Exceptional business books from 2009 that are worth your time

I didn't — I couldn't — read every business book published during the last year, but I was still gobsmacked by the number of books that I did read in 2009, including a few just for fun.

But among those that I read and reviewed, these titles represent the ones that I thought were exceptional, have lasting value, and were worth my time — and yours.

Books are listed in chronological order by review. Full reviews of all books on this list are online at

* "Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" by Scott McKain. A wise plea for the strategic imperative of being different and distinctive as the best way to avoid commoditization or worse — extinction. McKain insists that it's a competitive advantage, in fact. "Good enough" just isn't "good enough" any more, if it ever was.

* "Taming the Search-And-Switch Customer: Earning Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World" by Jill Griffin. Griffin suggests ways to connect with customers and prospects through the intelligent and proactive deployment of blogs, social networks and other resources that provide support and rapid responses to criticism, problems and concerns — real or imagined. Her deep understanding of this complicated subject and her intelligent and actionable assessment of the necessary strategies are impressive.

* "Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy" by Barry Ritholtz. Economist and investment guru Barry Ritholtz's blog, the Big Picture, is a mandatory daily stop for many. This honest, unvarnished look at the forces that screwed up the U.S. economy is a worthy candidate for a time capsule so that future financial operators can avoid the same traps that we fell into.

* "The Twitter Book" by Tim O'Reilly, Sarah Milstein. Movie stars, media figures, captains of industry and book reviewers are doing it, but how can businesses discern the twits from the tweets? O'Reilly and Milstein present as lucid and intelligent an overview as you'd want or need.

* "Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back" by Douglas Rushkoff. The "operating system" behind the world's economies and monetary systems is flawed and antithetical to productivity and most other human values. A less elegant and gifted writer might have produced a dour and plodding polemic against materialism and consumerist culture, but Rushkoff's persuasive prose is a pleasure.

* "In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing" by Matthew E. Mays. Elegance is simplicity itself, is often self-contained, or very near, and has nothing to do with wealth or fashion, yet it can affect both. Mays' engaging book demonstrates how successful organizations can engage elegance and benefit from the engagement engendered by uncomplicated and intuitive choices.

* "$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rising Cost of Gas Will Change Our Lives for the Better" by Christopher Steiner; "Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization" by Jeff Rubin. I devoured these two fascinating books over the last Independence Day weekend, a propitious occasion to learn that one of our most cherished American freedoms may soon evaporate. Each depicts the ways our lives will change as the price of oil, gasoline and petrochemicals continues to rise, and both posit a future that resembles, in many ways, our pastoral past.

* "Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone" by Mitch Joel. If you're enticed by all you've heard and read about the benefits of deploying online tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, search engines and the rest for your business or personal enterprises but were not sure what to actually do and where to begin, this terrific tome will help hook you up.

* "Walk the Walk: The 1 Rule for Real Leaders" by Alan Deutschman. Deutschman's short and readable book examines a number of people and the failure and success they achieved for themselves and their organizations based on whether or not their deeds aligned with their words.

* "The Chaos Scenario" by Bob Garfield. Advertising-supported mass media is dying, and Ad Age columnist and NPR host Garfield, though currently part of its status quo, is simultaneously gleeful and distraught, mourning the decentralization of power while grabbing a bit of his own by blogging about the death of his cable provider for lack of support, dishonesty and general idiocy. Witty, world-weary, wildly knowledgeable and endlessly curious, Garfield is your perfect tour guide to the end of the sponsored world as we know it.