From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places

Elmira Bayrasli, PublicAffairs, 320 pages, $25.99

Books about business in emerging countries often fall into two traps. Either they celebrate well-connected tycoons from business dynasties as gutsy pioneers, or they airbrush the grimy, exhausting business of running firms in places with bad infrastructure, graft and weak legal systems. Novelists have done a better job than business writers at capturing reality.

Elmira Bayrasli's new book, "From the Other Side of the World," avoids the pitfalls. She opens with a refreshing set of riffs that lay out her view that companies, not governments, create jobs and that the barriers facing start-ups in poor countries can be huge. At the heart of the book are profiles of bosses in seven different countries. Bayrasli has an eye for arresting scenes. In conservative Pakistan she meets a businessman running a dating website. In Mexico her subject tries to revive Acapulco, where drug dealers thrive in darkness because 18,000 of the city's 45,000 streetlights do not work.

Unfortunately, her analytical framework is not as impressive as her reporting. The book lacks any measure of the scale of start-up activity across the emerging world, and the lessons for managers can sound trite. As a result it does not answer if entrepreneurs can help societies get rich even if their governments are hopeless and their economies volatile. Given that at least three of the seven countries featured are now facing currency crises, that is a shame.