The best business books of 2008

editor's insight

Nevil Gibson

1= The Man Who Owns the News, by Michael Wolff (Random House $55)
Although Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch has no less than 10 books devoted to his life and career, with numerous others touching on it, Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff comes closest to the real story. He spent a year interviewing and writing it, with the subject’s full permission. But this is no hagiography and neither is it a hatchet job. It focuses on the Dow Jones takeover but draws on a full life to draw some amazing conclusions: “Murdoch seems remarkably dense about how he’s regarded. He doesn’t pick up the signals. It may be that he is so temperamentally opaque that nothing gets through. Or it may be that high regard is, quite uniquely, not what he’s about.”

1= The Snowball, by Alice Schroeder (Bloomsbury $60)
It weighs 1.3kg and runs nearly 1000 pages but this doorstopping biography of Warren Buffet is a stunner. Although too long and too detailed for the average reader, it leaves nothing untold about the world’s best-known investor and (depending on the sharemarket), the world’s richest man. Like the Murdoch book, the author was given unlimited access to the subject and his colleagues. She was encouraged to use the “less flattering version” when Buffett’s account differed with that of others. Buffett has wanted make money from the age of six and has continued to do so –  using compound interest (“the snowball effect”)and hardly spending any.

3 Hot, Flat and Crowded, by Thomas L Friedman (Allen Lane $55)
The popular New York Times columnist traces modern terrorism back to the huge transfer of wealth based on oil to the Islamic East and urges adoption of new green technologies to break the West’s addiction.

4 Cold Steel, by Tim Bouquet and Byron Ousey (Little, Brown $40)
The exciting story of how the Indian entrepreneur Lakshimi Mittal rose from poverty to become the world’s richest non-American with his successful 2006 takeover of European steel company Arcelor.

5 Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt (Allen Lane $37)
An entertaining but well researched book that tells you all you need to know (and more) about why motorways are always congested when you most need them, why all other drivers behave badly and why efforts to stop these problems make them worse.

6 Richi$tan, by Robert Frank (Piatkus $30)
The lifestyles of the rich (but not always famous) are seldom the stuff for serious analysis. The Wall Street Journal’s Wealth Report columnist redresses this with a densely packed account of how money does count – and the more the better.

7 Superclass, by David Rothkopf (Little, Brown $40)
For the other perspective on wealth, this insider’s look at why “…the combined net worth of the world’s richest thousand or so people – the planet’s billionaires – is almost twice that of the poorest 2.5 billion.” The author is appalled by the disparities and believes they are a threat to civilisation’s stability.”

8 What They Teach You at Harvard Business School, by Philip Delves Broughton (Viking $37)
Looking more for a career change than a story, a sceptical journalist takes the gruelling two-year MBA course. Not surprisingly, he is shocked by the experience. Everything you fear about the pursuit of greed is borne out.

9 The Great Crash, by Selwyn Parker (Piatkus $40)
A London-based Kiwi author takes a fresh look back at world’s most serious financial crisis – what caused it and what can be learned from it. A great primer for those who think today’s events are unusual, unique or unlikely to occur again.

10 Currency Wars, by John K Cooley (Constable & Robinson $70)
This fascinating history of counterfeiting shows how it has been used to destablise empires and countries since metal was turnmed into money. More recently, the Nazis toyed with it and today it is mainly used by organised criminal networks and rogue states such as North Korea and Iran.

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