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“The making of many books is without limit,” says the book of Ecclesiastes, and that weary reaction seems appropriate when considering yet another offering on personal finance. But Paco de Leon’s Finance for the People: Getting a Grip on Your Finances is a refreshingly original contribution to this crowded field, and one her fellow millennials will find especially valuable as they contemplate the decades of decisions that will shape their financial futures.

Founder of the Hell Yeah Group, a financial firm that emphasizes service to creatives, de Leon touches all the traditional bases, from how to handle debt to saving and investing for retirement. Much of this advice (e.g., automate savings and max out contributions to a retirement account when there’s an employer match) doesn’t stray far from conventional paths. But as she leads readers on the perilous ascent of what she calls the “Pyramid of Financial Awesomeness,” several aspects of her approach stand out.

Acknowledging that we are all “weird about money,” de Leon offers an empathetic yet concrete perspective on overcoming the psychological barriers that prevent many people from dealing effectively with financial decision-making. And while she’s not averse to discipline, she disdains some of the popular emphasis on austerity (think David Bach’s The Latte Factor). Rejecting a worldview that chooses “scarcity over abundance,” she’s intent on “helping people connect to their financial power,” encouraging them to think at least as hard about generating more income as they do about saving in order to balance what she calls the “personal finance equation.”

De Leon delivers her message in a breezy, conversational style, emphasizing key points with an assortment of clever cartoons. At the same time, she is eminently practical, insisting on the need to set aside 30 to 60 minutes of “weekly finance time” as a first step toward systematically establishing sound money habits. Most notably, de Leon includes some tips—including journaling as a means of “unearthing your beliefs about money” and using mindfulness meditation to develop the muscle of delayed gratification—not likely to be found in other books of this genre. Above all, she’s an engagingly self-deprecating storyteller, illustrating her advice with tales of some of her own money missteps and their hard-earned lessons.

Dealing with money is one of life’s inescapable realities, and for most people there will always be some amount of pain associated with it. Having a friendly guide like Finance for the People can help the journey become both more bearable and more profitable.

Paco de Leon’s Finance for the People is a refreshingly original contribution to this crowded field of personal finance books.

For those of us whose workplaces closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the past two years have meant balancing Zoom calls, remote schooling and everything else from our kitchen tables. But, Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen argue in Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home, working from home is not what we’ve been doing. “You were laboring in confinement and under duress. . . . Work became life and life became work. You weren’t thriving. You were surviving,” they write.

With Out of Office, Warzel, a tech writer, and Petersen, a culture writer and the author of Can’t Even, aim to show that done right, remote work can make both workers and their communities happier and healthier. Warzel and Petersen have worked remotely since 2017, when they left New York City for Montana, and although this isn’t a memoir, their experiences inform this book.

Read our review of ‘Can’t Even’ by Anne Helen Petersen.

Out of Office first offers a brief history of American office work, touching on productivity culture, corporate cost-cutting, chronic understaffing, ever-expanding work hours, startup culture, burnout and the disconnect between a company’s stated values and the way employees are actually treated. Breaking their theme into four big concepts (flexibility, culture, office technologies and community), Warzel and Petersen offer a number of suggestions based on remote workers’ pandemic experiences, as well as on a handful of companies that tried to make flexible work culture a priority long before the pandemic. Some suggestions are simple—such as to standardize Zoom backgrounds for meetings so no one feels self-conscious about their messy kitchen. Others are complicated and far-reaching, like to create real trust throughout an organization and to make child care a national priority, with a living wage for child care workers. Near its end, the book takes a turn toward self-help, asking readers to recall what they loved to do when they were young, from riding bikes to playing cards with a grandparent to singing. These things can provide a first step toward prioritizing one’s self and life rather than work, the authors argue.

Out of Office is a well-researched, timely and mostly persuasive book that asks both workers and managers to reimagine the concept of work in a post-pandemic world.

This well-researched, timely and persuasive book asks both workers and managers to reimagine the concept of work in a post-pandemic world.

Business people—and the people who work for them—are forever looking for ways to be more efficient, more inspired, more informed. This quartet of books fits the profile: from the stock market to the Internet, business books to problem-solving, each of these titles will edify and entertain.

Problem-solving primer
Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People started out as a book for kids. Ken Watanabe, a Yale- and Harvard-educated management consultant for McKinsey and Company, wrote it in 2007 when the Japanese prime minister announced a focus on education via critical thinking skills instead of memorization. Watanabe felt compelled to do his part and created four case studies, or classes (e.g., Rock Bands and Root Causes, Soccer School Pros and Cons) to show how problem-solving tools can be applied to all manner of situations. Watanabe’s friendly, capable tone makes the book an enjoyable read; “tool boxes” and diagrams add clarity; and cute drawings make problem-solving playful. The book was Japan’s top business bestseller of 2007 and now it’s available in English.

How not to succeed in business
Today, we have Bernie Madoff, stock-fraud mastermind of a Ponzi scheme that robbed investors of a reported $50 billion. In the 1990s, there was Jordan Belfort, head of Stratton Oakmont, a Long Island brokerage firm that specialized in “pump-and-dumps”: using Belfort’s scripts, brokers cold-called potential investors and conjured up stories of demand for stocks. The firm then sold the overvalued shares, causing the price to fall and investors to lose their money. But Belfort and his minions made money and spent millions each month on drugs, prostitutes, cars and parties. Belfort chronicled much of this in The Wolf of Wall Street: Stock Market Multimillionaire at 26, Federal Convict at 36. In his follow-up, Catching the Wolf of Wall Street: More Incredible True Stories of Fortunes, Schemes, Parties, and Prison, he tells more tales of lying, cheating and debauchery—and denies responsibility for just about everything. The key themes of the book: things just happen to him; it wasn’t really stealing; did he mention he was married to a model? Despite his rock-hard abs, Belfort cooperates with the FBI; after depositions and recorded meetings with fellow fraudsters, he goes to prison for 22 months, does easy time and befriends Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong, who encouraged him to write this book). Oh, and did he mention he was married to a model? This might be a cautionary tale if Belfort were sorry for what he’d done; instead, he’s only sorry he got caught.

