Choosing the best business books

Cover of "The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You"

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: As you try to figure out what's happening with the economy, it's understandable you might reach for a book to help you out. There are plenty of them right now trying to capitalize on the crisis.

Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten run a business book retailing firm. And as it happens they've got a new book out: "The 100 Best Business Books of All Time."

It's not ranked 1 to 100, the list is organized by category. But since the business category right now is lousy, I asked Todd Sattersten the obvious question, which was: "Did they time their book to come out now?"

Todd Sattersten: No, I can't say that we did. You know, we started this project almost two years ago. And the idea, simply, back then was, Could we compile a list and put together what we believed were the 100 best books that, really no matter what condition the economy is, or what sort of problems you might be facing, that we could offer some good suggestions for people in business.

RYSSDAL: You know, Jack, I don't know what the actual statistics are, but my guess would be that most business books as really broadly defined — because there are tens of thousands that come out every year — my guess would be that most of them are not read by business people. They're read by lay people, if you will.

JACK COVERT: True. Back 40 years ago they were read by senior, senior people. What has happened is that the pot has mixed. And you've got self-help books that have a business bent. You've got religious book that have a business bent. There's not a "business book" like Samuelson's "Art of Economics," the 11th edition. There's books like "The Monk and the Riddle" that has a huge Zen feel to it, actually, and talks about finding your purpose in life and being a good entrepreneur.

RYSSDAL: Is there one book, Todd, that speaks to how to survive a downturn?

SATTERSTEN: The one that we recommend for folks is a book called, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Pat Lencioni. Good teams are very easy to run when things are prosperous and we're having lots of success. And what ends up happening is that when you run into a situation where you add the stress of what's going on in the economy. Possibly — I mean, given the fact of the layoffs that we've seen in the last several weeks — you lose part of your team. And those things that were working so well before, don't work as well, anymore. And what "Five Dysfunctions" talks about is that things like lack of accountability or fear of conflict — that, you know, we're not willing to have honest and deep conversations with our co-workers about what's going on — and so, I think for a situation like this and what we're going through, it's a great book.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, and I'll tell ya, some of those things you were mentioning sound scarily familiar as if ripped from the headlines, right?

SATTERSTEN: Absolutely.

COVERT: Well, and Lencioni came from a screenwriting background, of all things, and it's written like a novel.

RYSSDAL: That brings up a great point. You guys, in setting up this book, and we here at Marketplace and journalism organizations all over the country get zillions of books every year — not all of them are really well-written.

SATTERSTEN: Oh, it's absolutely true. There are three criteria for us in choosing the 100 best. And the first was accessibility. I mean, is this a book that someone can pick up and read and understand. And certainly there's some books in our 100 best that we challenge people with. But the example we use is Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," the classic tome on economics, is 912 pages. I mean, that is not something that is necessarily accessible to the average reader today. They just do not have time for something like that today.

COVERT: That got pulled.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, it didn't make the list?

SATTERSTEN: It did not make the list, no. So, for us, it has to be well-written. For us, it has to be applicable. We think sort of, after 1980, business changed. A book called, "In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman changed the way people looked at business books, the way the publishing industry looked at business books. And the attitude of how we sort of manage organizations. So, it has to still be applicable.

RYSSDAL: It's called, "The 100 Best Business Books of All Time," by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten. Guys, thanks a lot.

SATTERSTEN: Thank you.

COVERT: Thank you, Kai.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...