A profile of one of the most infamous families in American history in the wake of the opioid epidemic; an examination on systemic racism in the U.S. tax code; and the most damning investigative report yet about the world’s largest social network.
The following are five of the best business books published in 2021, in alphabetical order by title.
An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang
Vanity Fair‘s Nick Bilton wrote in October that despite sliding by amid all the controversies it has endured in the last decade, the response to the revelations presented by whistleblower Frances Haugen “feels different—partly because of the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, partly because of Zuckerberg’s own stubbornness, and partly because Congress finally seems to have had enough.” But Haugen’s testimony immediately followed the publication of An Ugly Truth—possibly the most damning book about the world’s largest social network to date that will seriously make at least some of its users rethinking keeping their accounts after reading. Years from now, it’s not hard to imagine that The Accidental Billionaires (the source material for Aaron Sorkin’s Academy Award-winning film The Social Network) and An Ugly Truth could serve as significant markers in Facebook’s history, but will the latter be a harbinger of the end?
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
If you’ve read Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, then you are well aware that Patrick Radden Keefe is one of the best nonfiction and investigative journalists working right now. And even after interviewing former members of the IRA under the threat of assassination given the community’s loathing of people who talk to the press or police, The New Yorker staff writer’s latest assignment was no less dangerous. In Empire of Pain, Keefe profiles the Sackler family, the founders of Purdue Pharma—the company behind OxyContin—and who many people argue are the culprits behind the opioid crisis in America. Keefe goes deep several generations back before bringing us to the present lawsuits and trial against Purdue Pharma, and his efforts in researching the secretive family did not go unnoticed by them as he describes being followed by private investigators he suspects were hired by the Sacklers. Much like Say Nothing, Keefe’s research process and narrative style keeps the reader turning the page rapidly, reading more like a whodunit (even if we know who did it) than a family portrait or a profile of a pharmaceutical company.
I’m So Effing Tired: A Proven Plan to Beat Burnout, Boost Your Energy, and Reclaim Your Life by Amy Shah
We can all agree on something: we are all tired. How can we not be after the last two years? Is burnout the next epidemic? That’s debatable. But at the very least, burnout, overworking ourselves, and how we manage our time (even if work/life balance really is a joke) are now up for discussion in the public forum. And that could be the first step to recovery. In I’m So Effing Tired, Dr. Amy Shah outlines the next steps to recovery, with especially women in mind given they have been hit harder in the workforce during the pandemic. The double-board certified medical doctor and nutrition expert is candid in her own experiences, and the book feels more like an honest conversation with the reader, rather than a self-help book talking down to the reader. While no single book or set of tips can help everyone, Shah offers a starting point that can be adapted and adopted by many, starting with what and when we eat.
The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell
Fyre Festival. McMillions. Anna Delvey. Theranos. Maybe even “Bad Art Friend,” depending on with whom you agree. Americans can’t get enough of content about scams. And the fallout at WeWork is a never-ending fountain of content, from a podcast to a Hulu documentary to multiple books, and soon a fictionalized Apple TV series. Among them all, The Cult of We is the most informative and the most engrossing of them all. Wall Street Journal reporters Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell build upon their previous reporting for the newspaper with an explosive behind-the-scenes look at the WeWork’s troubled IPO—disastrous on all levels, not just because it was on the eve of the pandemic before office workers were ordered to stay home, all but upending the company’s purpose for existing. But the revelations are especially hard to stomach—amid detailed accounts of wild parties, credible allegations sexual harassment, and excessive salaries and bonuses for company executives—because the IPO fallout revealed the company was burning money it didn’t have, vaporizing $40 billion in value, rendering just one more example of a so-called unicorn with a proselytizing white male CEO that had tons of money rolling in with few questions asked, and yet not much to show for it.
The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans—and How We Can Fix It by Dorothy A. Brown
2020 might have been the year that truly made people (not all, but some more) realize not only that systemic racism exists, but that it persists in virtually every professional and social infrastructure there is. The tax code is no exception, and for anyone paying attention, maybe it’s not much of a surprise either. That said, even with greater awareness in general, it’s going to take a lot more work and time to make significant change. Law professor and scholar Dorothy A. Brown says she “became a tax lawyer to get away from race.” On the surface, it’s easy to understand why—she was not only trying to get above the system subjugating her family and community, but she also saw mathematics as an objective field—you can’t argue with numbers, right? Unfortunately, in this world, you can apparently. Part-memoir and part-critique of the U.S. tax code, Brown both reflects on her own experience with better comprehending the inherent racism of how the tax code is structure now along with providing concrete evidence and examples of how this is playing out in major U.S. cities and at critical milestones in any person’s life—going to college, buying a house, etc.—illuminating that the wealth gap is only getting wider everyday.
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