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BW Businessworld

From Geeky To Spooky

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Any listing of the Top 10 business books would be inherently unfair. It presumes one has read everything worth reading. Subjective biases also creep in. With that caveat, economist Bibek Debroy picks the best biz reads of 2011

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
By Walter Isaacson
Little Brown
Arguably, the best seller of 2011. Even if Steve Jobs had not died a few days before its launch, the book would have done extremely well.  But the Apple icon's demise in October helped the book's sales skyrocket. This is not the first biography of Jobs, but is the first authorised one. The most inte-resting bits are those after his first exit from Apple and vignettes on those people Jobs worked and warred with. An easy read, with elegant prose. And refreshingly well-edited, too.

The Quest: Energy, Security And The Remaking Of The Modern World
By Daniel Yergin
Allen Lane
Daniel Yergin holds a monopoly on energy and geopolitics, and this is a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Prize(2008). Yergin illustrates how energy issues will redefine and rebuild the world as we know it. One wonders if this should be called a book given its mammoth size. At 816 pages, size does matter here. Each page is a gem, making the book more like an encyclopaedia.

The Progress Principle
By Teresa M.Amabile and Steven J.Kramer
Harvard Business Press
What makes this book a singular work is the uniqueness of the research — rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in seven companies. A treatise on "using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work", the book offers some of the brilliant business leadership lessons — especially on improving inter personal relations and goal-setting.

A First-rate Madness: Uncovering The Links Between Leadership And Mental Illness
By Nassir Ghaemi
Penguin Books
In exceptional situations, insanity produ-ces good results and sanity produces bad outcomes. Crises demand insane leaders. Before one throws a fit, the author of the book is director of the mood disorders programme at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and the case he makes for "insanity" is compelling. Well, Indians will rightfully object to the tenuous claims made about Mahatma Gandhi.

Water: Asia's New Battleground
By Brahma Chellaney
Georgetown University Press /HarperCollins India
not much has been written about water problems across all of Asia, or on implications of potential water disputes. Now that Kerala and Tamil Nadu are on the warpath over the Mullaperiyar dam, this book earns a prophetic halo. This may not be a business book in the puritanical sense, but it is a book on strategic affairs and, therefore, does have serious business implications.

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious At Our Peril
By Margaret Heffernan
Simon & Schuster UK
What is the common link between the Church, Nazi Germany, the US in Afghanistan and some big businesses? They all were willfully blind, and paid dearly for their ignorance. This book will tell you how to avoid such crises. The book also talks about Bernard Madoff's investors, BP's safety record and sub-prime mortgage lending — all were gleefully blind. A must read that will teach you to understand the obvious.

Onward: How starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul
By Howard Schultz
John Wiley & Sons
Remarkably honest, Howard schultz wrote this book after he returned as the CEO of Starbucks. A down-to-earth narrative on how the coffee chain has transofrmed itself, the book, however, pulls no punches of Starbuck's mistakes. "If not checked, success has a way of covering up small failures," says Schultz. Importantly, the book is a primer on how not to get swept by your making it big. Something Indian businesses badly need.

Whatever The Odds: The Incredible Story Behind DLF
By K.P.Singh, Raman Swamy, Ramesh Menon
HarperCollins India
The most awaited business (auto) biographies from India Inc. in 2011. If you think you know the DLF story well enough, this is a warm surprise. The book has unknown nuggets and juicy anecdotes (a love affair, the army, Bansi Lal) — all about the master builder Kushal Pal Singh and the real estate behemoth he built — DLF. The other incentive: this is also the story of India Infra's precipitous growth and success.

Poor Economics: Rethinking Poverty & The Ways To End It
By Abhijit V. Banerjee And Esther Duflo
Randomhouse India
This is, perhaps, the most praised book of the year, and has rightly bagged coveted awards such as ‘Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of The Year'. That said, is this a book on economic policymaking or is it a book on business? It is both, surprisingly. The authors' approach towards poverty is refreshing, as is the strong empirical grounding of the arguments. The official website of the book — www.pooreconomics.com — is quite good too.

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions Of Google Employee Number 59
By Douglas Edwards
Allen Lane
Why 59? Because edwards was the 59th person to be hired by Google. He worked with the search giant's marketing and consumer brand management department. Eventually, six months after Google went public, Edwards was fired. Full of vivid and fascinating details of Google — something that has become a part of our very own existence today — this is one of the most interesting reads of 2011.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 09-01-2012)