Business briefs
In keeping with their successful business model for 800-CEO-READ, which markets business books to businesses (the website offers top picks and reviews, plus links to order single or bulk copies), company founder and president Jack Covert and vice president Todd Sattersten have compiled The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You. It’s a busy executive’s dream: must-read titles are categorized so readers can concentrate on books that meet their needs (Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Big Ideas). “Where to Next?” items after each review suggest further reading, and sidebars recommend movies or offer inspiration via quotes. This is an excellent resource for anyone curious about business books but overwhelmed by all the choices.

We’re all friends here
MySpace has been in the news a lot these last few years, from unsigned musicians who found success via its pages to the rise of competitor Facebook. In Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America,  Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin takes readers on a tour of the history and business battles behind the scenes of the cultural phenomenon. Founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson launched MySpace in 2003, and sold it to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in mid-2005 for almost $600 million. In the intervening years, the site’s founders and employees alternately struggled and succeeded as they learned how to manage burgeoning popularity (41.8 billion page views per month) and legal issues (spyware, use of the site by minors, and more). Angwin skillfully blends personal sagas with business dramas, which makes for a fascinating, entertaining read.

Business people—and the people who work for them—are forever looking for ways to be more efficient, more inspired, more informed. This quartet of books fits the profile: from the stock market to the Internet, business books to problem-solving, each of these titles will edify and entertain. Problem-solving primerProblem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart […]

Now's the time to usher in the new year—and perhaps a new approach to your career. If you've resolved in 2009 to work smarter, be more productive, follow your dreams or find more fun in the daily 9-to-5, this quartet of books will come in handy.

Back to basics
Is your life overscheduled and overrun by clutter, whether piles of paper on your desk or way too many commitments on your calendar? Leo Babauta has the solution. In The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential. . . in Business and in Life he has created "a how-to manual on how to simplify and focus on the essential. How to do less while accomplishing more." Babauta isn't just paying lip service to the importance of learning to focus on what's important. Over the last few years, he's accomplished quite a list of goals (running two marathons, doubling his income, eliminating his debt, writing this book) while parenting six children. His secret lies in his ability to focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to juggle too many things at once. In the book, Babauta offers targeted suggestions for slowly but surely finding focus (and thus, greater efficiency). A 30-day challenge provides a kick-start, and simplification strategies and tips abound.

Control is key
David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, published in 2001, sold a million copies and significantly increased demand for Allen's Getting Things Done, or GTD, seminars, delivered at companies and government agencies worldwide. Not surprisingly, he found time to write another book: Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life. This time around, he offers "new and deeper perspectives about why [the GTD] information works as well as it does and how universally it can be applied." The first few chapters explain the GTD concept and set up Allen's plan for Making It All Work. Perspective is important to this process, and the author skillfully frames the various levels of perspective as distances, which range from 50,000 feet (career, purpose, lifestyle) to 10,000 feet (current projects) to "runway" (daily actions, like managing email). The author says adhering to his principles will enable you to "quickly gain coherence and reorient yourself for the next round when you're faced with disruption"—a useful skill to have in a recession, for sure.

Entrepreneurial excitement
Donny Deutsch's CNBC television show "The Big Idea" profiled entrepreneurs who've achieved the American Dream of having, well, a big idea, and working hard to make it a reality. In the show's companion book, The Big Idea: How to Make Your Entrepreneurial Dreams Come True, from the "Aha Moment" to Your First Million, written with Catherine Whitney, Deutsch's energy and enthusiasm are infectious. The Big Idea is a fine mix of advice gleaned from his own experiences running an ad agency, plus stories of successful idea-implementers who have appeared on his TV show. Those profiled include the founders of Subway, Spanx and Sam Adams, plus proprietors of lesser-known companies like the Ugly Talent Agency, which fills the need for regular-looking folks on movie sets and in magazines. This book will serve as a useful how-to manual for would-be entrepreneurs, and provide "If they can do it, so can I!" inspiration.

Cubicle-bound creativity
Unlike most career-related books, Who Took All the Paperclips? Fun Things to Do with Office Supplies When the Boss Isn't Looking supports—nay, encourages—pilfering office supplies. Author Rachel Rifat advocates using those Post-its and paperclips to make crafts that will perk up a boring cubicle. Rifat opens her compendium of crafts with "Matchstick Incense: When nature calls and the whole office doesn't need to know!" and includes step-by-step instructions for a beaded privacy curtain and a pillow made from bubble-wrap, among other projects. Quirky illustrations and funny captions add to the book's appeal, as does the author's explanation of why she left her own corporate job: "she decided she could not stand to see another manager wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts at a beer bust." It's hard to argue with that.

Linda M. Castellitto makes Post-it origami in North Carolina. 

Now's the time to usher in the new year—and perhaps a new approach to your career. If you've resolved in 2009 to work smarter, be more productive, follow your dreams or find more fun in the daily 9-to-5, this quartet of books will come in handy. Back to basicsIs your life overscheduled and overrun by […]
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What a difference a year can make, especially if you have a 401k or other investments in the stock market. Now that the Wall Street bubble has burst, what's an individual investor to do? A new batch of books sets out to prove that even in bad economic times, you can turn your stock portfolio, bank account or retirement fund around and rebound financially.

