Books

All of John’s books are available to purchase via this webpage. Alternatively, they are available via Amazon.

“John Kay builds on a great philosophical tradition – stretching back through Charles Darwin and Adam Smith – that understands how remarkable things can be achieved without anybody understanding how or even intending them. He has taken this idea and applied it with style to modern conundrums from the physics behind Beckham’s goals to the mathematics behind Buffett’s riches. A great book.”
Matt Ridley, Author of Genome and Nature Via Nurture

“From Vietnam to Iraq, Sony to ICI, Chess to mountaineering, John Kay tells a fast-paced detective story as he searches for the surprising secret to success in politics, business and life. Kay is persuasive, rigorous, creative and wise. Brilliant.”
Tim Harford, Author of “The Undercover Economist” and “The Logic of Life”

“Read this book for pleasure, and indirectly – obliquely – you will gain invaluable insights into how successful decisions are made.”
Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England

“An ingenious riff about unintended consequences.”
Stephen Bayley

“John Kay is an admirable debunker of myths and false beliefs –he can see substantial things others don’t. Read this book.”
Nassim N Taleb, Author of The Black Swan

Obliquity – Why our goals are best achieved indirectly – 2010

Obliquity Cover Image

Obliquity is the principle that complex goals are best achieved indirectly.  This book explains why the happiest people aren’t necessarily those who focus on happiness, and how the most successful cities aren’t planned (look at Paris versus Brasilia).  And if a company announces shareholder return as its number one goal, perhaps we should beware: the most profit-orientated companies aren’t usually the most profitable.

Paradoxical as it sounds, if you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another.  Using dozens of intriguing examples, Obliquity explains how. The Panama Canal, for instance, follows the shortest crossing of America; and yet it starts by following a south-easterly direction. The shortest straight line running from east to west goes through Nicaragua, and this ‘direct’ route is much longer.  The people who first found this route weren’t looking west, and they were looking for silver and gold – not oceans.

Charles Darwin weighed up scientifically the pros and cons of a happy marriage – but it was Emma Wedgwood who swept him off his feet.  Some of the most surprising examples come from the world of business.  At one time Boeing’s leaders would ‘eat, breathe, and sleep the world of aeronautics’.  The company created the 747 and its fortunes soared.  When in 1998 it shifted focus to shareholder return and return on investment the company, well, took a dive.

And John explains the ‘why?’ and the ‘how?’  Obliquity is necessary because we live in an world of uncertainty and complexity; the problems we encounter aren’t always clear – and we often can’t pinpoint what our goals are anyway; circumstances change; people change – and are infuriatingly hard to predict; and direct approaches are often arrogant and unimaginative (Did Le Corbusier really think people would ever feel at home in his ‘machines for living in’?)  John shows how we can apply the principle of obliquity to our own lives (why ‘muddling through’ can sometimes be the answer).

In Su Doku the world is certain and static – and people act as if the world is too, taking the direct approach.  But the challenges in our lives are not the same as those of Su Doku.  So often it’s the oblique approach which turns up trumps. Today, we face unprecedented problems: environmental, political, economic, social – and personal.  It’s time we thought obliquely.

You can order Obliquity in paperback now for £8 (incl. p&p to the UK and Europe).

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Obliquity - Why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Paperback)
Obliquity - Why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Paperback)
If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’.
Obliquity - Why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Hardback)
Obliquity - Why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Hardback)
If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’.

“Obliquity is a characteristic John Kay production. It is a pleasure to read” Howard Davies, Financial Times

“How rare is it for an academic economist to write with such clarity, intelligence and courage. And, in these troubled, confusing times, how desperately we need other dismal scientists to follow John Kay’s shining example”
Liam Halligan, Spectator Business

Obliquity – US edition

 

The US edition of Obliquity is now available.

 

You can order Obliquity – US edition, in hardback now for £10 (incl. p&p to the UK and Europe).

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Obliquity - US edition (Hardback)
Obliquity - US edition (Hardback)
If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows us that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.

“Not only is it a highly enjoyable read, but this is one of the most useful and original books on investment I have ever seen. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, both for seasoned investors seeking wisdom and for those at a much earlier stage.”
Martin White
Chairman, UK Shareholders’ Association

“It will probably be the cheapest and most valuable investment IFAs can make this year, both for themselves and for their clients.”
Russell Taylor
Money Management

The Long And The Short Of It – 2009

The Long & Short of it

This book provides a guide to the complexities of modern finance. It describes the basics of investment and the sophisticated innovations of the modern financial system.

It explains how twice in the last decade – in the new economy bubble and the credit crunch – the follies of finance have threatened the stability of the world economy. It exemplifies an environment that is complex and sophisticated, but greedy, cynical and self-interested.

