Untold story of cyberarms market wins business book of 2021

By Kate Birch
A story exploring the cyberweapons market wins McKinsey and FT’s business book of the year – shortlist addresses themes of climate, racism and inclusivity

A book exploring the underground global cyberarms market has been named the 2021 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year.

Drawing on nearly a decade of author Nicole Perlroth’s cybersecurity and digital espionage reporting for the New York Times, This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race reveals the untold story of the secret cyberarms market outlining where the US stands today, including its strengths, weaknesses and potential risks and outcomes.

Perlroth worked with hundreds of sources including hackers and government officials as a cybersecurity reporter on the NYT before leaving late last year to join a new committee with the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

She wrote the book with the aim of waking people up to what is an immediate and very real threat.  

Written in the “hot, propulsive prose of a spy thriller” according to the New York Times, Perlroth’s book “sets out from the start to scare us out of our complacency” offering a data-driven and highly technical but gripping look at a new kind of global warfare, one that is secretive, invisible and government-sponsored.

“Nicole Perlroth has written a book that is more than just a timely wake-up call to the profound implications of the arms race among hackers, cybercriminals, businesses, and national governments,” says McKinsey’s Europe managing partner Magnus Tyreman. “It is an alarming book, one in which the author makes a granular and matter-of-fact case demonstrating how vulnerable global computer systems have become, an urgent plea for specific and systematic action.”

Women win business book of the year for three consecutive years

This marks the eighth year of the Business Book of the Year Award and the third time a woman has taken the top prize, with Sarah Frier and Caroline Criado-Perez securing the winning prize in the previous two years for their books No Filter: The Inside Story of How Instagram Transformed Business, Celebrity, and Our Culture and Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, respectively.

The awards were designed to pay tribute to a book each year that provides “the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues”.

This year’s winning book was chosen by a panel of leading global business brains, with judges including FT’s editor Roula KhalafMitchell Baker, CEO of Mozilla Corporation; Mohamed El-Erian, president Queens’ College, Cambridge and adviser to Allianz; Randall Kroszner, profession or economics at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business; and Shriti Vadera, chair of Prudential, among others.

2021 business book shortlist reflect pandemic-related themes

The winning book was chosen from a shortlist of six, many of which reflected in theme the continuing impact of the pandemic.

A climate scientist, diversity expert, cybersecurity journalist were among this year’s shortlisted authors with themes covering the key issues of the moment, including de-carbonising the economy, addressing organisational racism, social mobility for women, and the world of commodity traders. 

“These authors provide compelling and engaging insights into modern business, climate change conversations and our sustainable and inclusive future,” says Virginia Simmons, managing partner for McKinsey’s UK, Ireland and Israel offices.

Here are the remaining five business books that were shortlisted this year:

1.    The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World, Adrian Wooldridge

From Economist writer Adrian Wooldridge, this book traces the history of meritocracy – the idea that people are advanced according to their talents rather than the status of their birth – and how it has transformed social mobility for women, proposing that meritocracy is a catalyst that could help rebalance the social, economic and racial inequality of today’s world.

2.    The Conversation: How Talking Honestly About Racism Can Transform Individuals and Organisations, Robert Livingston

Livingston, who has helped corporations, universities and government agencies address racism, uses fact-based perspectives to create a solutions-focused guide to help transform social order. Described as a “one-stop resource for anyone wanting to understand the causes the manifestations of racism”, this debut book is for any business looking to reach a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment.

3.    Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, Patrick Radden Keefe

A parable of the 21st century, this tome explores the gripping story of three generations of the Sackler family, one of the world’s richest, and the roles they played in the global epidemic of opioid addiction. Award-winning writer Radden Keefe reveals how the making and marketing of Oxycontin led to an international epidemic of drug addiction.

4.    The New Climate War, Michael E. Mann

From climate scientist Michael Mann comes an urgent call for strategies to decarbonise our economies. This new book shows how fossil fuel companies have waged a 30-year campaign to deflect blame and responsibility and delay action on climate change and offers a battle plan for how we can save the planet.

5.    The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources, Javier Blas, Jack Farchy

Researched and written by two leading journalists, this expose takes a peek inside the workings of billionaire commodity traders who buy, hoard and sell the earth’s natural resources, including oil, cotton, sugar, metal. The book shows how much money and global influence is concentrated in the hands of a tiny group and ultimately how capitalism really works. 


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