Forbes.com's top two business books of the year both are about U.S. Treasury secretaries who worked for presidents named George. Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton is the biography of the nation's first finance chief, who worked for the first president--George Washington--and had significant influence. Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty tells the story of Paul O'Neill, who worked for President George W. Bush and was forced out of office after his advice was ignored.
These two books, tied for first place, are the clear leaders in our Business Books of the Year rankings. Given that Robert Rubin's In an Uncertain World was one of last year's well-received business books, it seems that finance ministers are on a literary hot streak
To compile our list, we sought nominations from authors, business professors, editors, agents and publishing executives, as well as from Forbes writers and editors. We assessed these titles by press mentions, Google hits and the number and quality of reviews they received. By averaging the individual rankings, we identified our top ten.
- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
"Chernow is the author of The House of Morgan, which made our list of The 20 Most Influential Business Books from 1982 to 2002 as well as of The Warburgs and Titan, a biography of John D. Rockefeller. His biography of Hamilton--founding father, co-author of the Federalist Papers, the first secretary of the treasury, leading banker--is monumental. It was one of the most written-about business books of the year and the most widely reviewed. "Rarely does a biographer uncover so much new information about a long-dead, much-chronicled individual," wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reviewer, Steve Weinberg. "Rarely does a biographer fill in the gaps with such incisive, justified speculation. Rarely does a biographer write narrative so well." Forbes West Coast Bureau Chief Seth Lubove adds that the man "known to most Americans, if he's known at all, as the unfortunate victim in a duel with Aaron Burr [is placed convincingly] at the center of the creation of the nation and its banking system."
- The Price Of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House, And The Education Of Paul O'neill by Ron Suskind
"Suskind, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, follows O'Neill, President Bush's first Treasury secretary and a principal of the National Security Council, in his tumultuous two years in office. The book made news for O'Neill's statement that the Bush administration was considering action against Iraq even before Sept. 11, and for its claim that the president was fundamentally incurious. In the book, O'Neill, the former chief executive of Alcoa, does settle a few scores, but unlike Hamilton, he never needs to duel. "I'm an old guy, and I'm rich. And there's nothing they can do to hurt me," O'Neill says. Forbes National Editor Robert Lenzner noted the reason the book was a bestseller: It measured "the growing discontent with the president's policy decisions on Iraq and the economy--issues that lie at the very core of the political campaign for the White House." Bush won despite O'Neill, showing the limits of even the most influential books. Also, despite its status as the most talked-about business book of the year, The Price of Loyalty's reviews on the whole were just mildly positive."
- The Wisdom Of Crowds: Why The Many Are Smarter Than The Few by James Surowiecki
"Surowiecki, the financial columnist for the The New Yorker, takes a contrarian view compared to famous business titles such as the 1841 classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay and other books on popular panics. Surowiecki's thesis: ""Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant--better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future."" One of the best examples of this is the economy itself, which shows the wisdom of crowds in establishing prices and allocating scarce resources. Another au courant example is Google, the Internet search engine that ranks results essentially based on their popularity. But whether the crowd has priced the young company's shares correctly is an open question: It could be wisdom at work, but it could be madness. Writing in The Financial Times , John Gapper said Surowiecki ""has a rare gift for combining rigorous thought with entertaining examples. It is packed with amusing ideas that leave the reader feeling better-educated."
- The Truth About The Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us And What To Do About It by Marcia Angell
(business books, health, nonfiction)
"Drugs are a huge business and not a healthy one, Dr. Angell says. Americans now spend $200 billion a year on prescription drugs from the Mercks and Pfizers of the world. That total is growing at an annual rate of about 12%, which is faster than the growth rate for health care overall, itself a cost that is raging out of control. Drug companies will tell you that their products make us healthier and also save us money on other medical costs. Dr. Angell takes a harsher view, saying that high drug prices are not necessary to fund research and that drug companies funnel the bulk of their resources into the marketing of products of dubious benefit. The book generated wide attention both on the Internet and in the print media, as well as extremely positive reviews. In Newsday, Dr. Antonio Dajer called it "eye-popping" even for a practicing physician: "In clear, non-technical prose, Angell shows how America's pharmaceutical industry has stopped cultivating its vineyards and now devotes itself to hawking old wine in fancy--and very expensive--new bottles. Her goal, though, is not to bury the pharmaceutical industry but to save it."