Taming the Bear
Two of the best books are part of Wiley's Little Book, Big Profits series that focuses on all things financial, from investment strategies to long-term economic trends. My favorite is The Little Book That Saves Your Assets: What the Rich Do to Stay Wealthy in Up and Down Markets by David M. Darst, a managing director at Morgan Stanley. Darst says to thrive financially today you must practice asset allocation, compiling a financial portfolio with assets that make money when the economy is doing well, but also including assets that make money when the economy slows down. He says it's the approach the wealthy use to maintain their lifestyle even in tough economic times. Darst writes in a reader-friendly manner, often using football analogies to make a point. One of his strongest chapters is called "Building Your House," which compares a financial portfolio to a person's home. He writes that much like a house, a portfolio should reflect an investor's personality and should be "built" to have a mixture of assets that are functioning (steady and reliable, like bonds) and fun (riskier, but with a potentially bigger payoff, like stocks). In another compelling chapter called "The Road Less Traveled That You Should Take," Darst rightly argues that most people no longer have any choice but to be actively engaged in managing their financial portfolio because the days of a guaranteed pension are gone forever. Now all the responsibility rests on the individual.

Another recent book in the series is also well edited and on point. The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets: How to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market Is Down, by investment advisor Peter Schiff, is a playbook on how to preserve wealth even as the economy falters. After a brief history lesson on the U.S. stock market, Schiff outlines an investment plan that taps into the larger and financially stronger global economy. He particularly likes the money-making opportunities in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). All have seen their economies boom thanks to manufacturing; Schiff is particularly fond of China. Besides the BRIC bloc, Schiff likes Canada, Australia and New Zealand as good wealth-building opportunities through investments in raw materials, oil and minerals. He also recommends investing in precious metals such as gold (either in physical gold or in mining stocks). He closes out his book with a provocative look at the 2008 presidential election and argues that the American investor would be wise to wait until at least 2012 before re-investing in the market. Schiff wrote the bestseller Crash Proof, which accurately predicted the current Wall Street turmoil, so his words are particularly valuable now.

Think globally
Another book that urges a more global approach to your financial portfolio is Game Over: How You Can Prosper in a Shattered Economy by Stephen Leeb. The book went to print just as the Dow began its tumble last fall. Leeb's premise is fairly depressing; he argues that the economy will take years to recover from inflation, the weakening dollar and, most importantly, runaway national debt. He spends more than half the book discussing resource shortages like oil and water (the latter being the more interesting read of the two) and emerging alternative energies. Leeb urges investors to create portfolios that are inflation-proof and to invest in industries that produce high rates of return in spite of high inflation. Like other authors featured here, he urges investment in gold through exchange-traded funds or individual gold companies. Another interesting nugget from Leeb: he says the last thing any investor should do is turn investments into cash. He contends that money in a checking or savings account will not earn nearly the amount of interest needed to compensate for the decline in its value because of inflation.

The Jubak Picks: 50 Stocks That Will Rebuild Your Wealth and Safeguard Your Future sums up the latest strategies of Jim Jubak, senior markets editor for the website MSN Money, where more than a million investors click on his monthly "Jubak Journal" for financial advice. Jubak asserts that investing in the right macro trends will make you money, and he includes specific, detailed stock picks for each of his suggestions. He says the best investments right now can be found outside the U.S., particularly in China and India; in food (which he calls the new oil), through agriculture and food-commodity stocks; and in technology. Jubak ends his book with a chapter titled "50 best stocks in the world." Exxon, precious metals companies and search engine Google are among those that make the list.

The Ten Roads to Riches: The Way the Wealthy Got There (And How You Can Too!) by Forbes columnist Ken Fischer might be the most fun-to-read book in this group because it delves into one of Americans' favorite topics: how the rich get rich. Fischer knows that road well; he's a self-made billionaire who's on the Forbes 400 list and owns a firm that manages $45 billion in assets. Fischer says there are 10 ways to acquire wealth a lot faster than the idealized "work hard, save your money" mantra. The richest road is also the most obvious and the one most people take—starting your own business. But there are other ways, including managing other people's money, owning real estate and even turning celebrity into wealth. Fischer points out that boxer George Foreman retired from the sport completely broke. An indoor grill bearing his name changed his financial status and now Foreman is not only a household name (at least in the kitchen) but also worth millions. Single women, and maybe some single men as well, will be amused and perhaps inspired by the chapter which outlines marriage as another way to acquire wealth. My, how times have changed. Fischer says you should forget about marrying a millionaire—now you need to marry a billionaire to acquire true wealth.

Most of these books rely on the premise that the reader has money to invest and time to wait out the investment payoffs. What they don't address are the day-to-day financial struggles so many people are facing as jobs vanish and the economy spirals downward. The need for help in those areas should create a bull market in financial advice books as the new year progresses.

This will be another tough year in the housing market, with foreclosures expected to remain at their highest numbers in more than a decade. Two recent books offer timely advice for those facing difficult choices about their homes.

Putting your house in order
How to Sell a House Fast in a Slow Real Estate Market by William Bronchick and Ray Cooper is a smart, fairly fast read on what to do to get your house sold quickly. Some suggestions are obvious: invest in paint, new rugs and curb appeal. Other advice is simply interesting, like knowing the supply quotient for your neighborhood (divide the number of homes for sale by the number of closings in the last 30 days). If you have the time and/or live in the home, the authors recommend you do the selling yourself—you'll get to pocket a real estate agent's three to six percent commission. And there are good ideas about what to do if several months have passed and your home still hasn't sold (try the round-robin strategy, which involves holding an open house over a two-day period and then taking bids from all prospective buyers).

