Business

Business Book of the Year 2021 — the longlist

A world grappling with the twin threats of pandemic and climate emergency deserves an apocalyptic reading list.

This year’s longlist for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award features a number of titles that promise to offer routes away from impending disaster.

FT journalists filtered a record-breaking entry of some 600 books to produce 15 for the panel of judges to read. (A complete interactive list of all longlisted titles since the award began in 2005 can be found here.)

Gregory Zuckerman’s forthcoming A Shot to Save the World is one of a number of instant analyses of the progress of the pandemic entered this year. Zuckerman, shortlisted in 2019 for The Man Who Solved the Market, tracks the business and scientific rivalries between researchers and companies, and the background to their race to create successful coronavirus vaccines.

Science is also at the heart of The New Climate War, by climatologist Michael Mann. He launches a strong polemic against “inactivists” holding back the essential work to slow and reverse climate change, while also making the case for systemic measures to combat the global problem.

Taking a quite different angle on the debate about sustainability and globalisation, Maxine Bédat’s Unraveled tells the story of the “life and death” of a pair of jeans, as a way of illustrating the environmental, economic and social pressures building up in the global fashion and garment industry.

Net Positive, by Paul Polman, former chief executive of consumer goods group Unilever, and Andrew Winston, is due out in October. It makes a more optimistic case for courageous progressive companies and their leaders, who can offer practical, positive ways of tackling environmental, social and governance issues.

Minouche Shafik, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, outlines a different long-term prescription for the rewriting of the social contract in What We Owe Each Other. Ranging widely across topics such as intergenerational fairness and labour market regulation, she is sceptical about market remedies for such deep-seated social problems.

The World for Sale, by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy, is the blistering tale of a clutch of hard-charging international commodity trading houses such as Cargill and Glencore. The authors, both former FT journalists, trace how they harnessed the commodity boom and the setbacks they now face as climate change casts a shadow over their business model.

Nicole Perlroth’s This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends investigates a different potential catastrophe, neither epidemiological, nor environmental. Perlroth goes deep into the growing threat posed by the arms race between cyber criminals, spies and hackers fighting to infiltrate essential computer systems.

The Key Man falls into the same category of business crime and scandal. Simon Clark and Will Louch describe how financier Arif Naqvi, founder of Dubai-based private equity group Abraaj, fell from the pinnacle of honoured Davos delegate to a low point where he was accused of playing the leading role in a multimillion-dollar fraud. (Naqvi denies wrongdoing.)

Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain dives into the complex legal and reputational web that links the Sackler family with the global epidemic of opioid addiction. Radden Keefe investigates the saga of how Purdue Pharma, a company owned by two of the Sackler brothers and their families, marketed the addictive painkiller OxyContin, while the dynasty poured money into philanthropic endeavours around the world.

More wholesome types of ingenuity and growth are the subject of Dan Breznitz’s Innovation in Real Places. The economist offers a counterpoint to the Silicon Valley model for fostering invention and encouraging growth, and offers ideas and new hope to communities looking to make the most of their innate advantages.

The Aristocracy of Talent, by Adrian Wooldridge (co-author, with Alan Greenspan, of 2018’s longlisted Capitalism in America) takes issue with the backlash against meritocracy. Wooldridge’s wide-ranging historical and philosophical analysis makes the case for a revival of competition according to talent, as a means of encouraging rather than stifling social mobility.

Equity, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of Robert Livingston’s book The Conversation. Through experience counselling companies, and applying the science of racism and bias, he examines how to turn difficult discussions about race, at work and in society in general, into meaningful promotion of change and racial justice.

Tsedal Neeley’s Remote Work Revolution also aims to help employers and employees navigate the modern workplace. Based on her pioneering studies of how companies handle distributed work, she examines how teams and managers can handle the transition to hybrid working brought about by the pandemic.

In The Cult of We, Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell dig deep into another aspect of the future of work that did not turn out as its advocates envisaged. Their investigation of the extraordinary rise and precipitous fall of Adam Neumann, the founder of WeWork, the co-working company, is a saga of excess and ambition gone wildly wrong.

Lastly, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman finally receives the recognition of the book award. His 2011 book Thinking Fast and Slow was not selected for that year’s longlist but went on to become a widely cited bestseller, with a place on every business executive’s bookshelf.

Ten years later, Noise, written with Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein, joins the contenders for this year’s prize. Kahneman and his co-authors make the case that the inconsistency of estimates and predictions can do as much damage as outright bias.

The judges will need all the book’s advice about how to reduce noise next month, when they will try to select six of these 15 titles to proceed to the book award’s final.

The winner of the £30,000 prize will be the book that offers the “most compelling and enjoyable insight” into business issues. The shortlisted titles will each receive £10,000. The shortlist will be announced at an online event on September 23. The winner of the award, and the winner of the £15,000 Bracken Bower Prize (for business book proposals by an author aged under 35) will be announced on December 1. Read more about the award here.

Additional research by Isabelle Jani-Friend


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