After two weeks in Brittany with next to no internet and email access, and two days at home getting the email inbox down from 449 unread after the immediate deletions to 21 read and needing action, I can start reporting here on some of my holiday reading.
First up is a book that could have been either a bit of a disappointment or a gripping read, and that’s because it’s an anthology. It’s The Best Business Writing 2012, selected by editors for the Columbia Journalism Review. The times could not be more suited to compelling reporting about the world of business, finance and economics. We have seen events that will, with due hindsight as well as now, change the course of history. I’d read/heard/seen some of the essays and extracts in this book already but the collection of this superb reporting in one volume is compelling.
To read them one after the other is to have the experience of one’s sense of righteous anger about the behaviour of the business and financial elite being focused like a laser. Merrill Lynch bankers having a saying: “We’re in the moving business, not the storage business.” The use of crops for ethanol making millions of people hungry. Corporate executives in a healthcare business ignoring multiple warnings from the FDA about breaches of cleanliness and failure to uphold proper procedures – and the agency for doing nothing more than issue verbal warnings for a decade. A human resources director taking a company helicopter to commute to work while imposing major redundancies. Social security effectively requiring low-income parents in the US to medicare their children with inappropriate drugs in order to qualify for certain payments. And more on every page.
In case there is any doubt, this is not because all the contributions are written from a particular partisan standpoint. The range of perspectives and subjects is wide. I found the corporate reporting particularly interesting because I was least likely to have read any of it before. In fact, it is the very breadth of these reports that made me so furious. It seems that many people in the world of finance, and some people in the corporate world too, have been living in an entirely separate moral universe from the rest of us. Nor is it clear that they have yet returned through the wormhole back into normal decency.
This is the first volume of an annual series, and I’ll certainly be adding the next edition to my reading pile for summer 2013.