Where is Don Draper when you need him? I need an attention-grabbing title for top accounting books all of us should consider reading. I need his help because this is a topic where I need help on getting you past the headline.
I started with a list of 10 books, but I was forcing myself after the fifth title. Plus, I wanted books that were both mind-bending and interesting. Steven Bragg did not make the list, although I love his books. I didn’t want an owner’s manual on my list which is what his insightful and instructional books generally are.
I’m going to go in reverse order to build up suspense on such an exciting topic.
Is it really an accounting book, or just a great book by an internal auditor who hooks you into the story at the very beginning?
I was once an internal auditor, and if I had a do-over in my career, I’d be tempted to spend my time working in forensic accounting. Perhaps that’s why I liked Extraordinary Circumstances by Cynthia Cooper so much.
Sadly, this story which seems like fiction is real. Cynthia was the whistleblower of the WorldCom financial fraud which led to that company’s bankruptcy and loss of thousands of jobs.
Who was behind the fraud? A CFO and a few others as well as the CEO. This book should be mandatory reading at every college and university accounting program. If you haven’t read it, make it a priority.
Weighing in at number 4 is I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It. The title alone gets Mr. Douglas Hicks on my shortlist. I tried giving this book to my wife when it arrived in the mail–no such luck.
This is not the first book I read by the author. In the early ’90s, I enjoyed (actually devoured) Activity-Based Costing: Making It Work for Small to Mid-Sized Companies.
I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It is a collection of essays on accounting, costing, analysis, and reporting. You’ll love the chapters on depreciation and the profit % to sales fallacy. Hicks writes with a little bit of an edge along with wit and wisdom–a much-needed style for what is typically
Incidentally, Doug is also the author of Profitable Expectations which reads fast and easy like a Goldratt book. Fun read.
I’m a fan of anything that Jean Cunningham writes who has a deep accounting background along with being a global thought leader on Lean. Her book Real Numbers may be geared for those working in Lean environments, but the book is applicable to all industries including service firms. I’ve read it more than once, and it needs to be in your collection.
Call me weird or crazy, but I had a hard time putting down The End of Accounting. My biggest takeaway from the book is that GAAP-based financial reporting is becoming meaningless.
GAAP reporting is supposed to help investors make decisions. The authors argue the opposite is happening. Through their research, they state that only about 5% of reporting is useful and relevant to investors.
The authors include a remedy that includes a strategic business canvas which can be modified depending on the industry. The canvas includes narrative and facts on strategic resources, key business stats, and value created by the firm among other relevant information.
I read this in 1992, right before I read The Goal. You couldn’t pick a better book to set the stage for Goldratt’s classic. However, you might find Johnson’s book on the pitfalls of management and cost accounting a bit dated in today’s SaaS- and subscription-centric economies.
If you like history, then you’ll probably enjoy reading about the origins of cost accounting. Johnson and his co-author Richard Kaplan (The Balanced Scorecard) take us on a cost accounting journey from New England’s young textile mills to the growing railroad industry. We also learn how management and cost accounting adapted to decentralized organizations such as Dupont and General Motors.
While the book is heavier on criticism than prescription, the writing was a paradigm-shifter for me because, at that point, I started to question everything in business. I wanted to know the ‘why’ behind every management decision or practice, especially when it came to accounting and reporting.
Young financial leaders may not get as much out of the book as those of us who started our careers decades earlier. I’d still suggest you add this to your growing library of business books.
If you get your hands on this book, get Relevance Regained, his 2002 follow-up. When you do, notice he’s the sole author of the book. Your job is to find out why.
Since writing this post, I’ve purchased a copy of Throughput Economics by Schragenheim, Camp, and Surace. It’s not an accounting book per se. It’s what you’d expect to study in a management accounting course had it been thought by the late Eli Goldratt. I’ve skimmed much of the book – get it. It belongs in your library.
The next book is written by someone I respect and admire. It’s not because he’s from my home state of Missouri either.
Many of the CEOs I work with do not have a degreed accounting manager running the finance department. That’s where the book, Account Made Simple comes in handy. There’s a reason Mike Piper has more than 1,000 reviews with an average 4.5 rating.
Mike, keep writing. Actually, he is – I look forward to reading his weekly newsletter each time it hits my inbox.
A Couple of More Books That are Noteworthy
I’m going to leave you with two more titles to consider. The first one is not an accounting book per se, but every financial leader should read.
Earlier, I mentioned Jean Cunningham’s book, Real Numbers. Art Byrne’s book, The Lean Turnaround is phenomenal and congruent with the message found in Jean’s book. Chapter 8 is a breath of fresh air.
The other book is one I’ve not read yet, but I’ve heard him interviewed several times. His book is Lies, Damned Lies, and Cost Accounting. The author is Reginald Tomas Lee.
When it comes to accounting, read widely. Read those you agree with. Read those you do not agree with. Both sides are right. Both sides are also missing 100% of the truth.
I even confess that my foundational bias from the early 1990s is hard to budge after reading The Goal, Relevance Lost, and The Machine That Changed the World. Still, I’m going to keep reading the words of the great thinkers regardless of which financial and cost accounting aisle they sit in.
Did You Know We’ve Interviewed Jean Cunningham?
Should you get Jean’s book above, consider listening to our discussion with her. This is the first interview she’s done since retiring in early 2020 – great discussion.