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Meltdown sagas dominate Business Book of the Year shortlist

By Eliza Ridgeway for CNN
  • Authors approach the financial crisis through individual stories, historical investigation and forward-looking speculation.
  • Technology books continue to hold a place, with Facebook drawing big interest.
  • Although human behavior underlies all of this year's big books, only one tackles the subject head on.

(CNN) -- Books covering the financial crisis have flooded bookstores this year. Coverage has ranged from comprehensive minute-by-minute reports, to investigative journalism, to polemics pointing the finger at instigators of financial doom.

Business supremos looking for a few choice selections should take a look at the six books in contention for Business Book of the Year in this year's Financial Times and Goldman Sachs book awards.

Andrew Hill, the awards administrator, got to wade through dozens of books on the crisis. He told CNN that the shortlisted book "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" stood out as a "really great read" in its approach to a familiar subject.

Author Michael Lewis crosses decades and continents to trace the meltdown's origins and take on big questions: Where did it start, who is to blame, and could it have been avoided.

Andrew Ross Sorkin's "Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System -- and Themselves" takes a close-up look at the players who tried to check the financial system's plummet. In what Hill described as an almost "minute-by-minute account," Sorkin uses the connections he made as a business journalist to create a vivid picture of the human interactions at the heart of massive policy decisions.

Looking forward from the financial crisis, Raghuram Rajan's "Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy" is an early entry into the field of predicting post-meltdown disasters. Rajan has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the economists who predicted the financial crisis, and now he examines flaws in the world economic system that expose it to future risk.

How are markets going to have to change, because of the rise in power of certain economies who have different economic and financial systems from the west?
--Shriti Vadera
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Baroness Shriti Vadera, a former investment banker and politician serving as one of the book award's judges, said there is much to explore in predicting and preventing future crisis.

"We are seeing an acceleration in rise of emerging markets, as their growth levels remain high and advanced countries' growth remains fragile and slows down," she told CNN.

"How is the world, and how are corporations, going to have to change the way they do business, and how are markets going to have to change, because of the rise in power of certain economies who have different economic and financial systems from the west?" she continued.

In the coming year, Hill says he expects to see more forward-looking books tackling the topics of technology and emerging markets, topics that haven't gone away during the crisis but were over-shadowed this year.

David Kirkpatrick's book, "The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World" was the only technology book to make the shortlist. It taps into huge consumer attention to social networking.

"Anyone who deals with business in any way is interested in how that kind of disruptive technology is going to potentially disrupt their own business," Hill said.

The book also plays on readers' fascination with Facebook's unusual nature -- both as a small idea grown explosively big, and as a very personal arbiter of individual users' personal life and privacy, Hill told CNN.

Tapping into an equally lucrative but less visible part of the business world, Sebastian Mallaby's "More Money than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite," chronicles the highly leveraged players who work behind the scenes on Wall Street, Vadera explained.

"I think we should be interested because hedge funds can move some parts of the market quite significantly and they can take a counter view to institutional investors," Vadera said. "But I think the human angle that will interest people is, as the title suggests, that the individuals tend to be very wealthy."

The wild card entry on the shortlist, Sheena Iyengar's "The Art of Choosing," is the only book not pinned to current business events and instead looks for more durable lessons about how people behave.

"This was one that stood out this year for many judges as the book on how people behave that was going to tell leaders the most about ways in which they can adapt their business or their attitudes to the attitudes of customers, clients, suppliers and fellow employees," Hill said.

Iyengar looks at the sometimes surprising dynamics of how people choose and why.

"She shows that after a certain point, degrees of choice actually don't have the same impact on behavior and consumers that you might imagine," Vadera said. "As a result, it could mean something fundamentally different about how markets actually work relative to the theory we assume."

The winner of the 2010 Book Award will be announced on October 27 at an award dinner in New York.