Skip to content Skip to footer

Business Book of the Year 2021

This year’s longlist for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award features a number of titles that promise to offer routes away from impending disaster. FT journalists filtered a record-breaking entry of some 600 books to produce 15 for the panel of judges to read. (A complete interactive list of all longlisted titles since the award began in 2005 can be found here.)

Gregory Zuckerman’s forthcoming A Shot to Save the World is one of a number of instant analyses of the progress of the pandemic entered this year. Zuckerman, shortlisted in 2019 for The Man Who Solved the Market, tracks the business and scientific rivalries between researchers and companies, and the background to their race to create successful coronavirus vaccines.

Science is also at the heart of The New Climate War, by climatologist Michael Mann. He launches a strong polemic against “inactivists” holding back the essential work to slow and reverse climate change, while also making the case for systemic measures to combat the global problem.

Taking a quite different angle on the debate about sustainability and globalisation, Maxine Bédat’s Unraveled tells the story of the “life and death” of a pair of jeans, as a way of illustrating the environmental, economic and social pressures building up in the global fashion and garment industry.

Net Positive, by Paul Polman, former chief executive of consumer goods group Unilever, and Andrew Winston, is due out in October. It makes a more optimistic case for courageous progressive companies and their leaders, who can offer practical, positive ways of tackling environmental, social and governance issues.

Minouche Shafik, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, outlines a different long-term prescription for the rewriting of the social contract in What We Owe Each Other. Ranging widely across topics such as intergenerational fairness and labour market regulation, she is sceptical about market remedies for such deep-seated social problems.

The World for Sale, by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy, is the blistering tale of a clutch of hard-charging international commodity trading houses such as Cargill and Glencore. The authors, both former FT journalists, trace how they harnessed the commodity boom and the setbacks they now face as climate change casts a shadow over their business model.
Nicole Perlroth’s This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends investigates a different potential catastrophe, neither epidemiological, nor environmental. Perlroth goes deep into the growing threat posed by the arms race between cyber criminals, spies and hackers fighting to infiltrate essential computer systems.

The Key Man falls into the same category of business crime and scandal. Simon Clark and Will Louch describe how financier Arif Naqvi, founder of Dubai-based private equity group Abraaj, fell from the pinnacle of honoured Davos delegate to a low point where he was accused of playing the leading role in a multimillion-dollar fraud. (Naqvi denies wrongdoing.)

Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain dives into the complex legal and reputational web that links the Sackler family with the global epidemic of opioid addiction. Radden Keefe investigates the saga of how Purdue Pharma, a company owned by two of the Sackler brothers and their families, marketed the addictive painkiller OxyContin, while the dynasty poured money into philanthropic endeavours around the world.

More wholesome types of ingenuity and growth are the subject of Dan Breznitz’s Innovation in Real Places. The economist offers a counterpoint to the Silicon Valley model for fostering invention and encouraging growth, and offers ideas and new hope to communities looking to make the most of their innate advantages.

The Aristocracy of Talent, by Adrian Wooldridge (co-author, with Alan Greenspan, of 2018’s longlisted Capitalism in America) takes issue with the backlash against meritocracy. Wooldridge’s wide-ranging historical and philosophical analysis makes the case for a revival of competition according to talent, as a means of encouraging rather than stifling social mobility.