December 17, 2009 / 9:15 PM / in 8 years

Business Books: Holiday reading for the financial industry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After a year like 2009, even the most driven workaholic may be tempted to relax with a novel rather than a business book this holiday season.

After all, these are times of double-digit unemployment in the United States, and no one is sure if the world economy is on the road to recovery.

But interesting times also make for interesting reading.

Among the contenders for holiday fare is “Too Big To Fail” (Viking, $32.95) by New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin.

This moment-by-moment account of the collapse and rescue of Wall Street reads like a novel, exploring the minds of characters ranging from Lehman Brothers’ then-CEO Richard Fuld to former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“It is the great stories and detailed, insider information -- the sense one gets of being in the room while history is being made -- that will place this book among the greats,” said Jack Covert of website 800-CEO-READ, which named it book of the year.

If the events of “Too Big To Fail” are too painful to digest, try delving further back into the past.

In “Lords of Finance” (Penguin, $32.95), investment manager Liaquat Ahamed examines the events leading up to the Great Depression, focusing on the central bankers whom he believed helped cause it.

This story of the banking chiefs of Britain, France, Germany and the United States won rave reviews and the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for 2009.

“‘Lords of Finance’ is a timely reminder that turmoil and instability in financial markets are not an invention of the 21st century,” Goldman Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein said.

Providing a longer-range view is “The Story of American Business from the Pages of the New York Times” (Harvard Business Press, $29.95).

The book’s editor, Harvard Business School professor Nancy F. Koehn, has grouped articles spanning 150 years according to subjects ranging from Wall Street and the rise of big business to technological advances and changes in the workplace. Each chapter contains an extensive introduction and timeline that put the newspaper stories in context.

Like “Lords of Finance,” the book shows that the Great Recession of the early 21st century was hardly the only time of upheaval. Besides the onset of the Great Depression, Koehn also points to the end of the Civil War and the close of World War

II.

“In each of these instances, American business has played a central role in moving the nation, and in some ways, the world, forward into the future,” she writes. “Understanding these stories offers vital perspective on our own hopeful, anxious, and, at times, exhausting moment.”

Of course, there’s also the school of thought that opportunity as well as danger lurks within a crisis.

That’s the theme of “The Upside of Turbulence” (HarperBusiness, $27.99) by London Business School professor and management guru Donald Sull.

The author looks at success stories ranging from Lakshmi Mittal, who built his namesake steel company from a single mill into the global leader by making big bets on emerging markets that his competition ignored, to Spain’s Zara, which displaced Gap Inc as the world’s largest clothing retailer by responding quickly to fashion trends.

Sull maintains that turbulence is a constant condition rather than an anomaly.

Most people fixate so heavily on the risks, uncertainty and threats, he writes, that they ignore the opportunities in front of them.

Reporting by Lisa Von Ahn; Editing by Eddie Evans

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