The ups and downs of capitalism — past, present and future — are addressed by many of the books in contention for this year’s Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award.
The 15 titles on the longlist for the £30,000 prize include the forthcoming Capitalism in America, a sweeping and entertaining history of US economics and business by Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, and Adrian Wooldridge. The book explores why the early dynamism of US capitalism seems to be fading, blaming both the rise of welfare paymentsand the instability of the financial system.
Himself a central figure in late 20th and early 21st-century capitalism, Greenspan sets a unique record with the longlisting of his book, due to be published in October. Not only was the former central banker longlisted once before (in 2007, for The Age of Turbulence) but also Sebastian Mallaby’s biography of Greenspan, The Man Who Knew, won the award in 2016.
Accompanying Capitalism in America is Crashed, Adam Tooze’s recently published and exhaustive 700-page analysis of the global financial crisis, a decade on. As Tooze points out, the crisis laid the ground for the populist backlash obvious in the 2016 vote for Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US. Reviewing Crashed for the Financial Times, Martin Wolf called it a “detailed and superbly researched account”.
The list includes a crop of books about recent corporate controversies and scandals. Philip Augar makes a second appearance on the longlist, following The Greed Merchants (2005), with his latest title, The Bank That Lived A Little. Described by the FT as “brilliantly readable”, it recounts the rollercoaster recent history of Barclays and the difficulties of containing risks in global banking.
The longlist adds to the bulging shelf of recent titles on hubristic over-reach. Oliver Shah’s merciless, profanity-strewn dissection of the tumultuous career of UK retail tycoon Philip Green, Damaged Goods, makes the cut. So does Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s tale of the rise and fall of Theranos, the blood-testing firm founded by Elizabeth Holmes. The FT pointed out that Bad Blood was also a “blistering critique of Silicon Valley” and its “rotten culture”.
Alongside these titles sits the soon-to-be-published Billion Dollar Whale, in which Tom Wright and Bradley Hope relate the extraordinary and colourful story behind the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund.
The award, now in its 14th year, will go to the “most compelling and enjoyable” business book from the list. Judges will select up to six finalists and announce the shortlist on September 14. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in London on November 12, with runners-up receiving £10,000 each. Last year’s prize went to Amy Goldstein for Janesville, her deeply reported book about the impact on a Wisconsin community after the closure of a General Motors assembly plant.
The award’s brief is wide enough to accommodate books on broader economic and business issues. This year’s include Factfulness, in which the late Hans Rosling, his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund, lay out the academic’s optimistic fact-based worldview, with abundant illustrations. Mariana Mazzucato’s thought-provoking The Value of Everything, which argues for a more sustainable form of capitalism, “pushes us to get away from the simplistic creed that markets are always good and governments always bad”, according to the FT review. It is joined by Annie Lowrey’s concise but wide-ranging analysis of the prospects for a universal basic income, Give People Money, based on UBI experiments around the world.
This year’s longlist also looks to the future of capitalism. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms’ New Power analyses how self-organising, bottom-up movements develop, for good or ill, and what hierarchical “old power” organisations can learn from their rapid evolution.
Which books just missed the longlist?
Nearly 500 titles were entered for the 2018 book of the year award. Selecting 50, let alone 15, would be difficult. Inevitably there were some near-misses for the longlist. Here are five:
The King of Content by journalist Keach Hagey, in which she recounts the extraordinarily long life and times of Sumner Redstone, who continues to cling on to the media empire he built.
Kicks by Nicholas Smith — subtitled The Great American Story of Sneakers — is an entertaining history of the humble trainer, from croquet to gang violence.
AI Superpowers by artificial intelligence expert Kai-Fu Lee, published in September, outlines how China has caught up with the US, and provides an update on the advance of automation, including some of the options laid out by 2015 prize-winner Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots.
Connecting the Dots, in which former chief executive of Cisco John Chambers draws leadership lessons from his long tenure at the head of the technology company.
Adam Smith, a biography of the Scottish economist’s life, times and lasting influence, by British member of parliament Jesse Norman, which corrects some of the misconceptions and caricatures of the man and his thinking. Andrew Hill
In Gigged, Sarah Kessler explores the growing gig economy, based on first-hand accounts from workers, such as Uber drivers and freelance software developers. She analyses what the advance of automation means for the future of work and the workplace.
James Crabtree’s report from the front lines of India’s gilded age, The Billionaire Raj, depicts a country at an exciting but dangerous tipping point between growth and graft: Meghnad Desai, who reviewed the book for the FT, called it “vivid”, “informative” and “thought-provoking”.
Saadia Zahidi — the inaugural winner of this award’s sister Bracken Bower Prize in 2014 — examines another unexplored and promising prospect for capitalism in Fifty Million Rising. She recounts the vast potential of the world’s Muslim working women, based on examples, from Pakistan to Indonesia, of women who are challenging convention, transforming cultural norms and changing the way business is done.
Finally, from the crucible of US media and technology innovation on the west coast come two contrasting titles. Emily Chang traces the roots of the “boys’ club” of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in her astute and timely analysis of discrimination in the tech sector, Brotopia. The FT called it “an important examination of why the technology industry is so dominated by men — and how women are pushing back”.
Michael Ovitz, Hollywood super-agent and shortlived Walt Disney executive, describes his life and times — and the inside tale of some of the biggest Hollywood deals of the 20th century — in his no-holds-barred autobiography Who Is Michael Ovitz?, to be published next month.
To read more about this year’s business book award, including the titles that just missed inclusion on the longlist, visit ft.com/bookaward
Additional research by Niamh Ní Hoireabhaird