Bloomberg News

Testosterone Fuels Boom, Swindler Sows Panic: Top Business Books

June 01, 2012

"The Power of Habit"

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

Testosterone drives traders to take excessive risk, while a Wall Street swindler dupes a U.S. president and triggers a market panic in two of the best business books so far this year. Here’s a list of recommended titles.

“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?

“The Art of the Sale” by Philip Delves Broughton (Penguin Press/Portfolio). The journalist who brought us “Ahead of the Curve,” a chronicle of how he earned an MBA at Harvard Business School, uncovers the dark arts of sales -- a discipline absent from the HBS curriculum.

“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.

“A Disposition to Be Rich” by Geoffrey C. Ward (Knopf). Ferdinand Ward, the Bernie Madoff of the Gilded Age, comes to life in this elegant and perversely fascinating biography of the swindler who ruined Ulysses S. Grant.

“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.”

“Engines of Change” by Paul Ingrassia (Simon & Schuster). Ingrassia, who shared a 1993 Pulitzer Prize for writing on management turmoil at General Motors Corp., presents a quirky history of American culture as seen through 15 cars.

“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 Hour Between Dog and Wolf” by John Coates (Fourth Estate/ Penguin Press). During his 12 years at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US), Merrill Lynch & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG, Coates began to wonder whether testosterone and other hormones were impairing the judgment of traders -- and fueling bubbles and busts. So he retrained as a neuroscientist and conducted tests on trading floors. He synthesizes his findings in this highly speculative and absorbing book.

“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.

“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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