How Finance Works: The HBR Guide to Thinking Smart About the Numbers

Harvard Business Review Press (April 23, 2019)

Harvard Business Review Press (April 23, 2019)

Based on a popular class taught by a Harvard Business School professor.

If you're not a numbers person, then balance sheets and financial jargon can be intimidating and easy to ignore. But if you want to advance in your career, it's crucial that you are able to make smart financial decisions and develop the confidence to clearly communicate those decisions to others.

In How Finance Works, Mihir Desai--a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the widely praised book The Wisdom of Finance--guides you into the complex but endlessly fascinating world of finance and demystifies it in the process.

Through entertaining stories, interactive exercises, full-color visuals, and a conversational style that belies the topic, Desai tackles a broad range of subjects that will give you the skills and knowledge you need to finally understand how finance works. These include:

  • The ins and outs of balance sheets, and how different financial levers can affect a company's performance

  • How companies fund their operations and investments in different ways

  • Why finance is concerned with cash flow versus profits

  • How value is created, measured, and maximized

  • The importance of capital markets in helping companies grow

Whether you're a student or manager, an aspiring CFO or entrepreneur, How Finance Works is the colorful and interactive guide you need to help you start thinking more deeply about the numbers.


“Mihir’s book provides the perfect combination of intuitive explanations, contemporary examples, and rigor so that both finance pros and novices can truly enhance their capabilities.” —Helen Riley, Chief Financial Officer, Google X

“Informative and engaging, this book…is a must-read for business students and aspiring business leaders—or anyone looking to deepen their understanding of finance.” —Marne Levine, Chief Operating Officer, Instagram

“Professor Mihir Desai's advice—both practical and witty—was an inspiration when I was a student at Harvard Business School… I’m thrilled that he’s written this book so that even more people can benefit from his wisdom!” —Sarah Kauss, founder and CEO, S’well

"Mihir Desai's book on how finance works is masterful at laying bare the simple truths and the commonsense principles that underlie much of finance. . . readers, no matter what their background or interests, will come out more informed and enlightened by the journey." —Aswath Damodaran, Professor of Finance, NYU Stern School of Business; author, The Little Book of Valuation

For anyone who wants to be able to utilize financial information… How Finance Works provides clarity and guidance to what can be, for many, an intimidating arena. —David Wolfson, Executive Director, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy

“Finally, someone has provided a mechanism for gaining intuition about finance for those of us who deliberately avoided any financial studies in school.” —Michael Jaff, MD, President, Newton-Wellesley Hospital

“Professor Desai has accomplished a rare feat: transforming the typically complex and often dry subject of finance into a lively and accessible tour de force, without trivializing its importance. —Cyrus Taraporevala, President and CEO, State Street Global Advisors

“Mihir manages to make finance fun and accessible--and, by the end of it, you'll have the confidence, intuition, and understanding you need to succeed as a leader or executive in any organization." —Jennifer Morgan, President, Americas and Asia Pacific Japan, SAP