These are the best business books of 2009, as ranked by Fast Company.
1.In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue by Lauren Weber. This history of frugality in America–why it’s been stigmatized and whether there’s a sustainable alternative to a purely consumption-based economy–is consistently surprising and clever. A very worthwhile indulgence.
2. Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves by Adam L. Penenberg. No book better explains the rocket-ship growth of a service like Facebook or Twitter and how their rapid spread through the culture isn’t accidental but carefully baked into the product.
3. Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World by Tyler Cowen. At first glance, our time communicating with friends on Facebook, Googling, organizing photos on Flickr, and other social activity seems like a waste of time. But Cowen, an economist, provocatively argues that they are all forms of economic activity and we need to account for the internal production inside our minds.
4. Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America gleefully pops the positive-thinking bubble that, she argues, has propped up everything from banks’ belief in complex derivatives to the pink-ribboned industry surrounding breast cancer. Amazingly, she’ll make you laugh, albeit ruefully, as she presents how society’s relentless focus on being upbeat has eroded our ability to ask–and heed–the kind of uncomfortable questions that could have fended off economic disaster.
5. Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta. Hardly a week goes by without someone describing Google as “the most important company in the history of the world.” Veteran media reporter and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta has the inside scoop on how Google reached such heights in such short order, and he explores its relentless ambitions and the impact that insatiability has across the rest of the media landscape.
6. Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown by Edmund Andrews. The “innovations” that led to the housing crisis and economic meltdown are made concrete–and all the more damning–when told through the personal story of the author, who bought too much house for all the wrong reasons and found himself on the wrong side of the American dream.
7. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown.The CEO of the uber design-firm Ideo takes us on a journey through the flexibility and power of design thinking that also serves as a primer on Ideo’s evolving larger ambitions. Brown convincingly depicts how design can be used to improve the every day utility of objects we might take for granted, but more important, how it can address larger societal issues such as health care, education, and economic opportunity in the developing world.
8. Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet by James Othmer.State-of-the-industry advertising manifestos are usually written by titans of the business, not former mid-level creatives who bounced around a number of large agencies. Yet this unlikely guide is the perfect one to take us through the apocalypse current roiling Adland. Othmer shows us what’s wrong about the old model by telling war stories with a jaundiced eye, and he then uses that same eye to look in on the cutting-edge, next-generation “don’t call us an ad agency” creative shops defining the future.
9. In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules by Stacy Perman. The West Coast burger chain with an international cult of fans is a paragon of simplicity, from its menu of burgers, fries, and shakes to how it slowly grows its business. Perman constructs the building blocks of In-N-Out’s success and presents them in stark relief to the rest of the fast-food industry, depicting how strong values-based businesses can trump their peers on their own terms. And as In-N-Out’s story also shows, abiding principles can even overcome the most lurid behind-the-scenes drama.
10. Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto by Adam Werbach. The noted environmentalist lays out his green business ideas, formed by working with the likes of Sierra Club and Wal-Mart, for how corporations can be a force for good on the planet.