August 24, 2005
News & Opinion: Bitter view of business books
A couple weeks ago, Barbara Ehrenreich (author of Nickled and Dimed) wrote a piece for The New York Times called ESSAY; Who Moved My Ability to Reason? I missed the original printing but saw a link in del.icio.us over the weekend.
It is not unusual to see this sort of essay in which the author bashes business books for their simple messages and slick marketing (remember the Economist piece last year?). Ehrenreich seems to go a step further.
This is from an email that Tom Ehrenfeld wrote me in response to the essay:
But I guess I'd call this column a case of bashing the low-hanging pinata. Gee, we really need someone as talented as Ehrenreich telling us that Who Moved My Cheese is a profoundly stupid book? And The Present? Jeez. She's given that book more cred simply by mentioning it in the Times than I would imagine any readers ever have--in its current incarnation, or the original version that appeared two decades ago. She's taken the real easy route with this essay, choosing to beat up on a bunch of books that are pretty easily beat-up-able. It's kind of like a real talented comedian doing fart jokes.
I'd like to see her extrapolate lessons and generalizations from a more thoughtful and nuanced collection of business books--Jim Collins' last two books, for example, as well as, well, this would take a bit of thought. But even Covey's Seven Habits is far more thoughtful and defensible than the Eighth Habit. And there really are business books with nuance, that deal with doubt and uncertainty. It's true that the megasellers do tend to dumb things down, cheer matters up, and take as little of the reader's time as possible. But nobody's claiming that these books are great literature. The point of great business books is to give the reader solid and meaningful insights that that they can apply to their work--whether immediately, at the surface level, or even deeper and over time.
So yeah. Call this review a bad cup of coffee: weak and bitter.
I am with Tom. Bitter.