It seems China is the bigger story, grippingly told by ex Financial Times China Bureau-Chief, James Kynge. His book is China Shakes the World (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Houghton Mifflin). Kynge won the 30,000 (GBP) top prize, beating four other authors, each deserving for having written some well-researched and compelling stuff.
Don't forget, books are hard to write. Books this good represent years of brick-laying, soul-searching & sacrifice. (At the event I was seated at Charles Fishman's wife's table; she dryly and helpfully introduced herself: "I'm married to The Walmart Effect.") They don't just describe the world, they influence the Zeitgeist. And, for readers, they offer momentum...joy.
- The Long Tail, Chris Anderson
- Small Giants, Bo Burlingham
- The Wal-Mart Effect, Charles Fishman
- China Shakes the World, James Kynge
- The Box, Marc Levinson
Whispers were for Anderson's The Long Tail and I was hopeful too, being a techie & having followed the story of the story as Chris, Wired Magazine's Editor-in-Chief (and ex-editor at The Economist), went from running his interesting article in Wired to thinking out loud on The Long Tail Blog and now to encoding it in parchment.
China moves a hair and it seems to envelope all thought. However, James Kynge seems to have written something really readable (I've only skimmed it so far) as well as informative based on decades of experience there and an intimate sense of the place. Well done, Jim! His suprise upon the dais, his slight breathlessness and collegial, self-effacing good humor -- 'thanks to the Finalists. We seem to have one thing in common, that we haven't read each others' books...' -- struck the right, the magnanimous note.
Indeed, the FT | GS Book Award was concieved with the idea of encouraging business authors to write better, write stuff the general readership could digest hungrily. Business books have sucked forever. So there is nothing more timely than throwing a few GBPs at the class to get literate inspiration, tough research and good story-telling to the fore. I applaude the motivations of the sponsors.
The winner last year, which was the first year for the FT | GS Book Award, was Tom Friedman (Pulitzer-Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times) for his The World is Flat, which was not predominantly a business book, per se. Tom is substantive and readable -- though he's no Johnny Apple as a writer.
So, I attended the Awards dinner last night at the fine Mandarin Oriental Hotel: great venue, excellent food (even the wine was good). The Filet was a favorable surprise -- to use an old Wall Street expression -- aptly spiced with a teriaki-ginger sauce. And the proceedings on the whole were blessedly short & sweet.
Dr Lawrence H Summers
Larry Summers gave the keynote speech -- discretely fluffing his next book concept and warming this crowd for his coming dour vision of a flat earth. He was well rehearsed and exceedingly alarming about the future of the world.
Summers just got shit-canned last year as Harvard's President-ChangeAgent by a Faculty of Arts & Sciences who were decidedly unscientific in their approach of hoisting him on his petard of words -- something hypothetical, but frightening when taken out of its context, about women being lousy in math and the sciences. He was right -- as all Smartest-Guys-in-the-Room are -- but suffered because the faculty just didn't like him. Why? He's an arrogant asshole. Bad leader. A not good "man manager." The Harvard faculty, individually, just couldn't stand him, and they most certainly mustered every recollection of personal slight to generate the moral outrage necessary to tar & feather the guy. So, all tolled, a really good punch-up.
Last night, Summers' Fenway-sized ego filled the compact but comfortable banquet floor of the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle in the AOL -- pardon -- Time Warner towers. The bits I recall about the speech include his introductory joke: "When I returned to Washington from academia, people asked me what's the difference between the two, and I said, 'Washington is soooo political...'"
His remarks were thoughtful and quieting. He said that globalization now is exciting but we have a scary development among the disenfranchised nations -- including the Islamic ones. It hasn't registererd much yet, but history may adjudge significant a meeting which recently took place in Cuba between the leaders of 67 countries. Castro was there, Chavez was there, and the president of India -- who couldn't find the space in his schedule to attend the concurrent proceedings at the UN -- was there. Summers mostly left it there (to a deathly silence in the hall), only to add that -- and hinting at the analogy of Tom Friedman's win last year -- in 1913 globalization was said to be ushering in an exciting new age of prosperity (1913: I was also thinking of the Wright Brothers and the clearing of Brown's Station in the flooding of the Ashokan & Schoharie Reserviours in the creation the New York Water System and their impact on optimism). Who, then, would have known that Progress and a labyrinthe of national alliances would unfold into "The Bloody Century"?
Prior to digging in to the filet, I spoke to Chris Anderson. I feared Lynn had said something like she was with 'her guest, Linus Torvalds,' so I went over to set Chris straight. He was enthusiastic & magnanimous; we talked mostly about open source for a few minutes and he wants very much to conveigh to R Stallman the problems of his lack of compromise, among other things.
On my left at the table I was flanked by Reuters' New York desk editor, Eddie Evans, who is a smart & dedicated English guy based here who took the time to explain some of Reuters' long history and its current structure (without losing me); and previously at cocktails I exchanged only a little more than small talk with Bill Saporito, Time Magazine's Editor-at-Large. Lynn kindly introduced me to Bob Miller, President of Hyperion (Disney | ABC).
This was not so much a financial as a publishing horse race, indicated by the number of women (tech must do better on the female scale, but I sadly see no catalyst) and the lack of very expensive suits of, say, the 151 new partners just announced at Goldman Sachs. Seems the Business Book of the Year Award is not such an attraction for the Wall Street warriors -- who do not read very much.
Lynn Goldberg (Goldberg McDuffie) has my warm & sincere appreciation for providing one of the most interesting evenings out in recent memory.