theory

Peter Bernstein’s many contributions to the financial canon are too numerous to explore in this post (although Against the Gods is also included in this list), but I must note that I consider it one of the great privileges of my career to have worked with Peter and his wife Barbara several times over his final years.

His book Capital Ideas traces, and puts human faces on, the evolution of financial theory, and in my opinion is indispensable background for anyone working in investment-related businesses.


Strengths Finder 2.0
Tom Rath  

Play your strengths, and win

You can’t be all things to all people (or all employers for that matter) so it makes sense to identify your relative strengths and build your personal brand and self-marketing around them.

Strengths Finder 2.0 is a tool for identifying the competencies that you are strongest in and provides you with a language for exploring and expressing those strengths.

If you happen to manage people or lead teams, you may also find that the way Roth frames the 34 strengths discussed in the book helps you in coaching others


Liar’s Poker
Michael Lewis

Entertaining, funny, and important lessons for the young investment banker

A classic recommendation to anyone starting out in finance. Liar’s Poker is an extended Aesop’s Fable for the modern financial age: Michael Lewis’ first-hand account as a bond salesman in Solomon Brothers, one of the most powerful and profitable merchant banks in their time. Among the many entertaining and funny experiences, you’ll also clearly glean important life lessons for investors and investment banks alike.


The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
Alice Schroeder

The Warren Buffett must-read

An inside look into the life and career of Warren Buffett – one of the most revered investment figures in the world. Despite never having written a memoir, he has been persuaded to allow Alice Schroeder to spend time with him and those with whom he works to investigate his business triumphs, his opinions… and his mistakes. A hefty book, but an engaging one.


Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
Peter L. Bernstein

An inspiring and readable history of risk, and its vital role in markets

Probably the best author on financial history, Peter Bernstein (whose book Capital Ideas is also included in this reading list) details how risk management techniques and tools allowed us to emerge and modernize from the age of oracles and soothsayers.

​It gives you not just an entertaining read into what is sometimes a pretty dry subject, but also inspires and imbues you with a sense of newfound appreciation for risk management.


Barbarians at the Gate
Bryan Burrough

The largest and most dramatic corporate takeover in American history

An insightful look into the frenetic world of corporate takeovers in the 80s, in particular, the battle for RJR Nabisco in the autumn of 1988. An absolute pleasure to read and approachable even for those unfamiliar with finance, it’s both an engaging thriller and an instructive business book.


Core Concepts of Organizational Behavior
John R. Schermerhorn, James G. Hunt, and Richard N. Osborn  

Brush up on your people skills

To succeed as a financial professional, you need to be more than a successful analyst. Why? You have to work with other human beings in order to get your work done. You will be working with fellow analysts and a supervisor, such as a portfolio manager or chief investment officer, and you need to get along with these people. The book’s famous “forming-storming-norming-performing” framework alone is worth the price.


When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management
Roger Lowenstein

The cautionary tale of Long-Term Capital Management

A vivid, detailed and thrilling account of the rise and cataclysmic fall of Long-Term Capital Management, the supposed hedge fund to end all other hendge funds. Alongside the dramatic tale, Lowenstein blends a post-mortem of how LCTM failed, and lessons in how models and investment theorems based on past experiences may be a lot less reliable than expected.


Only the Paranoid Survive
Andrew S. Grove 

Ask and you shall receive

To combat groupthink, “yes-men”, and self-preservation instincts, Grove advocates that business leaders use a proactive approach of engaging with all those people in a position to know better. Even though you may be expected to “know” all the answers, he says, you need to make yourself vulnerable and fight through any ignorance you may have by asking honest, open-ended questions. In this way, you can improve your knowledge about what is happening. Without necessarily knowing Philip Fisher’s terminology, Grove illustrates how to put the scuttlebutt method into practice.

Special Mentions: also recommended if you’re thirsty for more


How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie’s rock-solid, time-tested advice has carried countless people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

The Summer Reading Pick for President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Flash Boys – Michael Lewis

In Michael Lewis’s game-changing bestseller, a small group of Wall Street iconoclasts realize that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders.

They band together―some of them walking away from seven-figure salaries―to investigate, expose, and reform the insidious new ways that Wall Street generates profits.

If you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think.

System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Influence: The Power of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini

A New York Times bestseller, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini — the seminal expert in the field of influence and persuasion — explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these principles ethically in business and everyday situations.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis

Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original papers that invented the field of behavioral economics.

One of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, Kahneman and Tversky’s extraordinary friendship incited a revolution in Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible.

In The Undoing Project, Lewis shows how their Nobel Prize-winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.

The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11.

For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

How to Lie with Statistics – Darrell Huff

Darrell Huff runs the gamut of every popularly used type of statistic, probes such things as the sample study, the tabulation method, the interview technique, or the way the results are derived from the figures, and points up the countless number of dodges which are used to full rather than to inform.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Confessions of an Economic Hitman – John Perkins

This now-classic book revealed the existence and subversive manipulations of economic hit men: ‘highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars.

Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder.’ In Perkins’s case the tool was debt — convincing strategically important countries to borrow huge amounts of money for enormous, ‘development’ projects that served the very rich while driving the country deeper into poverty and debt.

And once indebted, these countries could be controlled.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

More Money than God – Sebastian Mallaby

Wealthy, powerful, and potentially dangerous, hedge fund moguls have become the It Boys of twenty-first- century capitalism.

Beating the market was long thought to be impossible, but hedge funds cracked its mysteries and made fortunes in the process.

Drawing on his unprecedented access to the industry, esteemed financial writer Sebastian Mallaby tells the inside story of the hedge funds, from their origins in the 1960s to their role in the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

The Five Rules for Successful Investing – Pat Dorsey

The book for those serious about learning how to invest.Pat Dorsey’s methodology is sound, his examples clear, and his approach timeless.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success – Adam Grant

Wharton Professor Adam Grant shares compelling research along with a compelling narrative explaining how and why.

This book addresses networking, collaboration, influencing, and a number of other potent soft skills while emphasizing practical pro-social behavior.

Learn more about this book on Amazon →

Thoughts? Got your own recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!

5 thoughts on “The 2021 CFA Candidate Recommended Reading List”

  1. Money for Nothing by Thomas Levenson

    A history of the South Sea Bubble and the first steps in the development of the stock and debt markets. I found it particularly interesting as a Level I candidate as it touches on many CFA topics, such as the time value of money, derivatives and leverage.


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