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White House Burns as Krugman Gnashes Teeth in Top Business Books

May 05, 2012

"The Power of Habit"

The cover jacket of "The Power of Habit," by Charles Duhigg. Source: Random House via Bloomberg

Nations fail, the White House burns and economists including Simon Johnson and Paul Krugman debate U.S. taxes and spending in some of the best business books so far this year.

Our latest list of recommended titles also explores how ingrained habits and dumb luck bend the fates of gamblers, athletes and even Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google (GOOG:US)?” by William Poundstone (Little, Brown). A guide to brain-bending interview questions asked at Google and other innovative companies. “You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender,” one begins. What do you do in the 60 seconds before the blades begin whirring?

“Demystifying the Chinese Economy” by Justin Yifu Lin (Cambridge). A patriotic yet pragmatic look at how China notched up average annual growth of 9.9 percent for three decades.

“End This Depression Now!” by Paul Krugman (Norton). The Princeton economist makes his case for more government spending and less austerity. You can almost hear his teeth gnash as he takes on the “Austerians.”

“Exile on Wall Street” by Mike Mayo (Wiley). Mayo, an old-school bank analyst, chronicles his battle to change the status quo on Wall Street.

“Finance and the Good Society” by Robert J. Shiller (Princeton). The influential Yale University economist argues that finance, for all its manifest failings of late, remains a force for good in society. It’s wrong to assume, he says, that Goldman executives -- whatever their misbehavior may have been - - have an incentive to “attack and subjugate” people.

“Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States” by George Soros (PublicAffairs). This is a compilation of op-ed articles that the billionaire investor wrote as the euro crisis boiled up. As a retread, it displays Soros’s knack for assessing market linkages and psychology on the fly.

“Getting It Wrong” by William A. Barnett (MIT). Poor monetary data were a root cause of the financial crisis, argues Barnett, a University of Kansas economist and former Federal Reserve Board staffer.

“The Hedge Fund Mirage” by Simon Lack (Wiley). The former JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM:US) banker explains why many hedge-fund investors could have gotten better returns on Treasury bills.

“The Idea Factory” by Jon Gertner (Penguin Press). A rich history of Bell Labs, a hothouse of 20th-century innovation.

“Luck” by Ed Smith (Bloomsbury). Serendipity molds everything from sports to politics and finance, argues the former cricketer.

“Paper Promises” by Philip Coggan (Allen Lane/PublicAffairs). Our Ponzi scheme “is running out of suckers,” the Economist’s Buttonwood columnist argues in this look at how West’s debt crisis may overturn the global economic order.

“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg (Heinemann/Random House). Dipping into neurological case studies, Duhigg explores how our brains form habits and how we can change them. Examples range from murderous sleepwalkers to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US)

“What Money Can’t Buy” by Michael Sandel (Allen Lane/Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The Harvard University professor who wrote “Justice” explores the moral limits of markets in civil society, from baseball to death bonds.

“White House Burning” by Simon Johnson and James Kwak (Pantheon). A survey of how the U.S. government, ignoring Alexander Hamilton’s precepts, piled up more than $15 trillion in debt.

“Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (Crown/Profile). Why do some nations prosper while others remain mired in poverty? The answer lies in politics, the two economists argue in this compelling and readable study.

(James Pressley is a book critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: James Pressley in Brussels at jpressley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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