Poorly Made in China

This is obviously a “contrarian” view on the Chinese manufacturing phenomenon. That said, the author is deeply experienced and knows what he is talking about – as he describes the systemic problems with “quality fade” and poor business practices in the Chinese export economy. The style is anecdotal, which certainly has its limitations – there is not a single chart or generalized statistical argument in this book. But it also makes it very readable, and certainly should be on the reading list for anyone doing business with China.

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Saving the Sun

This is a good read and a very informative book, one of the best on Japan. It is relevant for three reasons: (1) as an account of Japanese bank-based capitalism, which contrasts institutionally with American market capitalism; (2) as a detailed and fascinating story of the rottenness of the Japanese banking system in the 1990s (from which they still have not fully recovered); and (3) as an object lesson for U.S. policy makers today on the dangers and costs of failing to come to grips fully with sick or failing financial institutions. The author, Gillian Tett, is one of the leading columnists for the Financial Times.

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McDonald’s – Behind the Arches

There have been so many bad books and movies about McDonald’s – they are presented so often in a negative light that you might wonder how they ever became the phenomenally successful company they are today. This is the best book on the company, full of surprising revelations that shed real light on the McDonald’s business model.

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Conspiracy of Fools

There are many (too many) books about Enron, but I think this is likely the best of them. It rings truer to me, by far, than much of what is out there. Enron was nine parts folly, and one part villainy (the CFO, Andy Fastow), which is about right I think for most business scandals. Thus, despite a really awful title, I recommend this one – written by a NY Times reporter (but we won’t hold that against him).

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Predator’s Ball

I was once sitting in the audience at a financial conference in California, and half way through a rather dull powerpoint presentation, a man in the row in front of me turned his head slowly to the left, presenting a hawk-like profile, silhouetted against the brightly lit screen. Suddenly I recognized him – it was Milken Himself (this was some years after he was released from prison), and I admit that I felt a shiver run down my spine. Truly. It was like one of the raptor moments in Jurassic Park. I’ve met a few other financial celebrities of this sort, but never felt quite the same shiver.

On the other hand, the man was/is a genius, who invented an entire new branch of the financial industry, and a new asset-category (called “junk” by those who didn’t understand what he was doing at the time). The vehicles he pioneered became a crucial part of helping finance a lot of younger, innovative businesses in the 1980s and later.

This is the story of his rise and fall.

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Barbarians at the Gate

A definitive classic in the genre of business journalism – even if the world has moved on, the story is gripping and still broadly relevant. And Henry Kravis still roams the earth…

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When Genius Failed

Of course this is now a bona fide classic, even if the framework of the financial markets as described is a bit out of date – because the markets have continued to evolve. Nevertheless, it is a good story, and a nice illustration of the broad strategy of statistical arbitrage – with a palatable mixture of orthodox finance theory (efficient market theory). Written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Roger Lowenstein.


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