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The 2017 Business Book Awards

Janesville presents the very human toll of what we too often characterize as “just business.” It’s about a mid-sized town in the Midwest, a multinational corporation trying to cut costs, and what happens to the soul of the community they cut ties with in the process. Janesville represents the real lives and decisions, hardships and triumphs of working people. It is imminently accessible, like watching a two-hour documentary on PBS. It is a story of economics lived, in real life. It’s about people up and down the economic spectrum, about idealism and stubbornness and desperation and bravery. It is also about the majority of working people, people who most business books barely nod at, and then only as people to manage, those who work on the shop floor, whose “side hustle” isn’t a side hustle but a way to buy groceries.

It is the people who work in industries that have been “disrupted” by technology or “outsourced” in the process of globalization. To tell that story, Amy Goldstein turned her veteran Washington Post reporter’s eye away from the coasts toward the middle of America and immersed herself in a community that’s been literally left behind by a big business. It is, in so many ways that which most business books are not: the real story of this American moment, of those targeted by the 45th president in the last election cycle, those who reside in the hometown of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is the story a community close to our hearts here in Wisconsin (less than 70 miles as the crow flies from our office), and a story that deserves to be heard by everyone.

Category Winner

Leadership & Strategy

Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing - Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne | Hachette Books

A commitment to growth requires creating something new, which entails risk, and risk necessitates a plan to be deliberate and smart, not reckless or blind. Blue Ocean Shift provides that very plan. Following up their bestselling Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne offer step-by-step instruction for bringing together the right people within your organization, analyzing your industry, assessing your company’s strengths and weaknesses, and identifying opportunities to expand existing parameters, all with an eye toward market creation rather than on competition. A lively must-read for all business leaders, whether helming a restaurant or guiding a digital enterprise, Blue Ocean Shift will do what the subtitle promises: provide a clear map to creating your organization’s blue ocean.

Category Winner

Management & Workplace Culture

The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth by Eric Ries | Currency

There are a lot of books this year that document well what is going wrong in Silicon Valley. Eric Ries explains what is still, undeniably and relentlessly, going right there. It is still the greatest economic and innovation engine in the world, and the five largest companies in the world are now tech companies, with three of them located within the Valley itself. One of the greatest innovations that has occurred there may be the form of entrepreneurship that has taken hold. There is a lot the rest of the business world can learn from the Valley mindset, focus, financial structure, and ways in which risk is accounted for, taken, managed, and rewarded there—and a lot it can adapt. The Startup Way explains all of that and how to do it.

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Category Winner

Marketing & Sales

UnBranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption by Scott Stratten & Alison Stratten | Wiley

Scott and Alison Stratten are masters of the unravel—unraveling Selling and Marketing in previous Un books and, in another, going so far as to claim that QR Codes Kill Kittens (i.e., technology shortcuts distance us from human interaction). In a business world going gaga over tech, the Strattens emphasize that the basics still matter. In Unbranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption, they instruct us to “treat people with respect, follow through with your promises, and be honest about the products you make.” Their examples, inspired by both dissatisfied clients and success stories, prove the perennial relevance of just such a message. A pleasure to read from start to finish thanks to its velocity and storytelling format, Unbranding offers inspiration every marketer can immediately put to work.

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Category Winner

Innovation & Creativity

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant | Little, Brown and Company

The iPhone didn’t materialize out of the ether. It is more an amalgamation of human progress than the result of one person’s genius. The mine in Bolivia providing the vast amount of tin that goes into the device was first tapped in the mid-1500s, when it filled the Spanish Empire’s coffers with silver. The first patent awarded for a mobile phone was in 1917. Its multi-touch capability dates back to 1972. The One Device traces the history of the ideas and technology that made its way into Apple’s most important product, the minerals and materials that literally go into it, and how they are mined and moved to the people and the supply chain that put it all together. All that, and so much more, is the subject of Brian Merchant’s exploration of the iPhone, The One Device.

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Category Winner

Personal Development & Human Behavior

Weird in a World That's Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures by Jennifer Romolini | Harper Business

Part memoir, part career survival guide, Jennifer Romolini’s book is a lifeline for those of us who see the workplace as a fishbowl of awkwardness. If you find academic studies and social psychology jargon hive-inducing, her inspiring and beautiful prose provides words one can actually imagine saying out loud to another human being in an office. She’s the no-nonsense friend you want on speed dial for all of your vexing work dilemmas, whether you’re a new grad or a seasoned manager. Weird in a World That’s Not is funny and idiosyncratic, irreverent and satisfying and honest. Romolini’s hard-won experience gives us the courage to move through our work lives with grace and self-respect, and that’s about as good as it gets.

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Category Winner

Current Events

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth | Chelsea Green Publishing

We are currently so addicted to growth that it is our only goal, the constant economic “fix” and organizational imperative we’re all chasing. Economists and politicians would have us believe that our other goals will be addressed if and when we achieve such growth, even as history has shown that high-growth has led to increased inequality and more environmental damage. Doughnut Economics suggests that the purpose of the economy should not be its own inexorable growth, but to provide for the basic needs of the people. Kate Raworth argues forcefully that we must put human life and welfare back at the center of our economic thinking and ask, “What enables human beings to thrive?” rather than simply what causes economic growth.

 

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Category Winner

Narrative & Biography

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein | Simon & Schuster

Amy Goldstein’s Janesville is an intimate portrayal of one Wisconsin town and a broader American story of what happens when the most economically important element of a community closes its doors. When the last GM Tahoe rolled off the assembly line two days before Christmas in 2008, the shuttered plant left behind not only GMers, but also people at the freight yard who unloaded the GM parts, people at the Lear company who made the seats for the GM trucks, shopkeepers no longer patronized by all those who had lost their jobs, construction workers no longer needed to build new houses, and tradespeople who didn’t have houses to plumb, electrify, plaster, or carpet. It is these stories and more that Goldstein masterfully weaves together to present an urgent, searing tale of the domino-decline of a proud and industrious American community.

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Category Winner

Big Ideas & New Perspectives

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari | Harper

Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus is chilling at times. It will probably shake you and your sense of reality. But it also prompts a profound questioning of existence on Earth that can enrich your life and alter what you find important and appreciate within it. Do you have a world view? Prepare for it to be challenged. Harari doesn’t question the future so much as he lays out our current trajectory toward it, prompting us to question it, perhaps challenge it—and to ask our politicians, economists, and especially scientists to examine the emerging data-centric view of the world. Rather than answers, he leaves us with a few fundamental questions at the end, one of which is: “What’s more valuable—intelligence or consciousness?” In the process, he raises both.

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