Best Business Books for 2014

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Some old ideas and some new ones in this year's best business books

It's said that to get a sense of someone's priorities, take a look at their reading list.

And if business books are what you prefer to read, then, at least according to Amazon, this year’s list of the best business titles should offer insight.

"There's a definite Silicon Valley angle that comes out," said Chris Schluep, the business and investing editor at Amazon.com, tells Charlie Herman, host of WNYC’s Money Talking.

Schluep is one of six editors at Amazon responsible for picking the 100 best books across all categories. Their “best of the year" lists are editorially curated without concern for how well the books sold, how much traffic they generated or how customers rated them. 

On Schluep’s list, it's easy to spot the innovation thread: there’s The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, Flash Boys by Michael Lewis and Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

The context might be technology, finance or entrepreneurship, but all these books are about thinking differently, thinking creatively, breaking the mold of established wisdom. 

"Two years ago, I thought every book was about the brain," said Schluep. "And now it's more about the mind and how people think."

But novel ideas don't substitute for good storytelling. Flash Boys is his number one business book of the year because Lewis spins a fascinating tale with strong characters who work the obscure field of high-frequency trading. People like advice, but they love stories.

Another book on Schluep’s list (and several other compilations as well) is Capital, the door-stopping economics tome from Thomas Piketty. The densely packed book got a lot of attention for the author's views on income inequality and his bold call for government intervention. But Schluep said, "the first two-thirds are set for non-business minds.” Writing a business book for a wider audience is a big factor in the selection process at Amazon.

At the other end of the spectrum is #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, founder of the Nasty Gal fashion retailer.

"It's a rags to riches story," said Schluep. "She's trying to speak to people – especially women – to act and follow their gut, but also to get very serious. And if you don't get serious, you're really not going anywhere." 

Then, Money Talking talks to one of the authors on the list: Peter Thiel, best known as a founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook.

In 2012, he gave a series of lectures at Stanford, which he later refined and published in Zero to One. Still a prominent venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, Thiel's thoughts on innovation, disruption and capitalism veer away from the establishment in a big way.

"Peter Thiel's book was all about how competition is for losers," said Schluep.

The innovative spirit of many of this year's great business books is captured in the full title of Thiel's book: Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future