This book shows how to put your finances in the only hands you can confidently trust – your own.

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The Long and Short of IT (eBook)
The Long and Short of IT (eBook)
A guide to finance and investment for normally intelligent people who aren’t in the industry
Note: This product is delivered as a password protected PDF file ready to be uploaded to an e-book reader or viewed on your computer using standard software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The Long and Short of IT (Paperback)
The Long and Short of IT (Paperback)
A guide to finance and investment for normally intelligent people who aren’t in the industry

“A welcome antidote to one-dimensional reductionist accounts of the business world.”
The Observer

“Kay is well on the way to turning himself into a European Michael Porter.”
The Economist

The Hare and the Tortoise – 2006

Hare & TortoiseMost business books are bland or dull, or both. This volume is neither: John combines insightful analysis with wit and verve. In this book, we meet heroes as diverse as Sun Tzu, Jacques Derrida, and Jack Welch: we study businesses as diverse as Honda Motors, the grandes marques of Champagne, and Jenners department store in Princes Street, Edinburgh; we learn why size doesn’t matter, why brakes are different from signals, how to value businesses, and why the author was wrong to tell students that Boeing’s position in the civil aircraft market was unassailable. In less than two hundred pages, John provides a lively introduction to business strategy and a guide to many of the key issues in business today.

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The Hare and the Tortoise (eBook)
The Hare and the Tortoise (eBook)
Most business books are bland or dull, or both. This volume is neither: John combines insightful analysis with wit and verve.
Note: This product is delivered as a password protected PDF file ready to be uploaded to an e-book reader or viewed on your computer using standard software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The Hare and the Tortoise (Paperback)
The Hare and the Tortoise (Paperback)
Most business books are bland or dull, or both. This volume is neither: John combines insightful analysis with wit and verve.

“John Kay sounds like the archetypal polemicist, an economist with attitude, the dismal science’s answer to David Starkey. Wrong on all counts. Kay argues that Keynes was right when he wanted economists to be treated like dentists.”
Larry Elliott, The Guardian

“A lot more economists than you might think can write”, says Peter Dougherty, Princeton University’s Press’s economics editor. Mr Dougherty rates Paul Krugman and John Kay as the best today.”
The Economist

Everlasting Light Bulbs – 2004

Everlasting Light BulbsIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Everlasting Light Bulbs is based on a collection of John’s columns for the Financial Times, written between 1996 and 2004. The period was characterised by the dawn of the new economy, fears of ‘irrational exuberance’, attacks on the legitimacy of capitalism and the greatest speculative bubble in world history that swept the ballgoers off the floor. However, at the time when this collection was put together, a new lot of hopefuls had emerged at the edges of the ballroom, waiting to launch once more to the ballroom floor.

In this book, John shares some of the insights and lessons of his articles during this remarkably turbulent time, and gives thought to how economics illuminates the world – from BT’s dress code to the deadweight loss of Christmas.

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Everlasting Light Bulbs (eBook)
Everlasting Light Bulbs (eBook)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Everlasting Light Bulbs is based on a collection of John’s columns for the Financial Times, written between 1996 and 2004.
Note: This product is delivered as a password protected PDF file ready to be uploaded to an e-book reader or viewed on your computer using standard software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Everlasting Light Bulbs (Paperback)
Everlasting Light Bulbs (Paperback)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Everlasting Light Bulbs is based on a collection of John’s columns for the Financial Times, written between 1996 and 2004.
Everlasting Light Bulbs & The Truth about Markets (Paperbacks, bundle discount)
Everlasting Light Bulbs & The Truth about Markets (Paperbacks, bundle discount)
Normally £16.98 for the two books you save £2.98 with this bundle. Two of John's most popular books: Everlasting Light Bulbs are his columns for the Financial Times, written between 1996 and 2004 and The Truth about Markets is his seminal work on the workings modern economic markets.

“John Kay provides a remarkable explanation of difficult ideas in simple and clear language, with many fascinating examples, for those with no training in the language of economists. He shows how markets really work – every-thing you wanted to know about economics but were afraid to ask.”
Mervyn King,
Governor of the Bank of England

“…Kay’s book is a landmark…”
Will Hutton,
The Work Foundation

“John Kay’s book explains some of the major economic topics of our time – indeed of all time – including the all-important question of the appropriate role of the state. Readers of this illuminating book will better understand
what has gone wrong with the market economy and what should be done about it”
Joseph Stiglitz,
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics

“… witty and scholarly.”
Chris Redman, Time Magazine

The Truth about Markets / Culture and Prosperity (US title, 2004) – 2003

Culture & ProsperityTruth About MarketsCapitalism faltered at the end of the 1990s as corporations were rocked by fraud, the stock-market bubble burst and the American business model – unfettered self-interest, privatisation and low tax – faced a storm of protest. But what are the alternatives to the mantras of market fundamentalism?

