The best business books of all time

There's never been a more compelling time to read about business and finance. Sean O'Grady picks the best books of the bunch, from timeless classics to the latest crop of credit crunch chronicles.

Saturday 13 December 2008 01:00

The Great Crash, J.K Galbraith

The late John Kenneth Galbraith's classic is enjoying another revival. It is pretty much the greatest book on economics ever written for the general reader and, after 54 years, is still in print. As the author said: "Each time it has been about to pass from bookstores, another speculative episode ... has stirred interest in the history of this, the great modern case of boom and collapse."

The crunch retold: Credit crisis reads

*Alex Brummer's The Crunch is an entertaining account of the origins of the crisis but misses out on most of the more recent collapses. The message of Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson's intelligent polemic The Gods That Failed is simple: "Markets are not magic; Debt is not freedom; The Gods have failed; It is time to live without them". The New Paradigm for Financial Markets by George Soros ends just before the more spectacular banking failures in the US. Robert Shiller's The Subprime Solution, Graham Turner's The Credit Crunch and Trillion Dollar Meltdown by Charles R Morris are almost out of date now. The Age of Turbulence, by Alan Greenspan, is best seen as the case for the defence by the man many see as principally to blame for our troubles. The answer to the question asked by Robert Peston in Who Runs Britain? and Who's to Blame for the Economic Mess We're in is obviously "Robert Peston", whose scoop on Northern Rock prompted the first run on a bank since 1866. Finally, the underlying values of Niall Ferguson's magisterial The Ascent of Money are looking a little sub-prime.

Capitalism Unleashed, Andrew Glyn

The antidote to capitalism, written by one of its best critics, who just happened to be a Marxist. An unconventional perspective, but a valuable one. Unlike many books on economics, this one by the late Andrew Glyn has charts that are blissfully self-explanatory and place the current crisis in a long historical context.

What management is, Joan Magretta

Magretta was an editor at the Harvard Business Review. She has a different style. A series of managerial super-anecdotes, this takes organisations such as Toyota, GE, Nasa and even the New York Police Department to illustrate the best, and worst, of management practice and does it unpretentiously.

Competitive Advantage, Michael E Porter

Penance for reading Hotel Babylon. For some years, this and its sister volumes on innovation and corporate strategy have been required reading for MBA students. Chapter headings such as "Coordinate offensive and defensive strategies against multipoint competitors" give you an idea of what fun can be had in business school.

When markets collide, Mohamed El-Erian

The winner of the 2008 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs business book of the year award is a definitive account of the much-chronicled rise of the emerging economies of China, India and the rest. A senior fund manager, he also throws in a little joke: "There are times that you worry about the return on your capital and times that you worry about the return of your capital."

Reminiscences of a stock operator, Edwin Lefevre

Back in 1923, Lefèvre, a journalist and novelist who dabbled successfully on the stock market, sought to tell the world about an effective Wall Street trader named Jesse Livermore, a pioneer of short selling (a still controversial and widely misunderstood practice today). Usually read with a view to making a buck, but, sadly, rarely of direct assistance in that endeavour.

Liar's poker, Michael Lewis

First published in 1989, these revelatory tales of Wall Street and the author's colourful career at Salomon Brothers still have the power to unsettle. It deserves to be read if only because it chronicles the birth of the "mortgage-backed security", a derivative with which we are all now only too familiar.

Hotel Babylon, Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous

Possibly the only sexy business book ever written. A change from the usual dry, theoretical approach to management studies, this real-world romp through the rooms earthily details each and every scam perpetrated by hotels on their customers – and vice versa.

The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Taleb tells you how to profit from uncertainty by making randomness – the black swan you meet when you thought all were white – your friend. He also seems to have the measure of the banking profession: "Bankers are not conservative at all. They are just phenomenally skilled at self-deception by burying the possibility of a large, devastating loss under the rug."

End of the road, Chris Brady and Andrew Lorenz

No other M&A "case study" is more educative in demonstrating the importance of brand than the BMW-Rover debacle, which still has the power to make one wince. Narrated grippingly well by Brady and Lorenz, it goes a long way to explaining why we don't make that many cars any more in this country.

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