The shortlist for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year 2007 was revealed on 25 September 2007. Below you can read publisher’s synopses and reviews of the six contenders, plus hear judges talk about the books.
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, by Alan Greenspan
Published by Penguin Press (US), Allen Lane (UK)
The book was published on 17 September and has already created a stir in political and economic circles. Listen to the views of award judge Jeffrey Garten, from Yale School of Management.
Publisher’s Synopsis: The most remarkable thing that happened to the world economy after 9/11 was ... nothing. What would have once meant a crippling shock to the system was absorbed astonishingly quickly, partly due to the efforts of the then Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan.
The post 9/11 global economy is a new and turbulent system - vastly more flexible, resilient, open, self-directing, and fast-changing than it was even 20 years ago. The Age of Turbulence is an incomparable reckoning with the nature of this new world - how we got here, what we’re living through, and what lies over the horizon, for good or ill, channelled through Greenspan’s own experiences working in the command room of the global economy for longer and with greater effect than any other single living figure.
He will share the story of his life to convey to readers the full flavour of the extraordinary years he has experienced and shaped, taking full measure of the individuals who made strong impressions on him, including every US President from Nixon to George W Bush, and Prime Ministers Thatcher and Blair, and the great crises and challenges that they faced.
Review by Krishna Guha, Financial Times (extract)
Autobiography’s real hero is capitalism
The chapters that make up the autobiography are captivating. The style is clear, with few echoes of the magisterially ambiguous “Fedspeak” for which Mr Greenspan was renowned when in office. We learn how the boy who memorised baseball scores and railway timetables became the Fed chairman who saw in the micro-data evidence of a US productivity take-off in the mid-1990s and adjusted monetary policy accordingly – arguably his greatest achievement.
The analytical chapters are more uneven. The country analysis is not by Mr Greenspan’s standards earth-shattering; his discussion of the economics of global warming incomplete and unsatisfactory. [But] at times he touches on the profound, asking why, for all capitalism’s material success, we have not been able to rediscover the 19th century’s optimism that free markets and free societies will bring a broader measure of human progress.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Published by Random House (US), Allen Lane (UK)
Taleb’s latest bestseller describes how we underestimate at our peril the risk of highly improbable events. Listen to award judge John Gapper, associate editor of the Financial Times.
Publisher’s synopsis: Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, The Black Swan is a concept that will change the way you look at the world. Black Swans underlie almost everything, from the rise of religions, to events in our own personal lives.
A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principle 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. And why do we always ignore the phenomenon of Black Swans until after they occur?
As Nassim Nicholas Taleb reveals, we are hard-wired not to truly estimate risk, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorise and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the ’impossible’. In this revelatory book, Taleb explains everything we know about what we don’t know, and shows us how to face the world.
Review by John Kay, Financial Times (extract)
Taleb’s writing is full of irrelevances, asides and colloquialisms, reading like the conversation of a raconteur rather than a tightly argued thesis. But it is hugely enjoyable - compelling but easy to dip into.
Review by Gregg Easterbrook, New York Times (extract)
The hubris of predictions -- and our perpetual surprise when the not-predicted happens - are themes of The Black Swan. The author laments that ’’in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it.’’
The book has appealing cheek and admirable ambition, and contains such wise observations as: ’’We attribute our successes to our skills, and our failures to external events outside our control.’’ But the book exhibits shortcomings, the first being lack of structure. Much of it boils down to denouncing others for failing to see the future - though who exactly can see the future?
The Black Swan also criticizes society for failing to expect extreme events. But it makes sense to focus mainly on preparing for what is likely. NASA should watch for asteroids that might collide with Earth — unfortunately, it doesn’t — but there is a certain reasonableness to the average person not being ever on guard against low-probability developments.
Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, by Philippe Legrain
Published by Princeton University Press (US), Little, Brown (UK)
The book argues for freer migration, one of the most emotive topics in the political and business world. Listen to the views of award judges Jeffrey Garten, from Yale School of Management, and Rachel Lomax, deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Publisher’s synopsis: Immigration divides our globalising world like no other issue. We are swamped by bogus asylum-seekers and infiltrated by terrorists, our jobs stolen, our benefit system abused, our way of life destroyed - or so we are told.
Philippe Legrain, author of the critically acclaimed Open World, has written the first book that looks beyond the headlines. Why are ever-rising numbers of people from poor countries arriving in Europe, North America and Australasia? Can we keep them out? Should we even be trying?
Combining compelling first-hand reporting from around the world, incisive socio-economic analysis and a broad understanding of what is at stake politically and culturally, Immigrants is a passionate, but lucid book. In our open world, more people will inevitably move across borders, Legrain says, and we should generally welcome them. They do the jobs we can’t or won’t do and their diversity enriches us all.
Left and right, free-marketeers and global justice campaigners, and enlightened patriots, all should rally behind the cause of freer migration, because they need us and we need them.
Review by Stefan Wagstyl, Financial Times (extract)
New arrivals and new prosperity
Immigrant’s is a passionate and cogent plea for liberalising migration. Legrain marshals a formidable volume of academic evidence, including one calculation that liberalising migration could double global output. He dismisses fears that immigrants steal jobs from natives, arguing that they are often employed in work that is too dirty, arduous or dull to attract locals.
Legrain is right to say migration cannot be stopped. Only totalitarian states have managed to control migrants. He also tackles the thorny question of immigration and social cohesion. He dismisses arguments that the growing diversity created by immigration undermines cohesion and with it support for a generous welfare state.
However, he pays too little attention to the political importance of those natives who are suspicious of immigration. Policymakers must take account of the many voters who disagree with Legrain, even if this is based on ignorance and prejudice. It is surely better to admit 500,000 immigrants annually and have social peace than 1m and riots.
