The best business books of 2014
Reviewed: the inside story of what went wrong at RBS, the Federal Reserve and the Eurozone
Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain Fred Goodwin, the former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), has become one of the most notorious symbols of the excesses that lead to the 2008 financial crisis. What’s more, his legacy is still with us in the form of the £45bn bill for bailing out RBS. Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain, by Ian Fraser, looks at what went wrong. While Fraser makes it clear that Goodwin alone cannot solely bear the blame for the crisis or the bank’s fate, nor does he “stint on juicy detail about Fred’s behaviour”, as Colin Donald in The Sunday Herald put it. Indeed, this “magisterial” book will survive long beyond the crisis to become a “what-not-to-do textbook of management science”. It “would also make a cracking film, if toned down for the sake of realism”.Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain, by Ian Fraser. Published by Birlinn (£25)
Stress Test Other than Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, no-one was closer to the heart of the efforts to deal with the financial crisis than Timothy F Geithner. Bernanke’s right hand man at the Fed from 2003 to 2009, he was deeply involved with many of the decisions taken as the credit crunch evolved into a full-blown panic. Then, during the aftermath, he was Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary from 2009 to 2013. Geithner’s memoir, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, gives his side of the story in this clearly written account. It’s “a really good book”, writes Michael Lewis in The New York Times. And although you may not agree with all of the decisions that were taken at the time of the bail-outs, “there’s hardly a moment in Geithner’s story when the reader feels he is being anything but straightforward”.Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, by Timothy F Geithner. Published by Random House (£25).
The Trouble with Europe A decade ago, opponents of European integration were on the back foot. The single currency appeared to be a success, and British membership was even seen by some as inevitable. But now the eurozone is deep in recession and Britain’s status within the EU is a major electioneering point. In his new book, The Trouble with Europe, Roger Bootle, head of Capital Economics, argues Britain should leave and forge its own destiny elsewhere. Bootle takes care to avoid hyperbole and admits that the balance of pros and cons might be different if the EU lived up to its promises of reducing barriers to trade and eliminating onerous labour market regulations. Some might argue that it is still too optimistic to believe we could negotiate better deals from America or China outside Europe; but this is a credible plan for life outside Europe and, for this reason, deserves to be widely read.The Trouble with Europe: Why the EU isn’t Working; How it can be Reformed; What could take its Place, by Roger Bootle. Published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing (£18.99)
Branson: Behind the Mask Investigative journalist Tom Bower has something of an obsession with Richard Branson. In 2000 he released his first biography of the flamboyant tycoon, followed by a revised version seven years later. Branson: Behind the Mask, which focuses on the last decade, attempts to nail him once and for all. Bower argues that despite his celebrity entrepreneur image, most of Branson’s business schemes are a triumph of bluster over actual performance. But while it’s hardly a flattering characterisation, these revelations aren’t exactly earth shattering. It’s no secret that Branson has had his share of hits and misses, and while it’s hard to dispute that Branson’s “empire has shrunk and his relative wealth has diminished”, the book lacks detail. Perhaps more importantly, “the book fails to discover much about the man himself”, says Dominic O’Connell in The Sunday Times.Branson: Behind the Mask, by Tom Bower. Published by Faber and Faber (£20).
Zero to One Peter Thiel, the billionaire technology entrepreneur who founded PayPal and helped fund Facebook, has written a business book that aims to be a little bit different. Zero to One is based around a class on entrepreneurship he taught at Stanford. Thiel’s main argument is that entrepreneurs should focus on creating radically new products or markets, rather than copying or improving on an existing concept. Firms that can “vertically innovate” can effectively gain a monopoly on a market, allowing them to reap huge rewards. “Horizontal innovators” just fuel competition. Thiel also worries that, because mimicry is easier than innovation, the developed world has lost its taste for grand projects. In effect, we’ve traded our dreams of jet packs and flying cars for the latest smartphone. Beyond the philosophising, Thiel also makes some good points about the importance of sales strategy, something that can be anathema to idealistic tech whizzes. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel (with Blake Masters). Published by Crown Business (£16.99).