Appropriately for a US election year, the longlist for the 2012 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award includes an array of titles charting the strengths and weaknesses of the American corporate, economic and financial system.
William Silber’s forthcoming biography of former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker sits alongside Walter Isaacson’s life of the late Apple chief executive Steve Jobs. The stories of ExxonMobil under Lee Raymond and Rex Tillerson, and Ford under Alan Mulally, are tackled by, respectively, Steve Coll (Private Empire) and Bryce Hoffman (American Icon).
But tales of towering US personalities and companies were outnumbered among the 262 entries by books warning of threats to the world’s biggest economy. In this vein, the longlist includes Luigi Zingales’s warnings about US cronyism (A Capitalism for the People), and Michael Sandel’s dissection of a world where everything is for sale (What Money Can’t Buy). Philip Coggan’s Paper Promises and Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, each take different long views of the flaws in global finance and the roots of power and prosperity. Guy Lawson’s Octopus focuses on the Bayou hedge fund fraud, a signature scandal of the past decade, while Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) and John Coates (The Hour Between Dog and Wolf) explore the scientific secrets of success and failure in financial markets and beyond.
In search of hope, some of the authors turn to fast-growing markets. Tom Doctoroff’s What Chinese Want addresses the question of how to woo the country’s consumers, while Christopher Meyer and Julie Kirby (Standing on the Sun) find innovative examples of the new capitalism from India to Brazil. Ruchir Sharma (Breakout Nations) suggests the world should look beyond the big Bric countries for growth. And in Abundance, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler forecast greater gains from scientific and technological breakthroughs in the coming two decades than in the past two centuries.
Do not count on the next phase of global development being forged by individuals, however. According to Barbara Kellerman’s The End of Leadership, the idea of the all-important leader is “passé”. That is the sort of humbling maxim that should be pinned up behind the desks of presidents, and presidential candidates, wherever they are.
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