The Economist’s Books of the Year – December 15, 2012

The following is a selection from 67 books chosen by The Economist as the best books of 2012. The wide ranging fields covered, a veritable tour d ’horizon of intellectual endeavor, were Politics and current affairs; Biography and memoirs; History, Economics and Business; Science and Technology; Culture, society, sport and travel; Fiction, essays and poetry, and books by in house Economist writers.


1)      The Economist Book of Business Quotations by Bill Ridges, a business writer at The Economist. According to a review, the book brings together the “wit and wisdom” of great thinkers such as Walter Bagehot and Warren Buffet, et al. Reproduced below are some interesting insights from a cross section of thinkers:


“My formula for success? Rise early, work late, strike oil.”

  1. Paul Getty


“The real discipline comes in saying ‘no’ to the wrong opportunities.”

Peter Drucker


“Give me a one handed economist. All my economists say, on the one hand… on the other…”

Harry Truman

[Comment: Truman, a former draper from Mississippi, was a true son of the soil. A formidable politician, he never made a pretense of having much book learning.]


“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and good business is the best art.”

Andy Warhol


“Think globally, act locally.”

Akio Morita


2)      Mega Change: The World in 2050 by

According to one reviewer, whose views appear more than reasonable: “This anthology’s essays forecast future developments in areas from social media to religion. Since all 20 writers of the book contribute to The Economist, they share a lucid style and a generally aligned conceptual framework… The result is a useful, intriguing mosaic of the near future.” Of course predicting the future is a tricky business but nonetheless this anthology informs us what the world would look like three decades plus down the line.


3)      Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

According to a review, the authors conclusively show that it is “man made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it).” The Korean peninsula, to take one of their fascinating examples, has stark differences between an impoverished North Korea and a burgeoning South Korea. In the latter, a society was developed that “created incentives, rewarded innovation” and allowed participation in economic activities. Sadly the people of the North have endured famine, political repression, and a command economy. The differences between the Koreas are due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.


Acemoglu and Robinson develop a new theory of political economy examining questions such as:

–          China has built an authoritarian growth regime. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?

–          Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtual circle in which “efforts by elites to aggrandize power” are resisted by a “vicious one that enriches and empowers” a small minority? [This observation seems to tie in nicely with the widely acclaimed meditation by Barbara Ehrenreich Nickel and Dimed, which details the lives of the lowest paid workers in the U.S. compared with the enormous inequalities in compensation enjoyed by higher paying jobs in the corporate sector, academia and elsewhere.]

–          What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from poverty to prosperity? More philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or imbibing the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?


4)      From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia by Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra is a foremost writer of Indian origin who is married to the daughter of a former editor of the British Times Literary Supplement. He divides his time between the United Kingdom and India. According to a review of his book, which I share: “Mishra’s book isn’t a piece of post-colonial critique or an exploration of contemporary Asian thought on the role of Asia in the world today, but a gripping narrative of the life and thought of several “Asian modernists who foresaw a different path for their cultures than Westernization or traditionalism.” The three figures the book concentrates on are Jamaluddin Afghani, Liang Qichao and the Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Around these three protagonists, Mishra weaves in the contributions of Gandhi, Sun Yat Sen, Mao Zedong, Aurobindo Ghose and Sayyed Qutb, the latter unfairly labeled in Mishra’s eyes as the intellectual godfather of global jihad. The Economist pays tribute to Mishra by designating him as the [intellectual] heir to Edward Said.


5)      The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent by Vivek Wadhwa

The Economist states “A nation that can attract the cleverest people in the world can innovate and prosper indefinitely. Wadhwa, an Indian-American technology entrepreneur and academic, explains how America is forgetting this crucial lesson to its cost.” Wadhwa’s recommendations include: increasing the number of green cards for people with high demand skills, along with eliminating country caps; permitting spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S.; eliminating the requirements between H-1B employees and employers; and improving the startup Visa Act. The reviewer believes that Wadhwa’s book should be required reading for all Senators, Representatives and members of their staff, so that the U.S. economy starts moving in a positive direction once again.


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