In his ambitious and wide-ranging book, John unravels the truth about markets. He explains why market economies outperformed socialist or centrally directed ones, but also why the imposition of market institutions often fails. This search for the truth about markets takes him from the shores of Lake Zurich to the streets of Mumbai, through evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy, to the flower market at San Remo and Christies’ salesroom in New York. Through this wide range of material, John shows that market economies function because they are embedded in a social, political and cultural context, and cannot work otherwise.

“Why are some people and some countries rich, and others are poor? Why did centrally planned regimes fail in economic competition with market economies? How do decentralised market economies coordinate complex products and global distribution? How do economic systems handle risks? How do they deal with inequalities of information in markets for technologically sophisticated products? (…) What really determines our economic behaviour – how we work and what we consume? What should be the role of the government in a modern economy? These are questions with which this book is concerned.”

Visit the Truth About Markets Webpage for more information.

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The Truth about Markets (Paperback)
The Truth about Markets (Paperback)
Why are some people and some countries rich, and others are poor? Why did centrally planned regimes fail in economic competition with market economies? How do decentralised market economies coordinate complex products and global distribution? (…) What really determines our economic behaviour? These are questions with which this book is concerned.
The Truth about Markets (Hardback) signed copy
The Truth about Markets (Hardback) signed copy
Why are some people and some countries rich, and others are poor? Why did centrally planned regimes fail in economic competition with market economies? How do decentralised market economies coordinate complex products and global distribution? (…) What really determines our economic behaviour? These are questions with which this book is concerned.
Everlasting Light Bulbs & The Truth about Markets (Paperbacks, bundle discount)
Everlasting Light Bulbs & The Truth about Markets (Paperbacks, bundle discount)
Normally £16.98 for the two books you save £2.98 with this bundle. Two of John's most popular books: Everlasting Light Bulbs are his columns for the Financial Times, written between 1996 and 2004 and The Truth about Markets is his seminal work on the workings modern economic markets.

“Mr. Kay has a gift, rare among academic economists, for explaining how economics can be put to practical use…. The best of his essays apply microeconomic analysis to everyday questions in a lucid and entertaining way.”
The Economist

The Business of Economics – 1996

Business of EconomicsJohn combines common sense and rigorous economic thinking in a number of essays on business and economic issues – the competitiveness of UK plc, the stakeholder economy, business strategy, and corporate personality. Kay’s overall purpose is to show that economics can and should be brought to the analysis of business problems. In doing so he distinguishes his approach from that of the forecasters and the formula-bound, and those on the other hand who suggest abandoning economics in our post-modern complex world.

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The Business of Economics (Hardback)
The Business of Economics (Hardback)
John combines common sense and rigorous economic thinking in a number of essays on business and economic issues – the competitiveness of UK plc, the stakeholder economy, business strategy, and corporate personality.

“one of the most important ‘strategic thinking” books in years…I can think of no better way of preparing for an examination in business strategy”
The Director

“You must read … Foundations of Corporate Success. Kay is currently the best management theorist in Britain, bar none.”
Business Age

Foundations of Corporate Success – 1993

Foundations of Corporate SuccessHow Business Strategies Add Value. What distinguishes the successful firm is the fundamental question in business strategy, and one the most senior managers consistently ask themselves. In Foundations of Corporate Success, John Kay argues that outstanding businesses derive their strength from a distinctive structure of relationships with employees, customers, and suppliers. He explains why continuity and stability in these relationships is essential for a flexible and co-operative response to change. This book has been hailed as a landmark in our understanding of business strategy and is widely used on courses throughout the world.

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The Foundations of Corporate Success (Paperback)
The Foundations of Corporate Success (Paperback)
How Business Strategies Add Value. What distinguishes the successful firm is the fundamental question in business strategy, and one the most senior managers consistently ask themselves.

The British Tax System – (5th edition) 1990

British Tax SystemHow does PAYE work? What exactly is VAT? How does social security legislation or inflation affect the tax system? Why do so few companies pay corporation tax? John Kay and Mervyn King set out to answer these and other questions, and develop a long-term strategy for structural reform

This fifth edition of a very successful book is the most extensively revised so far. It also identifies areas in which the progress of tax reform in Britain is unsatisfactory and a principal concern of the book remains the description of a reform strategy, based on a personal expenditure tax and a cash-flow corporation tax.

 

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Please visit the Amazon online store to purchase this book