There is nothing that excites me quite as much as the English language when beautifully crafted, burdened with a purpose, and bearing the truth. I find it in my favorite poetry and great works of fiction that expose our human core, in artfully crafted works of nonfiction that explore the human story in all its facets and fascination, and yes, even in the best that business books have to offer.
But, I find it most often when I sit down with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel every day over lunch, or when I follow the thread of a story contained in the a link in an email from ProPublica, when I relax with The New Yorker, Fast Company, and Foreign Affairs at home, or when I listen to a well-crafted story on This American Life or a great interview with Charlie Rose. It’s this everyday reporting, story-telling, and exploration of current events and interests—the fruits of our free press—that enriches and informs us on a daily basis, that many call the lifeblood of democracy, and that forms the tapestry of our collective intellectual lives.
In the first of what I hope will be many annual publications, The Best Business Writing 2012 from Columbia Journalism Review Books, edited by Dean Starkman. Martha M. Hamilton, Ryan Chittun, and Felix Salmon, captures much of the finest examples of that output from the last year in one collection. You’ll find within it some of the past year’s greatest stories crafted by some of the best storytellers working today, the most exhaustively researched and fact-checked journalism, with some opinionated and insightful commentary sprinkled throughout from the likes of Paul Krugman, Warren Buffett, and many more—all from a wide variety of sources and mediums. Dean Starkman’s introduction explains more:
[O]ur fearless panel scoured the Internet, approached traditional and nontraditional news organizations for what they thought was their best, and asked people in our networks what they had read and liked. We also asked Twitter and received some of our strongest entries. We didn’t care about medium. This book has newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio, even a movie. [...]
The result is a collection of nonfiction writing of the highest caliber. Never mind the subject, these are fantastic stories. You will find a riveting yarn of executive-suite intrigue at a major multinational corporation (psst, it’s Pfizer); fascinating behind-the-scenes profiles of businesses behaving badly (Countrywide, Massey), business behaving brilliantly (Ford), and business behaving weirdly (Ikea). You’ll read trenchant critiques of failed policy makers (yes, Greenspan is there) and business boners (Netflix, Hewlett Packard). You’ll find penetrating looks at a distorted market (psychotropic drugs) and searing investigations. We have insightful think pieces on subjects including the rise of the new elites, Steve Jobs’s genius, and Google’s omnipresence.
These kinds of anthologies are important not only because of the recognition they bestow upon great work, but because it is essential to put the events of the day into a larger context, and books like this help us do that.
George Santayana once wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Living in the midst of the modern, 24-hour news cycle, it often seems like we’re stuck on repeat. We can barely remember what made the news yesterday, let alone last week or two months ago, but it usually feels the same as what’s happening today. If there is nothing to comfort or enrage us, you can be certain that something will be manufactured for those purposes, and all we have to do is turn the dial, flip the channel, or head to one of our go-to websites to find the feeling we’re looking for.
So often lost in the mix are the facts we should be seeking, and the stories that ferret them out. The Best Business Writing 2012 searched those facts and stories out and gathered them back up in one important and entertaining collection. Some of those facts and stories may challenge your beliefs and change your mind; I know they are doing so for me. You are also certain to find much that will comfort and/or enrage you. Most importantly, you will find excellent, purposeful writing, well-told stories, and a search for the truth.