If you're facing foreclosure, pick up a copy of Stop Foreclosure Now, by attorney and mortgage expert Lloyd Segal. Lloyd self-published Stop Foreclosure Now in 2007 with considerable success; AMACOM recently issued a paperback edition. For less than $20, the book is a wealth of information on the foreclosure process, walking the reader through every detail. Early on, Segal advises the reader not to panic because foreclosure is a lengthy process that can take anywhere from three months (in nonjudicial foreclosures) to two years to complete. He urges homeowners to use that time to figure out whether it's better to try to keep the property or lose it. There's a lengthy section on refinancing as well as a chapter devoted to members of the military on active duty who are legally protected from foreclosure and may actually be entitled to a lower interest rate. Foreclosure is complicated and while Segal argues that a homeowner can handle the process, the wiser move still seems to be hiring an attorney to help you navigate the system.

Susan Rucci is a TV news producer who writes from Washington, D.C. 

What a difference a year can make, especially if you have a 401k or other investments in the stock market. Now that the Wall Street bubble has burst, what's an individual investor to do? A new batch of books sets out to prove that even in bad economic times, you can turn your stock portfolio, […]

Women may be the great communicators, but given the state of the economy, it’s no surprise that ladies aren’t clamoring to talk about personal finances. And January may top the list of the worst months to come out of the cave of denial as the post-holiday bills start pouring in.

To face your financial statement with less fear, we’ve found three books that mix self-help, financial how-to and a big dose of female sensibility. Each of these accessible books recommends opening up about money, and they give you the advice you need to make the conversations a little easier—whether it’s with your spouse, financial advisor or debt collector.

To get you inspired to take charge of your wealth (start with positive thinking!) in 2010, pick up Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom. Marianna Olszewski, a popular money and lifestyle coach with years of Wall Street experience, writes in an engaging style that educates without being overwhelming.

Olszewski focuses first on maximizing your potential to achieve financial independence by finding balance in all areas of life (diet, sleep, exercise) and adding more fun to the everyday. It feels a bit like you’ve wandered into a “best life” episode of “Oprah,” but it succeeds in energizing and opening your mind to new possibilities. Part two then gets into the financial practicalities of dealing with debt, cleaning up credit and saving for retirement. However, Olszewski goes beyond the basics by coaching the reader on uncovering why and how their individual money histories got them where they are today. She includes activities and questions to defuse emotions around money and even suggests that it’s OK to love money. The personalized “fun spending plan” reframes the money perspective to make it less boring than following a basic budget.

The final strategies focus on action, and the interactive approach helps you make the most of the advice. Whether you do it on your own, inspired by the personal stories from powerful women in the book, or start a group to work on the exercises together, Live It, Love It, Earn It will energize how you think about—and act on—money.

While you’re still feeling empowered, tackle Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey. This succinct guide teaches women in committed relationships how to talk successfully about money with their mate—without fighting. It’s no surprise that many gals simply avoid this tough conversation, since 85 percent of all couples say money causes tension in their marriage (according to Money magazine). But, while the conversation may not be appropriate for a first date, authors Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar say it’s a must to discuss what you own, what you owe, your income and your credit scores before moving in together or getting married. No problem, right?

Start by baring all and getting naked with yourself first, then warm up to doing it with your partner. Helpful “foreplay” questions get the ball rolling, and the financial compatibility quiz is revealing and eye-opening. The authors are refreshingly honest, reassuring the reader that you don’t have to love—or even like—dealing with money to be successful. Their best advice is that personal finance should be simple. Focus on the big stuff: house, car, kids, retirement and family. And the common sense, straightforward advice on these five key lifetime expenses makes it truly seem easy. It’s having the courage to have the “get naked” talk before saying “I do” that is really powerful. The roadmap developed by Thakor and Kedar helps readers navigate these landmine conversations and get to happily ever after.

Another distinctive female perspective on financial independence is A Purse of Your Own. It’s based on a metaphor we can all relate to: an impulsive splurge on a designer bag to fool everyone into thinking we have it all put together. This is what author and wealth coach Deborah Owens calls a “counterfeit purse.”

With 20 years of financial industry experience, Owens turns the purse metaphor into a wealth philosophy and provides tips, action steps and “purseonality profiles” for her seven must-have wealthy habits. It starts with cleaning out that purse to cultivate a Wealthy Outlook that allows you to dream big again. The remaining habits teach the basics of investing, with a heavy focus on owning stocks.

Some of the best advice comes at the end as Owens details how to start your own Purse Club and covers nine “pursessentials. ” The no-nonsense tips on hiring a financial planner, speaking the financial lingo and establishing your daughter’s purse allow you to start putting your new wealth habits into practice with confidence.

Pick up any of these valuable books to start your purse makeover in 2010.

Stephanie Gerber writes from Kentucky, where her purse has turned into a diaper bag.

Women may be the great communicators, but given the state of the economy, it’s no surprise that ladies aren’t clamoring to talk about personal finances. And January may top the list of the worst months to come out of the cave of denial as the post-holiday bills start pouring in. To face your financial statement […]

For those of you who’ve put “Get my finances under control” at the top of your New Year’s resolutions, we’ve compiled a reading list to make it happen. Whether you need a step-by-step approach to getting a handle on your money, advice for recovering from the market plunge or ways to work philanthropy into your budget, the advisors below  have a plan to help. These six volumes vary in terms of voice, length and philosophy, but they all work toward the same goal: helping readers better manage their money so they can do good and enjoy life, worry-free. And what could be better than that?

Big book of personal finance
First published in 1991, Making the Most of Your Money Now has grown by more than 200 pages and has been significantly revised to include advice for readers struggling to achieve balance in a still-unstable economy. Jane Bryant Quinn, a longtime financial journalist, shares her own financial missteps (there were more than a few) as a lead-in to advising readers on what she has learned, from “keep all your insurance plans simple” to “tune your BS detector to high.” This lengthy tome includes worksheets (in the appendices and throughout), filing-system strategies, a primer on CDs, advice on paying for college, retirement-planning tips and a lot more. While some of the information may seem rudimentary, the book’s structure makes it easy to flip to pertinent sections, and it provides plenty of information and ideas for undertaking a soup-to-nuts personal-finance improvement plan.

