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3 New Books on What You Should Be Worried About This Spring

Apr 24, 2016

"Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business," by Rana Foroohar

Banks were the chief villains of the financial crisis—at least, so says Rana Foroohar in her new book, which chronicles how the “financialization” of the economy led almost everyone, including business schools and corporations, to assume we should all act like bankers. Through extensive reporting, the Time editor (Fortune is a sister publication) paints a grim picture. She argues that modern corporations care only about pleasing shareholders and that executives merely take from the middle class and make few, if any, advancements in the way of business innovation. Even Apple (aapl), which with the iPhone forever changed the way we consume media, is guilty of plowing cash into stock buybacks rather than R&D under CEO Tim Cook. Whether you agree or not, the book provides a credible explanation for the rise of economic populism in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Anyone seeking to truly understand the resonance of the anti–Wall Street vitriol of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could do worse than to start here. —Nin-Hai Tseng

"The New Russia," by Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev is a figure so thoroughly of another era that it feels appropriate that he opens his latest book by dispelling rumors about his death. The last leader of the Soviet Union blames the speculation, widely broadcast in 2013, on political opponents in Russia, where he still lives—despite his lack of popularity in the country and those who prefer he leave. (“Let those people leave,” he’s responded.) His new book, winningly translated by Englishman Arch Tait, is a surprisingly funny and plainspoken account of the chaos and economic ruin that followed the fall of the USSR. It’s full of score settling— Gorbachev even lost a libel case after its original Russian publication, for about $93—and primary sources, which may be on the granular side for a casual Western reader. But his diagnosis of what ails Russia is riveting. The self-described optimist, and Vladimir Putin supporter, regretfully chronicles the administration’s antidemocratic tendencies and chastises its power-hungry elite. Gorbachev longs for a return to the reformist spirit of perestroika; his book suggests he’s waiting in vain.
Anne VanderMey

"Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy," by Robert H. Frank

Is it better to be lucky or good? That’s the timeless question posed by New York Times economics columnist Robert H. Frank, made more pressing in today’s era of growing inequality. Frank comes down on the side of kismet. He may be a little biased: He would have died from a sudden cardiac arrest if not for an ambulance that happened to be a few hundred yards away. Frank deftly weaves personal anecdotes— like his serendipitous failure to make the baseball team as a teen—with fascinating case studies on the importance of luck in fields ranging from television (Breaking Bad chanced into Bryan Cranston as its lead) to evolutionary theory (large antlers gave elk an edge in nature’s survival game). Fortune, Frank says, favors the fortunate. And not acknowledging that can have unlucky consequences, for both policymakers and businesses. —Jonathan Chew

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A version of this article appears in the May 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline "What Too Be Worried About This Spring."

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