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Top 5 Business Books of 2012

The best (and bestselling) business books of this year were mostly about exposing corruption.
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Through most of the past decade, the most popular business books were "How I Did It" autobiographies of successful big-company CEOs, like Jack Welch's Winning. But that's no longer true.

Rather than seeing big companies (especially in the financial industry) as percolators and role models, business readers now tend to view such firms as corrupt and parasitical, along with the people who run them.

As a result, 2012 was the year of the exposé. Here are the best five of the year, IMHO.

Twilight of the Elites

In this book, author Christopher Hayes attacks what's arguably the most persistent myth in the business world: that the workplace is a meritocracy. Using examples from business, politics, and sports, he shows how and why power and privilege entrenches itself, locking out innovation and new talent.

  • Full Title: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
  • Author: Christopher Hayes
  • Publisher: Crown

Exposure

This fascinating document shows how even a CEO can run up against corruption and incompetence. In most cases, CEOs play along until they can leave with a big severance package. By contrast, the erstwhile CEO of Olympus went public with his experiences, providing a fascinating view of corporate politics at its very worst.

  • Full Title: Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went from CEO to Whistleblower
  • Author: Michael Woodford
  • Publisher: Porfolio Hardcover

The Payoff

You'd think that after destroying the world's economy with dodgy trades and double-dealing, at least somebody (other than the taxpayer) who was responsible might get thrown in jail. But you'd think wrong because Wall Street essentially "owns" both political parties, thereby making accountability impossible.

  • Full Title: The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins
  • Author: Jeff Connaughton
  • Publisher: Prospecta Press

Why I Left Goldman Sachs

I remember reading the author's op-ed in the New York Times and thinking "This guy just wrote his career obituary." Fortunately for him, his follow-up book about his experience has become a bestseller, and rightly so. His anecdotes illustrate a world that's as different from the world of small business as the surface of Mars.

  • Full Title: Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story
  • Author: Greg Smith
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Bailout

This book brings the perspective of a lawyer and prosecutor to the challenge of holding financial executives responsible for the economic meltdown of 2008. He explains exactly how the Obama administration helped bankers game the system and make huge profits (with no risk) at the expense of the taxpaying public.

  • Full Title:Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street
  • Author: Neil Barofsky
  • Publisher: Free Press
IMAGE: micmol/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 3, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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