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Best Business Books 2015

Our annual review of the year’s best business books. See also Best Business Books 2015 — in Pictures.

A version of this article appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of strategy+business.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Judge it by what smart people have to say about it. That’s the theory behind this, our 15th annual Best Business Books special section.

To kick things off, journalist Bethany McLean, a financial storyteller of note, assesses three compelling tales driven by charismatic CEOs. As a result of either (1) coincidence or (2) great planning, the trio personifies the classic narrative arc of business literature: a rock star who can do no wrong, a business debacle, and a gritty turnaround effort. Personal stories likewise lie at the root of this year’s crop of best books on leadership. James O’Toole, a perennial contributor to this section, focuses mainly on the stories of (1) a celebrity billionaire who is a household name and (2) a behind-the-scenes operator who could walk through Rockefeller Center in anonymity. (Guess who has the most compelling leadership lessons?) When asked to look into books on technology, section newcomer Steve LeVine, author of a recent book on the search for a better battery, latched onto three volumes that speak to one of this year’s hottest buzzwords: disruption. We turned to two longtime contributors — (1) Catharine Taylor and (2) Theodore Kinni — to report on the best books in marketing and management, respectively. Not surprisingly, this year’s marketing volumes have a lot to do with the use and abuse of data. Perhaps surprisingly, a more old-fashioned, classical discipline — character — informs this year’s best management books. It is fitting that as we enter the U.S. presidential election season, economics writer Marc Levinson focuses on three books that highlight the political aspects of economic study. And Ken Favaro, a frequent contributor to our pages, looks to two unlikely spots — (1) Hollywood and (2) the groves of academe — for inspiration on how to manage strategic innovation. I guarantee you’ll find these pieces (1) inspiring and (2) entertaining.

Contents

s+b’s Top Shelf
The best book in seven categories

Narratives
An Expensive Breakdown in Communications
by Bethany McLean

Leadership
Leading by Biographical Example
by James O’Toole

Disruption
The Machine Age
by Steve LeVine

Marketing
Capturing Attention — and Data — in a Digital Age
by  Catharine P. Taylor

Managerial Self-Improvement
What a Character!
by Theodore Kinni

Economics
The (Very) Political Economy
by Marc Levinson

Strategy
The Search for Innovation
by Ken Favaro

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Best Business Books 2015