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Shelf Life

The best business books of 2011

Kai Ryssdal Dec 12, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: We get, on average every year, a bajillion books in the mail. Some we read and do interviews about. Most — just because of the numbers — we don’t.

So every year we ask some of our regular Marketplace voices, and a few select others, to share their picks for the best business-related books of the year. Herewith, the 2011 version.

Andrew Ross Sorkin: I’m Andrew Ross Sorkin. I’m a co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box and a financial columnist for The New York Times. I’m also the founding editor of and the author of“Too Big to Fail.” My favorite business book of 2011 by a square-mile was Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs.” It was a remarkably revealing biography of the most important business man in generations. But what make Isaacson’s book so compelling is the unvarnished and uncomfortable truths about Jobs’ personal ticks and life at home. For a man who was a perfectionist about Apple’s products, it was an eye-opening lesson to see the often less-than-perfect moments behind the scenes.

Dan Charnas: I’m Dan Charnas. I’m the author of “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop” and the editorial director ofInteractiveOne. My favorite business book of 2011 is “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done,” by Peter Bregman. “18 Minutes” addresses the problem of time for busy professionals. How is it that our days, our weeks, and our years seem to get away from us, while the “to do’s” pile up endlessly? Bregman’s solution forces us to deal squarely with scarcity. The things that get done are the things that get scheduled. And other things that do not, we must let go, or we lose control of our lives.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: I am Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and I am a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor at Newsweek and I just wrote the book “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.” My favorite business book for 2011 is “Poor Economics” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. “Poor Economics” moves beyond all the bluster of development theories crafted in fancy rooms and actually examines at close range the rational economic decisions made by folks living on less than one dollar each day. A lot of aid, the book argues, is hampered for the same reason that some businesses are: ideology, inertia and ignorance. And the book compares the very poor to very rich hedge fund managers — always wrestling with risk, but with almost no margin for error. “Poor Economics” tells us why micro finance may squash entrepreneurial risk taking and that filling the funding gap for medium-sized businesses is the next big challenge facing all those who want to foster entrepreneurship and spur growth around the world.

Clay Shirky: I’m Clay Shirky, and I teach theory and practice of social media at NYU. My favorite business book of 2011 is “Reinventing Discovery” by Michael Nielsen. It describes the way that the sciences are making use of global communications networks, not just to communicate scientific discoveries, but to make them. Scientists studying everything from protein folding to galaxy mapping to deep mathematical puzzles are using all kinds of techniques, like restructuring expert attention, dynamic division of labor, and massively collaborative groups to take on problems in ways and at speeds that were impossible prior to the era of low-cost, global and group-friendly communications. It won’t be on the business section in your bookstore, but it is a great guide to what’s possible for anyone thinking about collaboration and discovery of any sort.

Majora Carter: Hi this is Majora Carter — host of APM’s “The Promised Land.” My favorite business book of 2011 is “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” by Ryan Blair. It’s an autobiography of someone who started out as a typical middle-class kid. But when his family’s financial situation took a nose dive, he was headed down the same path that many low-income urban youth find themselves on: gangs, crime, a juvenile record, and very little hope. With the right care and attention, Ryan turned his life around, and discovered how street smarts can lead to very successful business smarts. So whether the book helps you realize your dreams — or inspires you to help someone you might otherwise be afraid of — it’s definitely worth reading.

Liaquat Ahamed: I’m Liaquat Ahamed, author of the book “Lords of Finance.” And my favorite book this year was “Washington: A Life,” Ron Chernow’s epic portrayal of our first president’s political skills. When he assumed office, the new republic was on the verge of bankruptcy, and his cabinet divided by Hamilton and Jefferson’s bitter feuds over economic policy. Yet George Washington’s decisive leadership helped restore the credit of the U.S., got the economy out of depression, and brought prestige to the office of the presidency.

Ryssdal: Curious about my favorite author interviews from 2011? Check out a list of my personal favorites.

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