Do the math
Saving for retirement can seem daunting or mysterious: we know we should do it, but aren’t sure how—or how much to save. In Your Money Ratios: 8 Simple Tools for Financial Security, Charles Farrell, an investment advisor and CBS Moneywatch columnist, has devised a set of tools aimed at helping readers be more aware and in control of their financial present and future. For starters, he writes, “All decisions you make should help you move from being a laborer to being a capitalist.” With that in mind, he describes key ratios (e.g., capital to income, mortgage to income) and offers formulas that will help readers determine how much they should be saving each year in order to retire at a particular age or income level. In addition to straight dollar-figure calculations, he explores and advises on investment vehicles, insurance and real estate. Your Money Ratios is a no-nonsense, comprehensive resource for those ready to grab the reins of personal finance once and for all.

Financial recovery, Cramer-style
From his CNBC show “Mad Money” to the website he founded, TheStreet.com, to his numerous books on money and investing, Jim Cramer has spent a long time educating consumers about investing. In his latest book, Jim Cramer’s Getting Back to Even: Your Personal Economic Recovery Plan, he and co-writer/nephew Cliff Mason, who’s head writer for “Mad Money,” dive right in to his advice for recovering from the 2008 stock-market crash and the continuing fallout: Chapter 1 is entitled “Don’t Give Up!” Cramer notes that he’s had personal experience with getting back to even—after his hedge fund was down $91 million in October 1998, he finished that year at a two percent profit. Of course, many readers may not be dealing in millions, so Cramer is careful to offer advice for new and experienced, wealthy and not-so-wealthy investors alike. Highlights include 25 rules for “post-apocalyptic investing” and details on five regional banks that earn high returns and also serve as templates for how to analyze and buy bank stocks. Throughout, Cramer mixes encouragement with signature exclamations, plus to-the-point exhortations like “Empathy is great, but it won’t make you money. You need concrete solutions, and this book is filled with them.”

A powerful plan for giving
From working at a refugee camp in the former Yugoslavia to conducting fundraising and generosity training at U.S. corporations to founding Raising Change (a fundraising group that works in America and abroad), Kathy LeMay has been actively involved in working to improve the lives of people around the globe. In The Generosity Plan, she advocates for an incremental approach to effecting positive change, noting that if you’re generous in your daily life, you “will develop a habit of giving that will transform you and expand philanthropy to its fullest potential.” She recommends reflecting on your past giving—was it through money? Time? What sorts of activities?—and identifying the causes that are most meaningful to you. A “giving formula” will determine how much money can comfortably be shared, especially in uncertain financial times, and giving goals can be set. An appendix offers further food for thought with questions and points to ponder—information that would be useful for passing along the philosophy of generosity and philanthropy to family, friends or colleagues. It’s a strong finish to a thoughtful, comprehensive resource.

Small donations, big impact
While media stories about über-rich philanthropists—from Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey and the like—may give the impression that only large donations can lead to positive changes in the world, Wendy Smith begs to differ. In Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World, she makes a strong argument for casting aside all-or-nothing thinking in favor of making small donations. Among other statistics, she cites a study by Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy that found “most of the giving to the tsunami relief efforts came from gifts of less than $50 made by millions of Americans . . . similar to the charitable response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and what we believe occurred after Hurricane Katrina.” Armed with this information, and the knowledge that small contributions have a ripple effect, Smith profiles groups that ad­dress hunger, health, poverty, education and access to tools, information and infrastructure. She includes anecdotes about people and places that have benefited from small contributions, plus appendices with contact information and methods for assessing various organizations. Give a Little makes a compelling case for the value of including a “donations” line in our personal budgets—no matter how small the amount may be.

Linda M. Castellitto wrangles her finances in Raleigh, North Carolina.

For those of you who’ve put “Get my finances under control” at the top of your New Year’s resolutions, we’ve compiled a reading list to make it happen. Whether you need a step-by-step approach to getting a handle on your money, advice for recovering from the market plunge or ways to work philanthropy into your […]
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Want to savor your retirement years? Then dream big, eat wisely and develop the financial acumen of Ben Bernanke. That’s the distilled advice from three new “geezer guides” for all those Baby Boomers now shuffling along the path to the Abyss.

Living the dream
Robert and Patricia Gussin’s What’s Next . . . for You? is more how-we-did-it than how-you-can-do-it. In realizing their ongoing dreams, money never seems to be a problem for the Gussins. Both are physicians who retired in 2000 from well-paying executive posts at subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson. He was 62, she “a few years younger.” With money in the bank, their kids gone and homes on Long Island and Longboat Key, Florida, the Gussins could have spent their twilight years in a supine position. Instead, both took up writing—she thrillers, he humor. This led, indirectly, to them forming their own fully staffed book publishing company. In 2002, they once again demonstrated their boundless interests by buying a working vineyard in New Zealand—and the villa that went along with it. Apart from overseeing these two thriving new businesses, the Gussins also volunteer as health providers for low-income seniors. Their stamina is simply epic. While most retirees are less wealthy, less connected, less educated and less energetic than this couple, their experiences nonetheless demonstrate that retirement doesn’t have to lead to a mental or an emotional fadeout.

Super foods for super health
Dr. William Sears’ Prime-Time Health, co-written with Martha Sears, is billed as “a scientifically proven plan for feeling young and living longer.” At the heart of Sears’ life-extending regimen is the wise consumption of 16 “super foods”: seafood (especially salmon), berries (especially blueberries), spinach, nuts, olive oil, broccoli, oatmeal, flaxseed meal, avocados, pomegranate juice, tomatoes, tofu, yogurt, red onions, garlic and beans and lentils. He explains how each food improves the functioning of specific organs and how to maintain a dietary balance. There are also tips on exercise and a colossally unimaginative chapter on how to have “better (and more) sex.” Sears could have done more to address the concerns of aging vegetarians who have qualms about eating fish. Still, his science is convincing and his tone reassuring.

