Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, one of the most talked-about books of 2013, will do battle with a soon to be published history of the rise of Amazon, and an investigation into the impact of the Galleon hedge fund scandal, for the title of business book of the year.
The six finalists emerged from a longlist of 14 titles after an unusually bruising discussion among the seven judges of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.
Iain Martin’s Making It Happen (about Royal Bank of Scotland), Neil Irwin’s The Alchemists (on central bankers) and Alan Blinder’s After The Music Stopped (about the US policy response) tested the panel’s resolve not to overload the shortlist with books about the financial crisis. In the end, Blinder’s book narrowly missed the cut despite support from several judges.
Lynda Gratton, a professor at London Business School, said Martin’s book was as much as anything a “fascinating study of management” at the British bank, which came close to collapse five years ago. The Alchemists was praised by fellow judge and former UK minister Shriti Vadera for “saying something that’s not been said” about the US and European central bankers who had to manage the meltdown.
Lean In, the Facebook chief operating officer’s prescription for women to play a more active role in business, proved a lightning rod for debate about what one judge described as “the phenomenon” it has unleashed in the wider business and academic community.
Another finalist – Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier – was described by one of the judges, Vindi Banga, partner with Clayton Dubilier & Rice, as setting out the issue of how digital information will revolutionise business and society “better than I’ve ever heard expressed”.
Another judge, Jorma Ollila, chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, also praised the “fascinating story” told by Brad Stone in his soon to be published book The Everything Store, about how Jeff Bezos built Amazon to dominate ecommerce.
The sixth shortlisted title was Anita Raghavan’s The Billionaire’s Apprentice, about the Galleon scandal and the Indian-American business elite. Last year’s winner Steve Coll, the author of Private Empire, described it as a “piece of original journalism . . . with real drive”.
The robust discussion at the shortlist stage leaves the outcome of the annual competition harder to call than for many years. The award will be presented on November 18 to the book that provides the “most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues”. The winner receives £30,000 and the runners-up receive £10,000 each.
Lionel Barber, FT editor and chair of the judges, said the shortlist struck a “good balance between the quality of writing and ability to stir a powerful debate”.