Monday, December 28, 2009

The Best Business Books of 2009

The Miami Herald's Business Monday books columnist offers his highly subjective list of favorites.

I didn't — couldn't — read every business book published during the past year, but I was still gob-smacked by the number that I did read in 2009, including a few just for fun. (Imagine that!)

But among those that I read and reviewed, these titles represent the ones that I thought were exceptional, have lasting value and were worth my time — and yours.

A few things that may have deserved inclusion didn't make the cut for one reason or another, and some worthy titles that came out in 2009 won't get reviewed until January. Them's the breaks. You may have a few choices that aren't here either. If you'd like to share, I'm always happy to hear from readers. After all, you make this all possible, so please leave your comments.

Thanks for reading!

(Click on each title to read the original, full review. Date of original review follows each title. Books listed in chronological order by review.)

A wise plea for the strategic imperative of being different and distinctive asthe best way to avoid commoditization or worse — extinction. McKain insists that it's a competitive advantage, in fact. "Good enough'' just isn't "good enough'' any more, if it ever was.

Griffin suggests ways to connect with customers and prospects through the intelligent and proactive deployment of blogs, social networks and other resources that provide support and rapid responses to criticism, problems and concerns — real or imagined. Her deep understanding of thiscomplicated subject and her intelligent and actionable assessment of the necessary strategies are impressive.

Economist and investment guru Barry Ritholtz's blog, The Big Picture, is a mandatory daily stop for many. This honest, unvarnished look at the forces that screwed up the U.S. economy is a worthy candidate for a time capsule so that future financial operators can avoid the same traps that we fell into. Or at least howl when history repeats itself.

Movie stars, media figures, captains of industry and book reviewers are doing it, but how can businesses discern the twits from the tweets? O'Reilly and Milstein present as lucid and intelligent an overview as you'd want or need. The format is concise but quite rich, and there's plenty here to convince skeptics that employing Twitter as a marketing tool is a very good way to engage customers.

The "operating system'' behind the world's economies and monetary systems is flawed and antithetical to productivity and most other human values. Greed, avarice and (unenlightened) self-interest flourish. So do artificial scarcity, perpetual debt and empty allegiance to the slogans and logos of oppressive corporations. A less elegant and gifted writer might have produced a dour and plodding polemic against materialism and consumerist culture, but Rushkoff's persuasive prose is a pleasure.

Elegance is simplicity itself, is often self-contained, or damned near, and has nothing to do with wealth or fashion, yet it can affect both. Patterns and the need to look for them and make them work in an elegant manner are hard-wired into human DNA. May's sagacious and engaging book demonstrates how successful organizations can engage elegance and benefit from the engagement engendered by uncomplicated and intuitive choices.

I devoured these two fascinating books over the last Independence Day weekend, a propitious occasion to learn that one of our most cherished American freedoms may soon evaporate. Each depicts the ways our lives will change as the price of oil, gasoline and petrochemicals continues to rise, and both posit a future that resembles, in many ways, our pastoral past. Much of what these guys write reads like science fiction, though like the best SF, there are recognizably plausible elements therein to enable the suspension of disbelief.

If you're enticed by all you've heard and read about the benefits of deploying online tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, search engines and the rest for your business or personal enterprises but were not sure what to actually do and where to begin, this terrific tome will help hook you up. Joel doesn't just provide directions but also thoroughly explains a variety of things that may seem painfully obvious to the cognoscenti but somehow eludes others.

Alan Deutschman's short and readable book examines a number of people and the failure and success they achieved for themselves and their organizations based on whether or not their deeds aligned with their words. He does a fine job explicating the importance of moral equanimity and the effectiveness of leaders who are consistent in their values and actions. It's a lesson that transcends business but is especially important in it, where trust and integrity can ultimately determine failure or success.

Advertising-supported mass media is dying, and Ad Age columnist and NPR host Garfield, though currently part of its status quo, is simultaneously gleeful and distraught, mourning the decentralization of power while grabbing a bit of his own by blogging about the death of his cable provider for lack of support, dishonesty and general idiocy. What makes his insights valuable — even essential — is Garfield himself. He's an enormously entertaining and engaging writer, and it's a blast to observe the machinations of his so-sane-he's-crazy (or is it the other way around?) mind. Witty, world-weary, wildly knowledgeable and endlessly curious, Garfield is your perfect tour guide to the end of the sponsored world as we know it.

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