FT Business Book of the Year

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All the books listed for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

The Smartest Places on Earth by Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker

The Smartest Places on Earth

Former financier Antoine van Agtmael and journalist Fred Bakker make a courageous case for an alternative vision. What if the real story of the rust belt these days is one of reinvention? What if we ought to consider these regions ‘the emerging hotspots of global innovation’? — Read the complete FT review


The remarkable story of how rust belt cities such as Akron and Albany in the US and Eindhoven in Europe are becoming the unlikely hotspots of global innovation, where sharing brainpower and making things smarter–not cheaper–is creating a new economy that is turning globalisation on its head.

Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker counter recent conventional wisdom that the American and northern European economies have lost their initiative in innovation and their competitive edge by focusing on an unexpected and hopeful trend: the emerging sources of economic strength coming from areas once known as “rust belts” that had been written off as yesterday’s story.

In these communities, a combination of forces–visionary thinkers, local universities, regional government initiatives, start-ups, and big corporations–have created “brainbelts”. Based on trust, a collaborative style of working, and freedom of thinking prevalent in America and Europe, these brainbelts are producing smart products that are transforming industries by integrating IT, sensors, big data, new materials, new discoveries, and automation. From polymers to medical devices, the brainbelts have turned the tide from cheap, outsourced production to making things smart in our own backyard. The next emerging market may, in fact, be the west.