Thinking ahead
The Bogleheads’ Guide To Retirement Planning, compiled and edited by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, Richard A. Ferri and Laura F. Dogu, takes its title from—and bases its investment strategies on—the teachings of John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group. Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all schematic. Instead, there are discussions of major financial instruments, from savings accounts and IRAs to Social Security, and how each applies to people of differing ages, incomes and retirement aspirations. The most accessible part of the book is the “Pearls of Wisdom” segment that offers such all-purpose economic maxims as “It’s what you keep, not what you earn” and “Don’t invest in things you don’t understand.”

Given the time it takes to digest and adapt other people’s solutions, perhaps the best strategy is just to keep on working.

Edward Morris, unretired and unrepentant, reviews from Nashville.

Want to savor your retirement years? Then dream big, eat wisely and develop the financial acumen of Ben Bernanke. That’s the distilled advice from three new “geezer guides” for all those Baby Boomers now shuffling along the path to the Abyss. Living the dreamRobert and Patricia Gussin’s What’s Next . . . for You? is […]
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Here are three things to buy that will help you either redeem or get rid of a hundred others. This trio of spirited, pragmatic books exemplify the deceptively simple principle that less is more. What’s more (and therefore less!), they offer a sound set of tools to help you take back your living space, whether you’re clearing out your clutter, becoming more thrifty with your resources or reusing what you’ve already got.

62 Projects To Make With a Dead Computer is filled with fun and surprises, and an almost puritanical zeal for the redemption of “lost souls”—otherwise known as discarded electronics. Digital cameras, keyboards, PDAs, MP3 players, earbuds and drives are, to author Randy Sarafan, raw material ripe for creative repurposing. Most of us have at least a few obsolete bits lying about—a bundle of mystery cords and a cell phone or two—as well as the basic skills to transform them into something else entirely: a mouse pencil-sharpener, a scanner side table, a cable coaster. Some projects call for tricky work involving voltage and solder, but even if you don’t “do” electricity beyond changing a bulb and you can’t begin to pronounce solder (sod’- er), many creations can be managed with a glue gun and basic hand tools. The Floppy Disk Wall Frame, for example, is super easy and really quite spectacular. The circuit panel memo board with keyboard key magnets is simple, too, and just as gorgeous. Projects range from fun to practical, with category-defying wonders like the flat-screen ant farm and the iMac terrarium. Whether weird or wonderful (or both), each aims at nothing less than the intersection of art, technology and ecology.

A penny saved
Anxious to distinguish thrifty from cheap, Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less, edited by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree, begins with the lesson that “thrift” and “to thrive” are cognates. Thus, thrift should radiate positive associations, not miserly ones. To be thrifty is to thrive, to flourish. The editors present seven categories in which to flourish: home, garden/pet, food, family, personal care, leisure and financial stability. Each offers more than enough information to tweak or outright overhaul even the most profligate of habits. In the first chapter, we learn to clean and maintain our home and car more greenly, reducing utility and repair bills and generating less waste. Need to know about furnace filters, clogged toilets, tire inflation or gutters? You’ll find the big picture and the little details. The same goes for every other facet of everyday life—even the faucets. This jam-packed omnibus encourages an old-fashioned, no, timeless self-sufficiency, while keeping an eye on how our choices affect not just our ability to thrive, but the planet’s as well.

Clean and clear
What’s a Disorganized Person To Do? by Stacey Platt answers its titular question with its subtitle: “317 Ideas, Tips, Projects, and Lists to Unclutter Your Home and Streamline Your Life.” As if to underline my own need for such a guide, when I type the word “unclutter,” my word processor underlines it in red: The term is unknown to it and to me. But if all I have to do is consult this fat little book full of numbered, logically sequenced bits of clarity, packed with smart photos and arranged with color-coded tabs printed on the fore-edge, I am set. Clarity is a key term: The author, a successful professional organizer, says “clarity is the foundation for a joyous and accomplished life.” (I’ll have what she’s having, please.) The message couldn’t be clearer: Reducing clutter—not just finding cute ways to store it—sets us free. Even the most overwhelmed among us can jump right in, thanks to quick tips taming every room in the house. Learn what papers to save for taxes and for how long, where to put the newspapers, when to throw away cosmetics, how to organize a closet and why you should defragment your hard drive—plus 312 other things. The format is a pleasure to browse, but it is also wisely designed to answer targeted questions on demand. Pare down, wise up. Less, again, proves to be much more.

Here are three things to buy that will help you either redeem or get rid of a hundred others. This trio of spirited, pragmatic books exemplify the deceptively simple principle that less is more. What’s more (and therefore less!), they offer a sound set of tools to help you take back your living space, whether […]
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Cap, gown, diploma: now what? Having many options can be as difficult as having none, but the risk-taking and wisdom in these books will help any new grad make the important decisions.

A YEAR OF CAREERS
After graduating from college, Sean Aiken was overcome with pressure to live up to his potential. Still living in his parents’ basement at 25, searching job boards and newspaper ads, he thought: Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what these jobs were like before committing to them? The One-Week Job Project documents Aiken’s brazen, funny and often fascinating search for the job that will make him happy (and pay the bills). Aiken starts by accepting an offer to be a bungee “jump master,” a fit symbol for his plunge into uncertainty. Then, using connections and media buzz to find work, he travels more than 46,000 miles in a year-long journey, taking on 52 jobs from snowshoe guide, florist and dairy farmer to NHL mascot, Air Force recruit and firefighter. Along the way, he notes the salary of each position and what he took away from the experience. In the end, he concludes that a career is “merely a vehicle to fulfill our passion”—and that happiness depends greatly on your co-workers, and the chance to do meaningful work.

