In some ways, the business year 2010 resembled a good thriller.
There was the crime — the lingering effects of the economic downturn including the ongoing debt crisis in Europe, the sleuths trying to find an answer — namely the Bank of Canada's Mark Carney and U.S. Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.
And finally there were the bad guys — depending upon your political and economic persuasion — Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama, every corporate chief executive officer or unrealistic union bosses.
While that is how the year in economics might have read in allegory, business types were actually browsing real books, everything from The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, versatile author Michael Lewis's take on the great economic calamity of 2008 to Eaarth, a plea for saving the planet by environmentalist Bill McKibben.
Indeed, what corporate heavyweights were perusing last year was all over the map to such an extent that none of the Top 5 books of prominent Bay Street book sellers matched up.
Brenda Bickham, manager of Books for Business, a downtown Toronto bookstore catering to the tie-and-briefcase-crowd, has as her Top 5 biz tomes for 2010:
- A Tale of Two Employees & the Person Who Wanted to Lead Them by Chris Bart.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
- Overhaul: An Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry by Steven Rattner.
- The Goal, A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt.
- First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins.
Meanwhile, over at Indigo Book & Music, Canada's biggest book chain, here is what business books sold well in the past year:
- Debt -Free Forever by Gail Vaz-Oxlade.
- The Big Short by Michael Lewis.
- The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson.
- The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.
In addition, we asked a handful of tax experts and public thinkers what they have read lately. And here's what they said:
Anne Golden, president and chief executive officer, The Conference Board of Canada
Book title: The Politics of Grey by Ted Fishman
"While we are aware that most countries are aging, with more old people and fewer children, the enormous impact this trend will have on so many aspects of public policy is not fully understood. We are still a bit in denial about the implications of an aging population, for instance, on end-of-life care."
Jack Mintz, Palmer Chair of Public Policy, School of Policy Studies, University of Calgary, and former president and CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute
Book title: Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris.
"It looks at how Western and Eastern society has developed since the beginning of time — and whether we might see a surging East dominate the West down the road. He is a historian so is not trying to predict but understand factors."
Dwight Duncan, finance minister of Ontario
Book pick: Citizen of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour, by Lynne Olson
"It chronicles the stories of a group of Americans who were in London, England at the beginning of the Second World War. They were early proponents of American support of the U.K. during the war and had a very strong impact on Roosevelt and Churchill."
Jim Stanford, chief economist, Canadian Auto Workers
Book title: The Trouble with Billionaires by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks
"A great mystery in current politics is why populist anger about the belt-tightening that followed the global financial crisis and resulting recession is not being directed against those who caused the darn thing: rich financiers and the omnipresent market system they manipulate so skillfully.
"McQuaig's new book is a great antidote to this utterly false consciousness. She exposes in infuriating detail how a tiny elite of Canadian society has captured a stunning share of whatever meager macroeconomic gains have been produced by a quarter-century of tough-love business-friendly policies. And she systematically destroys the ideological justifications for that growing concentration of wealth — and political power."
David Duff, professor and co-director of the National Centre for Business Law, University of British Columbia
"What I particularly like about it is that it takes a subject that was traditionally dominated by a narrow law and economics approach (people seek to avoid/evade taxes and will do so up to the point where the expected probability of penalties — i.e. probability of detection and enforcement multiplied by severity of penalty — is greater) and places it in a broader psychological and sociological context, which provides a much richer account of why people comply with taxes even when audit rates are low and penalties are not severe. Many revenue agencies around the world (starting with the Australian Tax Office) have begun to take these alternative perspectives to heart in designing so-called 'responsive' approaches to tax regulation."
Sean Kruger, Ernst & Young, Canadian Market Leader, Transfer Pricing – International Tax Services
"What I found particularly valuable and interesting are Martin's perspectives around achieving better, more innovative and integrated business solutions, through resolving tensions that exist between seemingly opposing ideas. In an era of scarce resources and competing imperatives, the book provides thought provoking and practical insights."