Keynes Faces Spy, Tishman Deal Sours: Top Business Books
The Bretton Woods economic conference would make a great movie: Dashing celebrity economist John Maynard Keynes of the U.K. squared off against U.S. Treasury official Harry Dexter White, who was later revealed to be a Soviet spy.
Benn Steil gives a masterful account of the meeting in “The Battle of Bretton Woods.”
Here’s a list of recommended business book titles.
“After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response and the Work Ahead” by Alan S. Blinder (Penguin Press). Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, proves adept at making accessible the complex events leading to the financial crisis and the ways in which policy makers responded.
“Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Random House). The author of “The Black Swan” returns with a book about thriving amid disorder. He focuses on systems that aren’t resistant to stress but actually profit from it. The human body, for example, gets stronger with the stress of exercise, weaker with indolence.
“Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?” by William Poundstone (Little, Brown). A guide to brain-bending interview questions asked at Google and other innovative companies. “You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender,” one begins. What do you do in the 60 seconds before the blades start whirring?
“The Art of the Sale” by Philip Delves Broughton (Penguin Press/Portfolio). The journalist who brought us “Ahead of the Curve,” a chronicle of how he earned an MBA at Harvard Business School, uncovers the dark arts of sales -- a discipline absent from the HBS curriculum.
“Bailout” by Neil Barofsky (Free Press). The former special inspector general policing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program lifts the lid on the U.S. Treasury and settles scores in this angry yet illuminating memoir.
“The Battle of Bretton Woods” by Benn Steil (Princeton University Press). This masterful account dismantles the idyllic picture of the 1944 Bretton Woods international economic conference, situating it firmly in the tense atmosphere of the final months of World War II.
“A Disposition to Be Rich” by Geoffrey C. Ward (Knopf). Ferdinand Ward, the Bernie Madoff of the Gilded Age, comes to life in this elegant and perversely fascinating biography of the swindler who ruined Ulysses S. Grant.
“Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession” by Barbara Garson (Doubleday). Garson writes less about the terrible things that have happened to Americans since the crash than about the resigned/resourceful ways they’re coping.
“End This Depression Now!” by Paul Krugman (Norton). The Princeton economist makes his case for more government spending and less austerity. You can almost hear his teeth gnash as he takes on the “Austerians.”
“Engines of Change” by Paul Ingrassia (Simon & Schuster). Ingrassia, who shared a 1993 Pulitzer Prize for writing on management turmoil at General Motors Co., presents a quirky history of American culture as seen through 15 cars.
“Finance and the Good Society” by Robert J. Shiller (Princeton). The influential Yale University economist argues that finance, for all its manifest failings of late, remains a force for good in society.
“Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States” by George Soros (PublicAffairs). This is a compilation of op-ed articles that the billionaire investor wrote as the euro crisis boiled up. As a retread, it displays Soros’s knack for assessing market linkages and psychology on the fly.
“Getting It Wrong” by William A. Barnett (MIT). Poor monetary data were a root cause of the financial crisis, argues Barnett, a University of Kansas economist and former Federal Reserve Board staffer.
“The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty” by Dan Ariely (Harper/HarperCollins). We like to think of ourselves as honest. Yet experiments show that we all cheat, says the behavioral economist.
“The Hour Between Dog and Wolf” by John Coates (Fourth Estate/Penguin Press). During his 12 years at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Merrill Lynch & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG, Coates began to wonder whether testosterone and other hormones were impairing the judgment of traders -- and fueling bubbles and busts. So he retrained as a neuroscientist and conducted tests on trading floors. He synthesizes his findings in this highly speculative and absorbing book.
“The Idea Factory” by Jon Gertner (Penguin Press). A rich history of Bell Labs, a hothouse of 20th-century innovation.
“Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg (Knopf). The Facebook executive offers advice to women, urging them not to pull back from career challenges years before having children.
“Luck” by Ed Smith (Bloomsbury). Serendipity molds everything from sports to politics and finance, argues the former cricketer.
“A Nation of Deadbeats” by Scott Reynolds Nelson (Knopf). The U.S. was founded by bankers who used their political connections to make lots of money. Sound familiar?
“The New Geography of Jobs” by Enrico Moretti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). A persuasive look at why some U.S. cities have prospered in recent decades while others have declined.
“Octopus” by Guy Lawson (Crown). Hedge-fund manager Sam Israel, who faked suicide in 2008 to escape a prison sentence for running a $450 million Ponzi scheme, was himself the victim of a con artist.
“Other People’s Money: Inside the Housing Crisis and the Demise of the Greatest Real Estate Deal Ever Made” by Charles V. Bagli (Dutton). Buying Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village was an ill-advised deal for Tishman Speyer and BlackRock even before the financial crisis. Bagli recounts the horror story with clarity and authority.
“Plutocrats” by Chrystia Freeland (Penguin Press). “Being self-made is central to the self-image of today’s global plutocrats” Freeland says. “It is how they justify their luxuries, status and influence.”
“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg (Heinemann/Random House). Dipping into neurological case studies, Duhigg explores how our brains form habits and how we can change them. Examples range from murderous sleepwalkers to Goldman Sachs.
“The Price of Inequality” by Joseph E. Stiglitz (Allen Lane/Norton). Economic growth and democracy suffer when the top 1 percent of Americans earns a fifth of the country’s income and controls more than a third of its wealth, the Nobel Prize-winning economist says.
“Red Ink” by David Wessel (Crown Business). The Wall Street Journal economics editor presents a slim primer on the people and politics driving the U.S. budget war.
“Wait” by Frank Partnoy (Profile/PublicAffairs). From F-16 pilots to speed traders, the best performers are those who learn to delay their responses, argues Partnoy, a former Morgan Stanley (MS) banker.
“What Money Can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel (Allen Lane/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The Harvard University professor who wrote “Justice” explores the moral limits of markets in civil society, from baseball to death bonds.
“Winner Take All” by Dambisa Moyo (Allen Lane/Basic). China has embarked on a “commodity crusade,” making it the pre-eminent buyer of resources ranging from metals to food, says the former Goldman Sachs banker. The result may be “famine, conflict and worse” for everyone else in the decades to come.
“Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (Crown/Profile). Why do some nations prosper while others remain mired in poverty? The answer lies in politics, the two economists argue in this compelling and readable study.
(Laurie Muchnick is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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