FC's Best Business Books of 2004

This week has seen a number of publications put out their lists of best business books. Heck, even Forbes put out a list (Trump's How to Get Rich at #5? Please. Now we know what happens to your brain when you watch too much reality TV.) These end-of-year lists are a little silly, so don't read this so much as us jumping on the bandwagon but rather as our attempt to set the record straight (yeah, sure). So here goes our take, Letterman style. If you disagree or you think we missed something, don't be shy. Let's hear from you.

11. Candyfreak by Steve Almond. Hey, if I'm putting this up here, allow me my favorite fun book of the year. Part memoir, part picaresque journey into the fringes of the candy business, it's a telling exploration of why we don't have as much local flavor in our product choices as we used to. You can also read it as a study of how to compete in the shadow of giants. But don't strain yourself too hard that way or you'll miss all the fun.

10. Word Spy by Paul McFedries. A smart, fun look at how new words enter our culture.

9. The Allure of Toxic Leaders by Jean Lipman-Blumen. We're sick of having to call out toxic leaders and if we as a society did a better job of identifying them early and not putting books by them #5 on their best books of the year list, then work life for so many people wouldn't be so awful.

8. Why People Buy Things They Don't Need by Pamela Danziger. One of the smarter books on understanding and predicting consumer behavior this year.

7. Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin. If you read Purple Cow and wanted to make a remarkable product of your own but needed some guidance, this is the book for you.

6. Call of the Mall by Paco Underhill. Another deft exploration of our retail realm, this time our fortresses of specialty retail, department store dinosaurs, and food courts.

5. The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. It's just plain common sense folks: Put your heads together.

4. Unstuck by Keith Yamashita. Just a simple, well-designed book that can help anyone or any team rethink how they got in a rut and what they can do to get out of it.

3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It's not a leadership book, per se, but it's the best study of leadership this year.

2. Managers Not MBAs by Henry Mintzberg. The management theorist strikes a nerve in this critique of B-school education and our overreliance on it. We certainly got a lot of angry letters from MBA candidates who might have had to wait a moment to ponder if they were throwing away two years of their life.

1. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C.K. Prahalad. Simply the most important book of the year. There's so much poverty in the world, and by doing good, we have the potential to do well.

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  • Dari

    Good to see that you've listed "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid" as the best book of the year. It is a very important book with huge potential impact on the world. Personally I find it absolutely unacceptable that enormous numbers of people live in conditions that are considered to be deprived of the basics of life. This challenge presented by the 4-billion at the bottom of the economic pyramid will not be resolved unless we start using Prahalad's recommendation. The book is right. The poor are a market.

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    Chernow's Hamilton certainly is a good book for aspiring business executives, political leaders and ghost writers.
    And you don't have to read the whole thing to get the picture; no smart careerist reads all 1,000 pages of turgid prose. Time's too precious.

    What Chernow does is show how a very bright, intense and ambitious guy learned from his sometimes tragic experiences, sucked up to Washington and other mentors and became a student of and advocate of free trade and a central bank.

    Hamilton was a superb strategist, a creative legal mind, a courageous soldier and risk taker and the kind of prickly personality who would have made the Fortune list of the 10 worst bosses. He was kind of the Dick Cheney, Paul O'Neil and Donald Rumfeld of his day—all under one hat.

    And there's another lesson, if you let your sense of honor get to you, you might get shot for no good reason.

    Now, if Chernow had a decent editor, this would have been a good read instead of a piece of work.