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A Boffo Year for Business Books


Those bruised by the tech-stock roller coaster can revisit the experience in dot.con: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (HarperCollins) by John Cassidy, a New Yorker staff writer. The volume excels at addressing such questions as why professional money managers continued to pour funds into the stocks of Internet companies that had no profits and no prospects. They had to follow the herd, Cassidy says, sticking close to the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index to protect their jobs. There's plenty of blame for the debacle to spread around, but the author says Alan Greenspan must get a portion. The Federal Reserve chairman, he says, failed to raise interest rates soon enough to prick the stock bubble and then didn't ease soon enough after the market cracked in early 2000.

In Globalization and Its Discontents (Norton), Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz argues that global financial institutions aren't helping many poor countries. Incomes are not rising in much of the world, and adoption of market-based policies, such as open capital markets, free trade, and privatization, are making developing economies less stable, not more so. The author faults the International Monetary Fund's requirements of fiscal austerity and market liberalization, arguing that China and Korea have succeeded precisely because they have not followed such dictates. When a developing country faces a financial crisis, Stiglitz says it should keep interest rates low and keep credit flowing--the opposite of what the IMF would want. Reviewer Michael J. Mandel says this volume could "give additional weight to a new conception of globalization."

According to reviewer Catherine Arnst, "a nuanced picture of what life is like in the U.S. for career women" can be found in economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett's Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children (Talk Miramax). The heart of the book is a national survey of professional women and high-achieving men. Out of this came the headline-grabbing finding that 49% of women over 40 who earn more than $100,000 a year are childless--compared with only 19% of men in the same category. Since only 14% of these women said that they had not wanted children, it isn't as though they were making a conscious choice of job over family. Instead, many simply never found spouses, perhaps because "successful men are not interested in acquiring a peer as a partner," in the words of one woman interviewed by Hewlett. The author also devotes a heartbreaking chapter to the problem of infertility and describes the clash between demanding corporate work and family life.

It was a strong year for management books. One of the best was What Management Is: How It Works and Why It's Everyone's Business (Free Press) by Joan Magretta with Nan Stone, both formerly of Harvard Business Review. "Rarely has anyone so succinctly and engagingly presented the core principles of managing in a single book," said reviewer John Byrne. The slim volume takes readers on a relatively jargon-free journey through the ideas of some of the world's greatest management savants, from Peter Drucker to Michael Porter. We visit a wide range of successful companies, from eBay Inc. to Toyota Motor Co. And the authors provide perceptive takes on getting the most from employees--the best of whom they say must "know enough and care enough to manage themselves." There is no one best way to organize, they say: Scale, scope, and structure all depend on what an organization is trying to accomplish.

Similarly down-to-earth is Louis V. Gerstner Jr.'s Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround (HarperBusiness). "This is not my autobiography," the ex-CEO announces early on. Gerstner devotes little space to his youth and career prior to Big Blue, the company into which he "parachuted" on Apr. 1, 1993. IBM was then in big trouble, with $8 billion in losses and 73,000 slashed jobs. Gerstner found an ossified culture that included "a general disinterest in customer needs," "a preoccupation with internal politics," and a "general permission to stop projects dead in their tracks." Reviewer Ira Sager found the material on IBM's culture to be "a must-read for any student interested in strategy, corporate behavior, or even simply how to communicate with employees." One caveat: Gerstner doesn't respond to critics who say his turnaround was largely the result of ledger-book maneuvers. But for its fly-on-the-wall detail of life at IBM, the volume still warrants close attention.

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