SEARCHING FOR SATISFACTION
What do you do with your life when you’re the offspring of a billionaire, expected to use Dad’s money to zoom to the top? If you’re Peter Buffett, son of renowned investor Warren Buffett, you ditch the silver spoon and forge your own path. Buffett, now an Emmy Award-winning producer and composer, details his road to personal and professional accomplishments in Life Is What You Make It. When he reached adulthood, Buffett received a relatively small inheritance (under six figures), along with fatherly advice to find what made him happy and try to help others. The modest sum allowed him to discover a passion for music and spend a few frugal years getting established without worrying about the bills. Buffett shares what he learned working his way up in the competitive world of TV and film composing in thoughtful, inspiring sections including “No One Deserves Anything” and “The Gentle Art of Giving Back.” He believes that anyone can have the “advantages” of discipline, integrity and vision that produce the best careers—and the best lives.

LOST AND FOUND
Like most of us, Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner talked about quitting their jobs (in their case, high-powered New York media jobs) to backpack around the world. The difference: They actually did it. The Lost Girls is the story of their 60,000-mile journey, told from their perspectives as newbie world travelers and searchers. The book places the reader smack-dab in the moment as the three friends hike up for sunrise over Machu Picchu, try to design a volunteer project for orphaned girls in Kenya (their solution is heartwarming) and discover a mystical $4 day spa near a forest temple in Laos. There are amusing and sometimes frightening culture clashes aplenty, but the real appeal of the story is the long road they take together, each supporting the others on a soul-searching quest to create a life that matters.
 

Cap, gown, diploma: now what? Having many options can be as difficult as having none, but the risk-taking and wisdom in these books will help any new grad make the important decisions. A YEAR OF CAREERS After graduating from college, Sean Aiken was overcome with pressure to live up to his potential. Still living in […]

Are you ready to make a fresh start in the new year? We’ve lined up a bevy of guidebooks to help you launch 2011 with a renewed sense of purpose and effective new strategies for dealing with life’s challenges. Choose the approach that best suits your lifestyle and take those first steps toward a new and improved you.

LESS IS MORE

Dave Bruno was a success: booming business, loving family, nice home and solid Christian faith. He owned lots of stuff, which led to wanting more stuff, leading to a blog called Stuck in Stuff, where he complained about consumerism but continued to buy—wait for it—more stuff. Finally, all that stuff started to take its toll, and in a quest to examine his consumption more closely, Bruno decided to pare back to just 100 personal items for one year. He chronicles that journey in his inspirational new memoir, The 100 Thing Challenge.

Bruno’s book is often funny, as when he finds a pair of cleats he will never use again but had kept “in case I started to age in reverse.” One-liners like those sometimes steal focus from the project, which is only described in detail halfway through the book. By that time, our attention has been diverted down so many side paths it’s hard to remember what we came for. Thankfully, a detailed appendix will assist readers inspired to try the 100 Thing Challenge themselves, as many apparently have.

After reading about Bruno’s experience—which he says helped him to regain his soul—you’ll never look at the contents of your junk drawer the same way again. And don’t feel too conflicted about buying the book: Bruno counts his whole “library” as one item, a form of cheating any avid reader would wholeheartedly endorse.

—Heather Seggel

CHANGING THE STATUS QUO

Guides to sustainable living bend the shelves at bookstores these days, but David Wann takes sustainability farther than most. In The New Normal, he maps out a future without dependency on fossil fuels, cheap goods or processed food. Because we are all faced with a warming world, he offers steps to deeply transform our resource-dependent routines to self-reliant, more fulfilling lives that are easier on our planet.

Changes in population, technology and available resources have outdistanced our cultural ideals, says Wann. For our “new normal,” we should ditch old status symbols, such as huge McMansions in the suburbs, and instead value actions that build local communities, such as bike-friendly thoroughfares, energy-efficient housing and shorter food and energy supply lines. Wann describes how meeting our needs locally will make life not only sustainable but more meaningful, through closer ties with our family and neighbors.

The New Normal provides both the vision and the actions needed to change the status quo. It is an excellent resource for people who want specific information on creating a sustainable culture where they live—and beyond.

—Marianne Peters

FROM ANXIOUS TO PEACEABLE

Dr. Henry Emmons’ new book, The Chemistry of Calm, offers natural solutions to overcoming anxiety, maintaining that there is an alternative to panic attacks and Prozac. Emmons, a psychiatrist, laid the groundwork for a holistic path to wellness with his last book, The Chemistry of Joy. In this follow-up, Emmons outlines what he calls the Resilience Training Program.

Meditation, diet, exercise and supplements comprise the program. What Emmons lays out is a very doable regimen for readers that begins with self-care and acceptance. Although many other self-help books center on fixing the problem(s), Emmons takes the position that individuals are innately healthy and simply need to refocus.

The shift from anxious to peaceable takes seven steps. Emmons walks readers through each in The Chemistry of Calm, from how to choose better food options at the grocery store, to using dietary supplements linked to brain health, to integrating a routine of meditative exercises.

For Emmons, “Mindfulness” is the key to corralling the thoughts and emotions that ratchet up our anxiety, and The Chemistry of Calm is an in-depth how-to guide that can benefit us all.

—Lizza Connor Bowen

A NEW PERSPECTIVE FOR FINDING PEACE

Fifteen years after the phenomenal success of Simple Abundance, which spent a year at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, author Sarah Ban Breathnach admits, “All the money’s gone.” Her new book, Peace and Plenty, explains how she hit bottom and offers an approach perfectly timed for the new year: “a fresh start for all of us: living well, spending less, and appreciating more.”

