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Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd)
Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd)

Family memoir, fake-news field guide among business-book award finalists Add to ...

The National Business Book Award will be handed out on April 24, bestowing a $30,000 prize on the author of 2016’s best business book by a Canadian. Last year’s winners were Globe and Mail journalist Sean Silcoff and former Globe journalist Jacquie McNish for Losing The Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry.

The following seven books made the longlist for the award; the first four are the finalists.

Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy

Charles Bronfman with Howard Green

(HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.)

At a time when immodesty, self-promotion and “personal brand” have become the norm, Charles Bronfman’s modesty is striking. All the more given the Bronfman family’s enormous wealth and its high-profile history.

Distilled offers rare insight into the company’s disastrous 1995 sale of its controlling stake in the money-spinning U.S. chemical company, DuPont. That was followed by the purchase of 80 per cent of entertainment company MCA, which weakened Seagram’s financial position and ultimately led to the sale of Seagram to France’s Vivendi. Those deals cost the family, by various estimates, as much as two-thirds of its collective wealth. They also publicly exposed festering divisions in the family, in particular between the brothers, Edgar and Charles.

Disenchanted with the family dynamic and the family business, that debacle was followed by a turn toward an area for which he is now best known: targeted philanthropy, which he calls “my greatest success.” He has disbursed more than $325-million, and plans to eventually give away most of his remaining wealth in his lifetime.

Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World

Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott

(Portfolio Penguin)

Mr. Tapscott and Mr. Tapscott posit that “blockchain,” a peer-to-peer electronic system based on crypto-currencies, is set to revolutionize society, commerce and politics.

Because it is not controlled by central national governments, blockchain will reignite stagnant capitalism, reconfigure the way companies do business and the way governments deliver goods and services. It will do this by introducing a greater degree of integrity and transparency into every transaction.

When the revolution comes, it will be particularly disruptive for banks and other traditional financial institutions. The authors are particularly focused on the many ways that the current banking system is cumbersome, costly and exclusive. Even more relevant, the global “prosperity paradox” will be addressed by a new degree of economic inclusion and entrepreneurship. The Tapscotts note that for the first time, the global economy is growing but few are benefiting.

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Daniel J. Levitin

Allen Lane Canada

(Penguin Random House Canada)

In an age of “fake news” and strategic use of misinformation, A Field Guide to Lies is a worthwhile reminder of the various ways that data numbers can be used to lie.

Mr. Levitin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University, reviews the ways numbers can be distorted, something that is reinforced by the popularity and widespread use of graphics and infographics. He reminds us that people hunt and gather statistics, reinforcing their own biases.

The wiring of our brains also makes it a challenge to navigate the shoals of misinformation. The human brain is a pattern detector that “seeks to extract order and structure from what often appear to be random configurations.”

The impact that has on what we absorb and how we process it is also influenced by our “belief perseverance.” Once we form a belief or accept a claim, it’s hard to let it go, even in the face of overwhelming proof to the contrary.

In the end, we get the news we deserve. And the news that our brains decree we will deserve.

Bet On Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life

Annette Verschuren with Eleanor Beaton

(HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.)

While she is best known for her lead roles at Home Depot Canada, Annette Verschuren has exceptional scope as a Canadian business leader. She has worked in the public service, for a large Canadian corporation (Imasco under the legendary Purdy Crawford), with and for U.S. retailers and as an entrepreneur.

Probably the most powerful message she delivers in Bet on Me is an argument in favour of cutting back on planning and strategizing. The key? Ensure that you make any decision the right one: “Finding the upside is too passive for me. My advice is that you create the upside.”

Mindset is a critical factor in effective leadership. Instead of getting stuck in the duality of good or bad, she advocates the “improvement” mindset. The right “mindset” enables leaders to make their decisions the right one, as already discussed. But it is equally important when it comes to effectively leveraging personal power, building social capital and preserving the upper hand in a negotiation.

Truth and Honour: The Death of Richard Oland and the Trial of Dennis Oland

Greg Marquis

(Nimbus Publishing)

Technically, this book is more of a police procedural than a traditional business book. But that said, Richard Oland, the victim of a savage murder in 2011, was the scion of a venerable Atlantic Canadian business dynasty. And if the prosecution is to be believed, he was very likely killed because of money and, yes, business.

Truth and Honour provides rare insight into the reality of “a mid-sized city with a stagnant population and an uncertain economic future.” Saint John also has a history of being dominated by brash family-owned enterprises. The result is an economic and social divide, something that is fully evident in the account of Mr. Oland’s murder and the subsequent investigation and trial.

Truth and Honour also tugs at the veil that shrouds one of the many influential family businesses that has shaped a regional, if not national, economy. Over its history, Canada has been powerfully influenced by family-controlled enterprises. And even when they become publicly traded, that internal dynamic is never fully transparent to outside stakeholders.

A Tale of Two Countries: How the Great Demographic Imbalance is Pulling Canada Apart

Richard Saillant

(Nimbus Publishing)

Richard Saillant takes the view that Canada faces an imminent crisis because of a regional demographic chasm. An age gap ultimately means a prosperity gap. Because the eastern half of the country has the oldest population, it faces serious challenges to its current standard of living, especially when it comes to essential social services such as health care.

As the uneven distribution of an aging population divides provinces, their agendas and political priorities will increasingly diverge based on their population profile. That will further complicate an already complicated relationship with Ottawa – and one another.

Health care is a particular focus, Mr. Saillant says, because our national identity is rooted in social policy and the government intervention that goes along with that. As our uneven demographics begin to fray the bonds of shared policy, the country faces a crisis. In particular, he challenges our often-smug assertion that Canada’s health-care system is among the best in the world. While we may stack up better than the United States, we’re middling at best. Furthermore, there is no national health-care system to defend. Rather, we have 13 distinct health-care systems.

Brewing Revolution: Pioneering the Craft Beer Movement

Frank Appleton

(Harbour Publishing)

Author Frank Appleton is not shy about asserting his importance as the grand-daddy of Canadian craft beer – especially in British Columbia, where he is based. Starting his career working for a Big Three brewery in the 1960s, he provides an interesting historical shop-floor perspective on that industry. A former employee of O’Keefe, Mr. Appleton chronicles the push to aggregate and quite literally homogenize this country’s beer. After leaving the world of Big Beer, he became the driver behind the first craft brewery in North America. He subsequently designed and established a number of others in B.C., across Canada and in the United States.

These summaries were written by Deirdre McMurdy, one of five members of the jury, which is chaired by Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent of CBC Television News.

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