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BNet, the very interesting interactive web site from CBS, has just produced mini reviews of what they consider to be seven vastly overrated business books.  There were a few surprises.

BNet’s contributor  Geoffrey James, who reviewed each of these seven books, begins his summary with the statement:  “Most business books are awful, some are mediocre and a (very) few are truly useful.” 

1.  The One Minute Manager – “There is no panacea for good management, and it’s certainly not going to be contained in a book that essentially treats management as being easy-peasy.”

2.  Jack Welch:  Winning – In the past, business executives waited some time to allow for history and the markets to value a CEO’s accomplishments.  Not any more…”Today, however, business leaders seem obligated to write self-congratulatory paeans that give new meaning to the word ‘vomitable’.” 

3.  The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People  – “The problem with Covey is that he alternates between the painfully sanctimonious and the painfully obvious.”

4.  Atlas Shrugged – “As a novel, Atlas Shrugged isn’t overrated, since most literary critics consider it one of the worst-written novels of all time. However, the book is highly influential in the executive suite because it espouses a philosophy of business that justifies the status quo and encourages executives to feel self-righteous… even when they’re royally screwing the public or their employees.” (Just think, the former Fed Chair, Alan Greenspan, who could not believe that the big banks wouldn’t do the right thing and appropriate regulation was unnecessary, apparently admired this book.)

5.  Who Moved My Cheese – “The idea behind this book — that you can’t assume that what you’re doing today will get the same rewards tomorrow — is sufficiently obvious to encapsulate in a single sentence.  What’s offensive about the idea is that it blames employees for not “getting” this concept, as if it should be their responsibility for resetting their goals and rewards.” (Personal note:  I threw it in the trash after the second chapter.  Feeling guilty, given the numerous rave reviews from friends, I retrieved the book, got through one more chapter before pitching it back in the waste basket. There it remained until trash day.)

6. The Art of War –  “This book is NOT overrated if you’re planning to play ‘Shogun: Total War’ or any other computer or board game that simulates medieval warfare.  However, as a guide to business behavior, it’s seriously flawed…”(Personal note: Business is not war. The principles of war do not apply unless, of course, you think killing your customers is a good idea.)

7.  The Wealth of Nations – “While there’s no question this book has been influential, it suffers from being treated as  scripture rather than a thoughtful work that reflected the state of business and government in the mid-18th century.  This limitation is particularly clear when Smith’s work is cited in defense of a free market economy in the 21st century, nearly 250 years after the book was originally written.”

For every business book I have read, there have been 10 or more for which I wish I had not wasted my money. However, since my agent, who arranges for my speaking engagements, has strongly encouraged me to write a book, it is hardly appropriate for me to be too critical.  

For daily reading, I thoroughly enjoy the BNet daily news feeds and I recommend this site. There are some great thoughtful articles.

About the reviewer:  Geoffrey James has sold and written hundreds of features, articles and columns for national publications including Wired, Men’s Health, Business 2.0, SellingPower, Brand World, Computer Gaming World, CIO, The New York Times and (of course) BNET. He is the author of seven books, including Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite (translated into seven languages and selected by four book clubs), and The Tao of Programming (widely quoted on the Web as a “canonical book of computer humor”.)

© 2011 John Gregory Self