Magazine article Management Today

Books of the Year

Magazine article Management Today

Books of the Year

Article excerpt

MT marks the turning of the year with a bibliophile's retrospective. We asked three well-read senior executives to describe their favourite volumes of 2006. First up ...

HOWARD DAVIES: WHEN POWER OVERREACHES ITSELF

With the recent avalanche of Hitleriana, I had begun to think there was nothing more to learn about the Third Reich. But The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze proved me wrong.

Tooze is an economic historian from Cambridge, whose book sheds new light on the structure of the Nazi regime and on the reasons for the war in the East. He takes a relentlessly economic line, focusing on the availability of natural resources, industrial production and the scale of the war effort. Even though one knows the end - so to speak - it is a gripping story.

Uberpower by Josef Joffe is not a deeply researched work. It's a long, journalistic essay, but none the worse for that. Joffe focuses on a subject more often discussed in continental Europe than in the UK - the consequences of the end of the Cold War and the arrival of a single superpower. How should Europe position itself in relation to the almighty US? Is it possible to develop a European foreign policy that can act as a realistic counterweight to the American version?

Joffe is no anti-American: he is a supporter of the Iraq war. But he believes that the Bush administration has forgotten the need to build alliances and win friends.

Bush could learn from the British in the 19th century, or even Bismarck, he says. Whether Joffe's prescriptions for the US are realistic, and whether the Neocons will pay any attention, is doubtful. But his essay deserves a wider audience, both over here and over there.

One former Neocon who may empathise with Joffe is Francis Fukuyama, of End of History fame. Like Joffe, he supported the Iraq invasion; unlike him, he now thinks it was a terrible mistake. After the Neocons: America at the crossroads is a fascinating recantation by one of the philosophers of the Republican right. His basic point is that the kind of muscular foreign policy that served Reagan well with the Soviets is just not going to do the job in relation to the axis of evil.

If all this evil seems too much with the Christmas pudding, try Renewing Unilever by Geoffrey Jones. Corporate histories are not always the most gripping stuff, but this one is a cut above the rest, and won the Wadsworth Business History Prize this year. It brings the story of Unilever up to the 1980s, and is a warts-and-all account. Remember Persil Power? Unilever certainly wishes it didn't.

Finally, as cricket scores from Australia begin to trickle in, a novel that reminds us of simpler times Down Under. All of this year's Man Booker shortlist were highly readable, but as holiday relaxation I recommend The Secret River by Kate Grenville, a 1790s tale of convicts sent to Botany Bay, struggling to make a living in a hostile environment. I couldn't put it down, as the slip fielder said to the keeper.

HIS PICKS

- The Wages of Destruction: The making and breaking of the Nazi economy; Adam Tooze; Allen Lane pounds 30

- Uberpower: The imperial temptation of America; Josef Joffe; WW Norton pounds 15.99

- After the Neocons: America at the crossroads; Francis Fukuyama; Profile Books pounds 12.99

- Renewing Unilever: Transformation and tradition; Geoffrey Jones; Oxford University Press pounds 22.50

- The Secret River; Kate Grenville; Canongate Books pounds 7.99

- Howard Davies is director of the London School of Economics. CILLA SNOWBALL: LIFE, BUSINESS AND POETRY

My six book picks all made me think. In different ways. They are very special books, all imparting wisdom - on life and on business. All well written, observed and researched. All subsequently gifted by me to others, which I guess is the ultimate 'positive referral' endorsement.

David Bolchover's The Living Dead: Switched off, zoned out - the shocking truth about office life is a pretty controversial expose on the economic cost of boredom at work - the phenomenon of 'living dead' employees, who are disengaged, unproductive and unmotivated at work. …

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