Business Columns & Blogs

Summer business reading

Not so fast there, mister and missy. Before you head out the door to enjoy summer, you need to pick up your summer reading list of business books.

Yes, I know you thought you were through with that when you graduated. But if you want to stay current with what’s going on in the world, with the trends affecting your job, your money, your company, your profession, your neighborhood, your future, you’ve got to keep up with the reading.

Rest assured, these columnist-read-and-approved books are far more interesting than those your kids will be asked to slog through this summer (“What, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ again?”). You will note that we have left off this list investment, marketing, motivational and managing advice books, which in the best of times tend to be the same old bromides repackaged. The books recommended below, however, are actually useful.

“The Quants,” Scott Patterson, “The Big Short,” Michael Lewis.

Trying to make sense of the financial-industry debacle by reading books is akin to the parable of the blind men describing the elephant: You’re going to need to read a lot of them to understand what the beast really looks like. The bookshelves are already groaning under the weight of tomes on the recession, and more are coming, but these two are particularly worth a read. The first tells the tale of the self-styled financial geniuses who believed they had reduced the markets to a series of mathematical equations from which they could profit – and were wrong. The second describes the few skeptics who became convinced the mortgage-finance industry was doomed – and were proven right.

“Crash Course,” Paul Ingrassia

One meaning of the phrase used in this book’s title, is a quick overview of a subject. Ingrassia, a veteran observer of the auto industry, provides a condensed but enlightening history of the car business. The other definition means the path leading to some sort of catastrophe, and Ingrassia does an excellent job of explaining why the crackup of the American automakers was, in retrospect, inevitable.

“Start-Up Nation,” Dan Senor, Paul Singer.

How is it that a nation of 7 million people, with few resources of its own, living in the most hostile corner of the globe, has become a mighty engine of entrepreneurship? Israel is a center of start-up companies and technological innovation, and this book does an excellent job of explaining how that happened, with some interesting contrasts and comparisons with the American model of entrepreneurial activity.

“Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy,” Eamon Javers.

What’s a former government spy to do to make some real money? Go to work in the burgeoning private-sector world of investigations, security and corporate spying. What is he looking for? Read this book to find out.

“Wrench in the System,” Harold Hambrose.

Why is so much business software so bad? Why do workers find themselves having to work their way around the business systems that are supposed to make them more productive? Hambrose suggests it’s because software is rarely designed with the actual user in mind. Readers may find themselves nodding in recognition at the specific examples of dealing with non-intuitive, cranky and expensive software.

“Ayn Rand and the World She Made,” Anne Heller.

The philosophical and economic arguments at the center of “Atlas Shrugged” when it was published in 1957 are being debated, perhaps even more vociferously, to this day. This even-handed biography explains those arguments and why they matter, while documenting the life of a woman with an outsized persona and personal history to match her big books and bigger ideas.

“Grand Coulee,” Paul Pitzer

An older title, published by Washington State University, but making an appearance on this list after a trip by your business columnist to see the dam last summer. The book recaps the political fights, within the state and between the two Washingtons, over construction of the dam and the massive Columbia Basin reclamation project. Speaking of issues still being debated, the fights over water usage and massive federal projects are just as contemporary as when the first bucket of concrete was poured.

Got those? Good. Reports are due on your instructor’s desk right after Labor Day.

Bill Virgin’s column on business and economics appears Sunday in The News Tribune. He is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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