Review by Martin Wolf, Financial Times (extract)
Immigration policy must be a compromise
In a thought-provoking new book, Philippe Legrain, takes a bold position [on immigration]: let them all in. He performs an invaluable service: he makes a good case for the unpopular cause of free flows of people. The book is a superb combination of direct reportage with detailed analysis of the evidence.
The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co, by William D Cohan
Published by Doubleday (US and UK)
The book is a no-holds-barred account of the rise of Lazard Frères, the investment bank. Listen to the views of award judge Lloyd C Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.
Publisher’s synopsis: Wall Street investment banks move trillions of dollars a year, make billions in fees, pay their executives in the tens of millions of dollars. But even among the most powerful firms, Lazard Frères & Co. stood apart. Discretion, secrecy, and subtle strategy were its weapons of choice. For more than a century, the mystique and reputation of the ”Great Men” who worked there allowed the firm to garner unimaginable profits, social cachet, and outsized influence in the halls of power.
But in the mid-1980s, their titanic egos started getting in the way, and the great men of Lazard jeopardised all they had built. Mr Cohan, himself a former high-level Wall Street banker, takes the reader into the mysterious and secretive world of Lazard and presents a compelling portrait of Wall Street in this tale of vaulting ambitions, whispered advice, worldly mistresses, fabulous art collections, and enormous wealth.
Review by John Gapper, Financial Times (extract)
Lazard tales of sex and intrigue uncovered
Mr Cohan, a former junior Lazard banker, not only knows where the bodies were buried but got a guided tour of the graveyard from Lazard’s big names, past and present.
At 740-odd pages the result is long, but one sympathises. What should have been left out? The account of Felix Rohatyn’s jealous clash with Steve Rattner, conducted through various magazines? Or Mr Rohatyn’s affairs, culminating in one occasion when Andre Meyer banged on his locked door to shout: ”Felix, why don’t you go to a hotel room like the rest of my partners?”
Mr Cohan dutifully records passing events in the outside world, such as the near-bankruptcy of New York, which Mr Rohatyn averted, and various mergers and acquisitions. But the interesting action was taking place in Lazard’s allegedly dingy (they never seemed that bad to me) offices in the Rockefeller Center, where the ”great men” who advised big companies plied their trade.
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams
Published by Portfolio (US), Atlantic (UK)
The book explains how internet-based collaboration can be harnessed to produce even more innovative content, products and services. Listen to award judge John Gapper, associate editor of the Financial Times.
Publisher’s synopsis: In just the last few years, traditional collaboration, in a meeting room, a conference call, even a convention centre, has been superseded by collaborations on an astronomical scale.
Today, encyclopaedias, jetliners, operating systems, mutual funds, and many other items are being created by teams numbering in the thousands or even millions. While some leaders fear the heaving growth of these massive online communities, Wikinomics proves this fear is folly. Smart firms can harness collective capability and genius to spur innovation, growth, and success.
A brilliant guide to one of the most profound changes of our time, Wikinomics challenges our most deeply-rooted assumptions about business and will prove indispensable to anyone who wants to understand competitiveness in the twenty-first century.
Based on a $9 million research project led by bestselling author Don Tapscott, Wikinomics shows how masses of people can participate in the economy like never before. They are creating TV news stories, sequencing the human genome, remixing their favourite music, designing software, finding a cure for disease, editing school texts, inventing new cosmetics, or even building motorcycles.
Review, by Emily Bell, The Guardian, (extract)
There’s gold in that thar web
This dazzlingly timely book is a pretty accurate and comprehensive account of how the [Web 2.0] technological trend is translating into a business trend, and offers some ground-floor advice on how to apply ”wiki” thinking to existing businesses. The authors, who run a rather expensive-sounding consultancy called New Paradigm, are anxious - perhaps sometimes too anxious - to sell the idea of a transparent and collaborative business model.
As a beginner’s guide to the new Web 2.0 world, the book is an easy and engaging read, although occasionally the authors’ penchant for breeding buzz-words like mice begins to grate: ”prosumers” and ”ideagoras”, for example.
For the struggling middle manager it will come as manna from heaven, as it is rare for a business book that essentially combines description with advice to be as readable as Wikinomics; and there will no doubt be plenty of discussions prompted by its ideas on self-organising constructs, the power of peer production and, crucially, the need for businesses to arrange themselves to mirror this open-networked world instead of relying on heavily centralised control.
None of this is visionary. However, Tapscott and Williams have the enormous advantage of being able to point to numerous projects showing their big idea in practice - although there is still room in the market for a more critical look at the opportunities and challenges of open-sourcing your business.
Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future, by Iain Carson and Vijay V Vaitheeswaran
Published by Twelve/Hachette Book Group (US and UK)
The book describes how Big Oil and the world’s carmarkers are striving to meet the challenge of developing new fuels and technologies. Listen to award judge Rachel Lomax, deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Publisher’s synopsis: Zoom takes readers inside the global race to build the car of the future as pioneers in Japan, India, China and the US tackle the challenge of creating cars that will run on cleaner energy sources. ZOOM traces the history of the linked industries of oil and cars and how they have created both progress and peril.
Toyota has become the world’s largest car manufacturer and a leader in hybrid cars using electric power. The authors take us into the boardrooms of oil executives and show how some are boldly exploring new energy sources while others deny the dangers posed by oil - and risk extinction. We meet the Thomas Edison of the 21st century, a legendary inventor whose revolutionary work is already having a positive impact on the environment and the economy.
Zoom will be published on October 1, 2007 in the US and November 1, 2007 in the UK.
For more information, visit the homepage of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year 2007.