HR Management & Compliance

Hot List: BusinessWeek’s Bestselling Business Books

BusinessWeek magazine ranks the 15 best selling hardcover and paperback business books in January 2009 and gives a short summary.

1. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. As you’d expect with Gladwell, there are lots of surprises in his explanation of why some people succeed fantastically. Pluck and smarts get less play here than such matters as one’s birth month and access to the right resources at just the right time. There are many points worth pondering in this enjoyable volume.

2. The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder. The author is a former Morgan Stanley insurance analyst who had unprecedented access to the legendary investor during her five years of research. The resulting book is a very penetrating and personal portrait. Buffett comes across as an obsessive man who knew what he wanted and how to get there from an early age: his prize possession as a child was a metal coin changer, and he determined in his youth to become a millionaire by age 35. In addition, the volume offers a vivid picture of the Buffett family, including his parents and his two wives.

3. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times columnist Friedman offers an urgent plea to unleash U.S. creativity—and capitalism—on the challenges of energy, climate change, and world population growth. “I am convinced that the public is ready,” he writes—“they’re ahead of the politicians.”

4. StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths by Tom Rath. Are you unsure where your true talents lie? Do you feel that you are both a person who gets things done and someone who offers penetrating analysis? Well, you can discover whether you are truly an “achiever” or an “analytical” by completing the online quiz. Then, the book will give you “ideas for action” and tips for how best you can work with others. More of a patiencetester than Strengthsfinder, the quiz/book is probably best for those who have lots of time on their hands.

5.  Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity by Michael Lewis. Be warned: This book is a collection of articles written mostly not by Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street and other books. That said, it is an often enjoyable romp through financial busts of the past two decades, from the 1987 stock market crash to the current mortgage meltdown and credit crunch. Lewis himself offers perspective on what he considers a new era of panic—one “brought on not by real or even perceived problems but by the complexity of financial products.”

6. The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman. This book was originally published in May of 1999, when the word “depression” was used primarily by historians. Suddenly, the book seems hugely more interesting, and Nobel Prize winner Krugman has also added new material and freshened up his older chapters. The result is a highly readable and provocative take on how we should respond to the current mess.

7. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson. Harvard historian Ferguson provides a scattershot, anecdote filled history of “how the ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of man.” From Napoleon to George Soros, readers learn that finance has made its mark on the human experience.

8. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. You probably don’t realize it, but life is a series of highly improbable yet earthshaking events. That’s the argument of The Black Swan, which in many ways is a re-do of the author’s 2001 best-seller, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. The highly entertaining new book, though, is longer, better-grounded, and with more advice about how to live in the presence of deep unpredictability. The core of The Black Swan argues that economists, journalists, and corporate planners behave as if they’re living in predictable “Mediocristan” when they’re really in “Extremistan.” It’s a richly enjoyable read with an important message.

9. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.  Fortune senior editor Colvin says hard work and skill are not what makes success. Instead, it’s what he terms “deliberate practice” —from the off-season training regimen of NFL stars to chess masters’ hours spent moving rooks and pawns.

10.  The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss. Ferriss isn’t shy about tooting his own horn: He says he “speaks six languages, runs a multinational firm from wireless locations worldwide, and has been a world-record holder in tango, a national champion in kickboxing, and an actor in a hit television series in Hong Kong.” Is this the sort of person you really want to be taking advice from? Anyway, Ferris offers recommendations and resources for everything from eliminating wasted time to oursourcing your job and getting cheap airfare. Discover your dreams and live them!

11. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. The Internet can help locate and expand a “tribe,” or group of people connected to each other and to an idea. But every tribe needs leadership—and you can become that leader…so long as you have the helpful advice of marketing writer Godin, author of such previous marketing books as Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable and Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers.

12.  The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets: How to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market is Down (Little Books. Big Profits) by Peter D. Schiff. Wiley’s “Little Book” series this time features “Dr. Doom,” Peter Schiff, who is also head of investment adviser Euro Pacific Capital. Chapters include “Weathering the Storm,” “A Decade of Frugality,” and “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” Timely stuff, I’m sorry to have to say.

13. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. “We are pawns in a game whose forces we largely fail to comprehend,” says MIT economist Ariely. The author then proceeds to demonstrate what he means by describing a series of his economics experiments, including ones in which subjects abruptly switch to a cheaper brand of chocolate when the price is discounted trivially from one penny to the “irresistible” price of zero. Entertaining and enlightening.

14. Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom. Lindstrom is a Danish marketing consultant, and here he offers a digression-prone investigation of the hot trend of “neuromarketing,” which utilizes brain scans to investigate just what turns consumers on. There’s not enough about the latest research in this book, which instead offers a broad tour of marketing. And many of the book’s conclusions, along with those of neuromarketers, are open to debate.

15. Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse (Lynn Sonberg Books) by Peter D. Schiff with John Downes. Think foreign securities, gold—and plain old cash, urges investment adviser Schiff, dubbed “Dr. Doom” by CNBC. Protect your assets with a variety of bull moves.