The 2022 Business Book Awards
Business Book of the Year
Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention—And How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari | Crown
Through extensive research and discussions with both experts on attention and those who have contributed to its decline, Hari establishes and unpacks what he views as the forces thwarting our capacity for focus. Rather than treating the inability to simply put down the damn phone and stay on track as a personal failing, Hari shows us in meticulous detail the extent to which this endemic condition is brought on by deliberate, cynical measures—measures taken for the sole purpose of corporate profit. As Hari says, “It’s by design. Your distraction is [Big Tech’s] fuel.”
For just one example, our eyeballs would not naturally remain glued to Facebook for hours at a time if not for a feature called “continuous scroll”; because there’s no end to a page, the brain doesn’t have a second to intervene, can’t tell us to stop! and go outside or do the laundry or call a friend for an actual coffee. So our impulse just keeps us scrolling ever downward, and so declines our attention, our real-life connections, even perhaps our intelligence.
In one insightful instance after another, Hari demonstrates the ways in which our attention is deliberately hijacked, and the ways in which companies and their software could easily do just the opposite. In a conversational style, he thoughtfully and convincingly shows us the incentives around which the internet and the sites that depend on it are designed—and how they could be organized around very different principles, those that not only enhance our focus but feed our emotional health and cooperative spirits as well.
Of the many compelling aspects of Stolen Focus, the personal context in which Hari situates his investigation and alarm is revealing and relatable. And yet, even as he discloses his own vulnerability to wasting hours online or fishing for “likes,” he makes a hopeful, fearless case for how we must combat the loss of human attention. In doing so, he makes clear, we can renew our imaginations and inspire our collective energies to fight for the common good. Stolen Focus is, in many ways, the book we need right now.
Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry
For books to have that kind of impact, for an industry to have that kind of impact, books and the authors who write them need to reach an audience. The books quite literally need to get in the hands, and the ideas in the minds, of those who are most open to change. And to do that? We need publicists. Really talented publicists who know how to build a wind behind the back of a good book and push it into the public eye where it belongs. And one of the very best publicists in our industry, one who has worked with such business names as Jack Welch, Tom Rath, Seth Godin, Ram Charan, and Joann Lublin, is Barbara Cave Henricks. In fact, when our own company wrote The 100 Best Business Books of All Time for Portfolio, we turned to Barbara for publicity.
Once a journalist, Barbara left her job editing and producing the news at NBC Radio, moved to New York and into publishing. After stints at Workman Publishing and Houghton Mifflin Company, she became publicity director at Goldberg McDuffie Communications where she created and led the business book division. In 2007, Barbara opened her own firm, Cave Henricks Communications, which represents about 25 nonfiction titles and authors a year. She now guides a team who are every bit as caring and deliberate and motivated to drive a book’s success as she has always been.
Just months before Jack passed away in 2021, he wrote an email to me noting that “BTW Barbara should be the next.” So we are proud, in Jack’s stead, to give the Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry to Barbara Cave Henricks!
Watch the 2022 Porchlight Business Book Awards Announcement Video
Leadership & Strategy
Dare to Un-Lead: The Art of Relational Leadership in a Fragmented World by Céline Schillinger | Figure 1
Céline Schillinger boldly calls for a deconstruction of our historical and hierarchical assumptions about leadership. Too often, “Leadership … becomes a badge of honor, a status, rather than something fluid, contextual, enabling, and active.” To instead build a collective culture “that truly encourages action, risk-taking, autonomy, and accountability,” leaders must “learn to let go and replace control with trust.” Equal parts radical and practical, the impassioned yet deeply researched Dare to Un-Lead will challenge everything you think about leadership, expanding both your vocabulary and your vision in the process.
Management & Workplace Culture
Beloved Economies: Transforming How We Work by Jess Rimington & Joanna Levitt Cea | Page Two
Jess Rimington and Joanna Levitt Cea have not only pondered what it would look like if we were to build an economy that nurtures us, they show us what that looks like. In Beloved Economies, they take us inside a diverse array of organizations and different circumstances where people are building a more resilient way of working and connecting based on promoting well-being, building community, and making meaning.
Marketing & Communications/Sales & Influence
How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion by David McRaney | Portfolio
The level of animosity in our public debate has become debilitating. To lessen the level of division, we need to learn how to talk to each other even when we disagree. We also need to understand the nature of disagreement better. David McRaney accomplishes both in How Minds Change, explaining why relaying facts is less persuasive than engaging with others' lived experiences and emotions, and how we can change others’ perceptions through withholding our condemnation and engaging in conversation. It may feel at times as if we are living in completely different realities, and to a certain extent, we are. McRaney helps us understand why and how to bridge the divide.
Innovation & Creativity
Inspired: Understanding Creativity: A Journey Through Art, Science, and the Soul by Matt Richtel | Mariner Books
Matt Richtel looks realistically at how creativity evolves across industries and across time, and how it is tied to our humanity. What he shows is that creativity cannot exist in a vacuum; Creative ideas and humans are built on the shoulders of the generations that have come before them, and their characteristics depend on adapting to the conditions of their environment; Creative individuals depend on being connected with their communities, but they also depend on internal review and rest and; Across the world and across time, the most fulfilling creativity occurs when we tap into our most true and complete selves without needing to put ourselves into specific creative categories or allowing others to do so.
Personal Development & Human Behavior
Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari | Crown
The computer always at our fingertips receives more of our attention than the people we love, and the companies that steal our attention have designed them that way. But I don’t think most of us want to live this way. Johann Hari found and interviewed the foremost scientists and experts and gathered up the latest research on the act of focusing. The book follows Hari’s quest to discover how we can reconnect with the world around us and tame the metal beast that tends to control our every move. It will help every distracted office and any individual who finds themselves unfocused throughout their day reprioritize and regain their focus.
Current Events & Public Affairs
Pandemic, Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick by J. David McSwane | One Signal Publishers
If there could be a better test case than a global pandemic for when and where an unfettered free market might fail us, I can’t think of one. But it wasn’t a free market failure alone. As David McSwane writes, “COVID-19 would render in high definition the contrasts of an inequitable nation. At the same time families waited in miles-long lines for groceries at food banks, the pandemic economy created about 500 new billionaires.” At least 40 of those 500 were minted due to “the boom in biotech and healthcare stocks” in “companies that gained from COVID-19.” The stock market soared as local economies sputtered and people suffered. As conspiracy theories proliferated, so did unscrupulous profiteers. The human cost has been, and continues to be, staggering. McSwane's book helps document it all.
Narrative & Biography
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith | Roc Lit 101
Danyel Smith's Shine Bright tells the story of the Dixie Cups, of Dionne Warwick and Cissy Houston, of Leontyne Price and Linda “Peaches” Greene, of Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, and of so many more Black women whose intelligence, talent, and drive made the music that has created so much of American pop culture. Interweaved with those stories, she also relates the struggles and successes of her own life and career, which saw her rise to become the first Black and first woman editor in chief of Vibe. It is a mind-bogglingly ambitious formula, and Smith pulls it off with aplomb. It is also also a solid business book—about an individual career and about an industry that has not done well historically by those who create the product that produces the wealth, about the women who have defined the culture, and one woman who has covered their triumphs.