A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
I noticed a few things in my reading this year:
1. For the second year running, there was no outstanding, ‘must-have’ business book. I might be getting harder to please as I get older, but there was nothing I felt I should tell everyone about once I put it down.
2. For the first time this year, I purchased and read more books on my Kindle than in printed ‘dead-tree’ format. Even as an avowed bibliophile, the idea of a book taking up physical space is becoming harder to reconcile.
3. We’re getting closer to understanding what really happened in 2007-08 (and thus to understanding better what to do to prevent it happening again). None of this year’s books on the economic meltdown feels like a truly authoritative take, but one (mentioned below) is almost there. Perhaps next year will bring the definitive tome on the topic.
That said, here are the five books I most enjoyed this year (note that I’m not saying these are the ‘best’ books of 2013 – they’re just the books I most benefitted from reading. I’ve also excluded those books I read solely for pleasure, and which contained few if any business or leadership lessons):
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright
Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is proof that the Visionary/Processor leadership style can do great things, both for good and ill. The sheer audacity of his vision, and the ruthlessness of how he willed it into being is laid bare here, as is the oft-repeated pattern of fervent disciples taking an original vision and making it something wholly different. A fascinating look at the inner workings of (whether you love it or loathe it) an equally fascinating organization.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone
I’m equally fascinated by Jeff Bezos (another Visionary/Processor leader – maybe there’s a theme here), and this book only adds to the enigma. Only marginally less divisive than Hubbard, Bezos certainly marches to his own tune. This book’s gossipy style reveals more than we need to know on occasion, but it’s a good first draft of history about a man who by any account is only getting started.
The Circle, Dave Eggers
This fictional near-future mashup of Google, Apple, Facebook (and early Microsoft) isn’t the greatest writing by Eggers – certainly nothing like as good as ‘What Is the What’ – and the plot strains badly on the back third, but it’s an unmissable take on what many of us fear is the future we’re letting ourselves in for.
Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, Tom Holland
Keeping your business out of The Big Rut is tough enough at the best of times, because, by definition, it happens without you noticing. One of the few tools that will help keep you out of there is to learn to recognize the signs – and this wonderfully-written book detailing the decline of the Roman Empire is pretty much a case study on just that.
After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead, Alan S. Blinder
Blinder’s book on the 2007-09 crisis is a little shaded in where it lays the blame (he’s a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve), but it’s one of the best analyses yet of what actually happened and why – and by far the best so far on what we should be doing to prevent a repetition.