FT’s top 12 business books of 2010

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Financial Times critics have just picked their favorite business and economics books of 2010, as listed below.

The Fearful Rise of Markets: A Short View of Global Bubbles and Synchronised Meltdowns, by John Authers, Financial Times/Prentice Hall

A concise, elegant and accessible view of the financial crisis. What else would you expect from the editor of the FT’s Lex column? Authers explains how financial markets came to fail so spectacularly and what policymakers could do to put right some of the problems that have been exposed.

The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?, by Ian Bremmer, Viking

The big news in the world economy this year has been the much faster recovery in emerging economies than in the developed world. Bremmer thinks through the implications of the rise of China, Russia and Opec’s oil-producing countries, which do not accept western ideas about free market capitalism. Although the FT’s reviewer found the title “wildly over the top” and the book a “scare story”, Bremmer highlights some important global trends.

Banking on the Future: The Fall and Rise of Central Banking, by Howard Davies and David Green, Princeton University Press

The best assessment yet of the role played by the leading western central banks – the US Federal Reserve, the ECB and the Bank of England – in the run-up to the financial crisis and beyond, from two former insiders at the top level of UK policymaking.

The Art of Choosing: The Decisions We Make Every Day – What They Say About Us and How We Can Improve Them, by Sheena Iyengar, Little, Brown

Iyengar, a psychologist and professor at Columbia Business School, is a pioneer in the study of how we make choices, and her book is in a class apart from the pop-psych ramblings that clog the bookshelves. An erudite and elegant investigation of choice and its effect on issues such as marketing, employment and healthcare.

The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World, by David Kirkpatrick, Virgin Books

The first authoritative account of one of the most dramatic corporate stories of the decade. Less sensationalist than some other versions of Facebook’s rise to global dominance, and written with the benefit of access to the company, it is still far from being a whitewash.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane

Much, much more fun than a book about the financial crisis has any right to be. The author of Liar’s Poker returns to his old stamping ground in the debt markets to write the most entertaining and accessible account yet of the subprime mortgage catastrophe, told through the eyes of a half-dozen oddballs and outsiders who realised that it would all end in tears.

More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of the New Elite, by Sebastian Mallaby, Bloomsbury

A lively history of the shadowy world of hedge funds, from the very first, created by a former anti-Nazi activist in 1949, to the mayhem of 2008. Mallaby’s conclusion: in spite of all the fear of the fund industry, “its incentives and culture are ultimately less flawed than those of other financial companies” and “regulators should want to encourage hedge funds, not rein them in.”

Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us, by John Quiggin, Princeton University Press

A critical look, from a left-leaning perspective, at some of the defining intellectual fashions of the past three decades. Quiggin is a writer of great verve who marshals some powerful evidence.

Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy, by Raghuram G Rajan, Princeton University Press

A high-powered yet accessible analysis of the financial crisis and its aftermath, Fault Lines was awarded the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. Rajan, a University of Chicago economist, was one of the few who warned that the crisis was coming and his book fizzes with striking and thought-provoking ideas.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, by Matt Ridley, Fourth Estate

Ridley saw the financial crisis up close and personal as chairman of the failed mortgage lender Northern Rock, rescued by a government bail-out. But this book takes a different tack to argue that in 100 years it is likely that humanity will be “much, much better off than it is today”. A refreshing, if sometimes tendentious, change from the widespread mood of despondency.

Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, by Joseph Stiglitz, Allen Lane

A Nobel prize-winning economist, Stiglitz analyses the crisis from a Keynesian perspective, tracing its roots in the drive to deregulate banking that started in the 1980s. “The best book so far on the financial crisis,” according to the FT’s review by John Kay.

MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, Atlantic Books

A follow-up to Wikinomics, which superbly illustrated how technology was opening up a new era of collaboration in business. The sequel extends the analysis to government, the media, healthcare and education.

While on the topic of books, the following cartoon comes courtesy of SimoleanSense:

Sources: FT Critics, Financial Times, November 26, 2009 and SimoleanSense, November 28, 2010.

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