Business Columns & Blogs

Biz books to soak up for that next beach trip

Aspire to political office? Then you won’t want to be seen at the beach, on the hiking trail or at the winery tasting room this summer with just any best-seller or potboiler.

Presidential aspirant Michele Bachmann recently disclosed that when she’s relaxing on vacation, she reads the works of economist Friedrich Hayek. That’s setting the bar pretty high. Given that level of competition, you certainly don’t want to be caught reading the latest doorstop from Danielle Steel (at the rate she churns them out, there’s always a latest).

Fortunately, our annual list of suggestions of business books to read is here to help elevate your game, or at least your public image. And if you have something less highbrow tucked inside, we’ll never let on:

“Idea Man,” by Paul Allen. There’s an easy temptation to dismiss this as a vanity project, alternatively titled “How I Spent My Multi-year Vacation After Leaving Microsoft.” But Allen’s book turns out to be an entertaining and enlightening read, at least when talking about the Microsoft days and some of his foibles in his business and sports ventures. Allen has an engaging, self- deprecating style of writing – or else a heck of a ghost writer. Either way, it’s a useful insight into some important local business history.

“Car Guys vs. Bean Counters,” by Bob Lutz. This can be a maddening and frequently self-contradictory book to read; Lutz’s enemies list includes, but is not limited to, American automobile management, politicians, Japanese automakers, environmental regulators, the media and MBAs. But as someone who worked for all of the Detroit Three, as well as BMW, and with a willingness to let loose with whatever opinions are on his mind, Lutz lends considerable understanding to how the domestic car industry got into the fix it’s in, and how it might get out.

“Monsoon,” by Robert Kaplan. The center of economic, political and (possibly) military activity and competition will not be the Atlantic, nor the Pacific Rim, but the arc of nations lining the Indian Ocean from the Middle East to Singapore. A lot of history and on-site reporting to explain why that’s so.

“Aerotropolis,” by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. Previously discussed in this space, but worth another mention: A detailed and well-reported explanation of how airports will be the center of urban activity and the crucial competitive advantage to cities that want to matter in the 21st century.

“Last Call,” by Daniel Okrent, and “And a Bottle of Rum,” by Wayne Curtis. What we drink (or don’t) explains a lot about our economic and cultural history. Hence Okrent’s history of Prohibition (with some lively Puget Sound events included) and Curtis’ book, subtitled “A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.”

“The Zeroes,” by Randall Lane. Can you take one more book on the financial meltdown? Here’s one from a slightly different angle, a rollicking chronicle by the editor of Traders Monthly, a magazine for hedge fund operators and financial speculators who had money to burn – until they burned all of ours. Not a business book, not even a book, but an interesting place to consider the future of book writing, publishing and retailing. “Harry Potter” series author J.K. Rowling retained the digital rights to her books, and is launching a site that will be the exclusive outlet for digital audio and e-books.

It’s true that Rowling operates in a much different universe than the rest of the book world. But that world has already been roiled by the Internet,, e- readers, self-publishing and authors doing far more of their own marketing and having far more interaction with readers and fans. If Rowling makes work, don’t be surprised to see at least some of her ideas migrate, giving rise to new models for writing, publishing, selling and promotion.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at