- Trump: How To Get Rich by Meredith McIver
(business books, management, management / leadership)
"If you read the Donald's book and it works for you, you could buy his new book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, or his other new book, Trump: The Way to the Top (a compendium of advice he has received, as opposed to advice he gives). You could even buy his Apprentice co-stars' books, Carolyn 101: Business Lessons from The Apprentice's Straight Shooter by Carolyn Kepcher or You're Hired: How to Succeed in Business and Life from the Winner of The Apprentice by Bill Rancic, or you could hark back to the superior Trump: The Art Of The Deal, Trump's 1988 book that narrowly missed making our list of the 20 Most Influential Business Books of the Long Boom. Or you could simply watch Trump on television, where he gives the same advice gratis. At any rate, this book makes our list on the strength of its many press mentions and its wealth of Google hits. One reviewer though, was uncharitable enough to mention what the author omits: Trump was born to rich parents, but he never hints at that sure-fire way to get rich. Others say Trump's book is easy to take, if obvious, and that the bestselling author, golfer and real estate man is in on his own cosmic joke."
- The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz
(management / leadership, business books, health, self-help, nonfiction)
"Economic orthodoxy holds that the more choices we have, the richer we are. Schwartz, a professor at Swarthmore College, is part of a band of thinkers using psychological insights to challenge traditional economic thought. "Beware of excessive choice," he writes in Paradox, one of the most widely reviewed books of the year. "Choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures," he writes. "In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis." It can also lead to clinical depression, but the author does add suggestions on how to cope with the bewildering array of options we face. "Schwartz offers a self-help guide to good decision making by helping us to limit choices to a manageable number, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make," The Guardian wrote in its review of the book: "This is a capitalist response to a capitalist problem." "
- The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need To Know About America's Economic Future by Scott Burns
(economics, business books, nonfiction)
"Once the boomers retire, all is lost. That's the thesis, albeit slightly overstated, of The Coming Generational Storm. Boston University economics professor Kotlikoff and journalist Burns point out that a generation from now, as 77 million baby boomers hobble into old age, walkers will outnumber strollers; there will be twice as many retirees as today but only 18% more workers. For America to handle this demographic overload will require some major adjustments that the authors say we must address sooner rather than later. As the issue of Social Security comes to the fore, this treatise will only gain currency. The pundit George Will cited the book in his own urgent cry for entitlement reform. But some critics say the authors have overhyped their story. "The book's problems come when its authors try to make this unpalatable stuff easy for the lay person to swallow," noted The Financial Times, which faults the book for "cutesy Sesame Street formulations" and "the authors' repeated lapses into overstatement."
- Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
(business books, careers, success, self-help, health)
"Henry Higgins asked, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Frankel, an executive coach, says that's not the point. The point is for women not to act like girls. A path to power will be blazed by women who shuck ingrained habits they learned as girls such as couching statements as a question, smiling inappropriately and tilting the head while speaking. Self-help books are less likely than other kinds of business books to be reviewed, so relatively few publications offered comments on Nice Girls. But how many self-help authors sell the movie rights? Frankel sold hers to Robert Evans and Paramount, Variety reports. "
- The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-step Plan To Live And Finish Rich by David Bach
(business books, management, management / leadership)
"Bach is the author of several previous bestsellers including Smart Women Finish Rich and Smart Couples Finish Rich . In his newest offering, Bach offers what Publishers Weekly calls "a simple prescriptive plan for financial security. The secret: the astonishingly vanilla 'Pay Yourself First,' which is 'the one proven, easy way to get rich.'" The idea is to set aside between 10% and 15% of gross income for savings--that's just one hour's worth of income every day. It may seem obvious, but it should work. Certainly, it's worked for the author. He has already released a companion coaching program, a home-study course and a workbook. "
- Free Prize Inside: The Next Big Marketing Idea by Seth Godin
"Godin, a marketing guru, has sold a lot of books including last year's Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. This year he was back on the bestseller lists with Free Prize Inside! The message is that marketers "ought to come with a market-changing innovation." This idea, Godin says, "is a proven strategy for making your products or services so remarkable that they practically sell themselves." Sales and Marketing Management says the book delivers on its bold promise: "Godin's book [is] filled with interesting innovative and fun-to-read marketing ideas, such as how to think like an artist. Such tips were so helpful that they almost made me forget about the crummy prize."