Best Books

December 12th, 2011

Global businesses faced unprecedented opportunities and challenges in 2011. In a year that ushered in the Arab uprisings and a fracturing of the Eurozone, the world grew more interdependent and fragile.

Yet markets are demonstrating surprising capacities for resilience. Engineers and entrepreneurs in places like Nairobi, São Paulo and Doha are beginning to build export-worthy technologies.

This is a momentous time for anyone engaged in cross-market projects. It’s only fitting that the year’s top books match the scale of the changes we’re witnessing.

This is a year-end roundup of books that define our times and guide practitioners with a global perspective.

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman – The most influential social scientist of our time describes the two “systems” that shape our thinking and decision-making: ‘System 1′ is fast, intuitive, and emotional, while ‘System 2′ is slower, more deliberative, and logical. This seminal work reveals insights that have overturned traditional assumptions about metacognition.

“The Next ConvergenceThe Future of Economic Growth in a Multi-Speed World, by Michael Spence – The Nobel Laureate presents an elegant thesis to account for the current surge among emerging economies and its global impact.

Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution, by John R. Bradley – A rich, beautifully written account of the socio-political dynamics in Egypt by a perceptive and appreciative observer.

Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World, by Bruce Rutherford – A timely and incisive look at the complex political, economic and cultural forces shaping Egypt today.

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor – An illuminating, inside look at past, present and future leaders of China’s impenetrable Politburo.

The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama – This much-anticipated book by one of our most insightful and, at times, controversial political theorists was worth the wait. In the first of three projected volumes, Fukuyama describes the ways by which ideas have shaped political order.

The Price of Civilization, by Jeffrey Sachs – The outspoken Columbia University economist believes that the decline of American civic virtue is at hand. His poses what seems like an obvious question: Why has taxation become demonized? According to Sachs, taxes are the price we pay for civilization.

The Future of Power, by Joseph S. Nye – What are the forces and mechanisms shaping global power and how is society being affected by it?  Nye explores these questions and asserts that the U.S. and China have much to gain by deepening their cooperation.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, by Tim Harford (reviewed here) – The clever British economist demonstrates how effective trial-and-error leads to better results. In our world of complexity and unpredictability, learning from failure is imperative.

Civilization: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson – The economist-provocateur explores a central question: “Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?” He posits that the West had six “killer apps”.

Monsoon*, by Robert Kaplan – A mind-bending journey across regions of the Indian Ocean which are growing in geostrategic importance as American power shifts gears. Ahmed Rashid aptly describes Kaplan as “a landscape artist who covers the world with extraordinary perception and insight”.

Emerging Africa–How 17 Countries are Leading the Way*, by Steven Radelet. The author, an economist, identifies the reasons for superior economic performance in some African countries. He concludes that the chief driver of economic development is an “interplay between economic reform and political change”.

The Dragon’s Gift – The Real Story of China in Africa*, by Deborah Brautigam – Brautigam debunks the standard myths about China’s aspirations and roles in Africa. It’s an indispensable read for anyone doing business on the continent.

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Endnotes:

* Denotes books published in 2010. (All others were published in 2011.)

Addendum:

Daniel Kahneman fans will likely appreciate his conversation with David Brooks at CUNY: video clip.

Another Kahneman resource is Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair piece, “The King of Human Error”. Lewis writes:  “[Thinking, Fast and Slow] is wonderful, of course. To anyone with the slightest interest in the workings of his own mind, [the book]  is so rich and fascinating that any summary would seem absurd.”

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