Google Grills Zombies, China Scorns Suicide: Top Business Books

The cover jacket of "The Power of Habit," by Charles Duhigg. Source: Random House via Bloomberg

Google Inc. grills “zombie hordes” of job applicants with fiendish puzzles and China spurns “suicidal” economic shock therapy in two of our favorite business books of late. Here’s a list of recommended titles.

“Adapt” by Tim Harford (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Little, Brown). We all struggle to accept our failures and cut our losses. Yet admitting our mistakes holds a key to solving intractable problems, says Harford, who writes the Undercover Economist column for the Financial Times. “Success,” he argues, “always starts with failure.”

“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 begin whirring?

“Boomerang” by Michael Lewis (Allen Lane/Norton). The author of “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short” returns with a collection of writings on his journeys through “the New Third World,” from Iceland and Ireland to California.

“Civilization” by Niall Ferguson (Allen Lane). The prolific Harvard historian explains how the West came to dominate the globe.

“Confidence Men” by Ron Suskind (Harper). An inside look at how Barack Obama came under the spell of Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, “two men whose actions had contributed to the very financial disaster they were hired to solve.”

“Demystifying the Chinese Economy” by Justin Yifu Lin (Cambridge). A patriotic yet pragmatic look at how China notched up average annual growth of 9.9 percent for three decades.

“Exorbitant Privilege” by Barry Eichengreen (Oxford). A brisk primer on the dollar’s role as the dominant international currency.

“Extreme Money” by Satyajit Das (FT Press). An idiosyncratic yet withering analysis of how 30 years of financial alchemy and excessive credit plunged us into the Great Recession.

“Fatal Risk” by Roddy Boyd (Wiley). An engaging reconstruction of how American International Group Inc. committed “corporate suicide.”

“The Futures” by Emily Lambert (Basic). A bouncy jaunt through the history of Chicago’s trading pits.

“Grand Pursuit” by Sylvia Nasar (Fourth Estate/Simon & Schuster). An absorbing narrative history of economists -- from Beatrice Webb to John Maynard Keynes -- who pursued the idea that mankind could control its destiny.

“Greece’s ‘Odious’ Debt” by Jason Manolopoulos (Anthem Press). A hedge-fund manager explains how his Greek compatriots gambled away their future -- and how German and French bankers egged them on. Who’s bailing out whom?

“Guaranteed to Fail” by Viral V. Acharya, Matthew Richardson, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh and Lawrence J. White (Princeton). Four professors at New York University’s Stern School of Business explain how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac got so big and why we must fix them.

“The High-Beta Rich” by Robert Frank (Crown Business). The Wall Street Journal wealth reporter returns to “Richistan” only to find billionaires flailing in debt and repo men seizing their Gulfstreams.

“How the West Was Lost” by Dambisa Moyo (Allen Lane/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A reasoned look at how the world’s most-advanced nations are squandering their economic lead.

“Idea Man” by Paul Allen (Portfolio/Penguin). This memoir by Microsoft’s co-founder offers a fascinating look at what it took to build the software behemoth.

“Love and Capital” by Mary Gabriel (Little, Brown). An exemplary biography of Karl and Jenny Marx and their children.

“Models.Behaving.Badly” by Emanuel Derman (Free Press/ Wiley-Blackwell). The former head of quantitative finance at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. explores why models failed during the mortgage meltdown and why modelers must use them more wisely.

“Money and Power” by William D. Cohan (Doubleday). The sometimes “schizophrenic” behavior of Goldman Sachs comes into focus in this history by the author of “House of Cards” and “The Last Tycoons.”

“Oil’s Endless Bid” by Dan Dicker (Wiley). Petroleum prices have gone crazy, and a large share of the blame belongs to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other banks, argues this Nymex trader.

“Poor Economics” by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo (PublicAffairs). An enlightening look at what randomized control trials, such as those used to assess new drugs, tell us about the behavior of impoverished people -- and how to help them.

“Punching Out” by Paul Clemens (Doubleday). A blackly comic journal of what happens after a U.S. factory shuts down.

“The Quest” by Daniel Yergin (Allen Lane/Penguin Press). The energy economist who brought us “The Prize” sets out to debunk peak oil theory.

“Reckless Endangerment” by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner (Times Books). A thoughtful contribution to the debate on whether Fannie Mae really was “ground zero” in the subprime-mortgage explosion, as some critics argue.

“Red Capitalism” by Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie (Wiley). An eye-opening look at how Communist Party bosses control China’s economy.

“Spousonomics” by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson (Random House/Bantam). A geeky guide to finding marital bliss through economics.

“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster). A memorable biography of the brilliant and maddening man who revolutionized the way we work and play.

“Street Freak” by Jared Dillian (Touchstone). A former trader at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. describes his battle to survive and thrive in a business that drove him over the edge.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. (Allen Lane/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The Princeton psychologist and Nobel laureate synthesizes decades of research in this absorbing journey through our “mental machinery.” At look at how we make choices about picking stocks, predicting the value of Bordeaux wines, and much more.

“Ugly Beauty” by Ruth Brandon (Harper). An incisive history of cosmetics tycoon Helena Rubinstein and Eugene Schueller, the founder of L’Oreal SA.

(James Pressley is a book critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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