Ban Breathnach’s writing is therapy on a page as she copes with her monumental losses: multiple homes, nine assistants, extravagant purchases (Isaac Newton’s prayer chapel in England, Marilyn Monroe’s furs) and a thieving husband. In dealing with the aftermath, she uncovers the emotionally volatile relationship women have with money.

Instead of writing another dry investing how-to, Ban Breathnach gives women a guide to finding spiritual and emotional peace after financial loss. Anyone who has suffered financial catastrophe—losing a home to foreclosure, losing a job to the recession, losing it all in a messy divorce—will find reassurance and compassion. With gentle advice, Peace and Plenty helps readers face their guilt about past money mistakes and move forward.

Ban Breathnach brings her Victorian sensibilities to plain-Jane finance; her budget includes a Christmas Club, her cash system creates a pin money stash. Readers rediscover the “thrill of thrift” by cleaning out purses and closets for a fresh start, and pampering themselves with poetry and early bedtime routines.

Ban Breathnach, who popularized the Gratitude Journal, now recommends several more tools for inexpensive self-reflection. The Journal of Well-Spent Moments, the Contentment Chest and the Comfort Companion all focus on finding the positive without spending much money.

Advice and anecdotes from famous women who’ve dealt with their own reversals of fortune are included throughout, but Ban Breathnach is at her best when sharing the deeply personal stories of her own financial foibles. And perhaps her greatest lesson came from the treachery of her English husband: Protect yourself first, she advises.

Sharing tears, laughter and many cups of tea with Ban Breathnach, readers will come away with a new perspective for finding peace.

—Stephanie Gerber

FOLLOWING THE GOLDEN RULE

Everybody knows the world lacks compassion, yet it’s something we deeply desire. To care about others, we must set aside our own egos, which is hard. Toward this end, self-described religious historian Karen Armstrong has written Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, calculated to mirror other 12-step programs and help us “dethrone ourselves from the centre of our worlds.”

Armstrong is the 2008 TED Prize winner and creator of The Charter for Compassion, crafted in 2009 by prominent religious leaders of many faiths and the general public. She believes that all religions are saying the same things, albeit in different ways, and that we must restore compassion to the heart of our religious practices. Considering that her narrative draws from the myths and precepts of many disparate faiths, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, her prose is clear and her concepts surprisingly easy to follow; it’s a warm and, yes, compassionate book. Yet she is still able to convey a sense of urgency: We are hardwired for compassion as well as cruelty, and it’s time to take the high road.

Armstrong’s genius is her ability to distill an impressive amount of information into just over 200 pages, making complex concepts easy to understand. In the end, living compassionately means following the Golden Rule: Always treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. With Armstrong as a guide, we can learn to do just that.

—Linda Leaming

YOUR PERSONAL MONEY TRAINER

If getting your family’s financial house in order seems like an overwhelming task, then Ellie Kay’s The 60-Minute Money Workout is for you. Every topic is broken down into chunks that make paying down debt, planning for retirement and even college planning doable in just one hour a week. From warm up to cool down, Kay acts as your money trainer as you discover your money personality and get on the same page with your partner.

Kay is called America’s Family Financial Expert for good reason. She brings real wisdom from supporting seven children on an annual income of just $55,000. The Kay family pays cash for cars, has no college loans and even paid off $40,000 in debt.

Her head-of-household experience shines in chapters like “Cha Ching Guide to Paying Less” and “Travel and Fun Guide Workout.” She shares loads of family-friendly ways to shop smarter for groceries, clothes and gas, saving time and money that can then be spent on more meaningful family vacations. She addresses other common family money matters with “workouts” for situations from launching a home-based business to determining children’s allowances.

Kay admits to being born thrifty, but she balances it by giving generously. Her 10/10/80 spending budget allocates 10 percent to giving and 10 percent to savings. That’s a hefty chunk for someone overwhelmed with credit card debt. But her Giving Guide Workout challenges you to strengthen your generosity muscle by doing more to share your time, resources and money, promising that you’ll feel and live better. And if you don’t have a dollar to spare, she includes 25 gifts that don’t cost a cent.

—Stephanie Gerber

Before you can start using your brain most effectively, you must understand it. This is the thinking behind Your Creative Brain, which contains the most up-to-date research-based exercises and rules to help you deliver your creative potential. For those who consider themselves “uncreative types” or are too attached to tried-and-true concepts, Your Creative Brain acts as an interactive guide to determine your weaker points and put them to work.

According to Harvard psychologist and researcher Shelley Carson, creativity is not an attribute reserved only for crafty types or inventors. Carson is the first researcher to frame creativity as a set of neurological functions, and Your Creative Brain lets you discover her findings for yourself.

Carson’s research explains the seven “brainsets” of the mind and how you can use those brainsets to increase creativity, productivity and innovation. Quizzes and exercises help you understand how your brain works, determine where your creative comfort zone lies and pinpoint the areas in your creative process which need some beefing up.

From Rorschach tests to association exercises, Your Creative Brain doesn’t simply teach you how to be more creative—it actually starts the process for you.

—Cat D. Acree

THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE

When John Kralik was a boy, his grandfather gave him a silver dollar, along with the promise of another if Kralik would send a thank you note. He wrote the letter and got the second dollar, but Kralik didn’t get the lesson behind it until midlife.
Overwhelmed one New Year’s Day by a series of personal and professional setbacks, he decided to focus on gratitude by sending one thank you note per day for a year, to anyone and everyone: his children, clients of his law firm, an on-and-off girlfriend, even his regular barista at Starbucks. And things did change in Kralik’s life; his work life and home life both improved, he reconnected with old friends and boosted his health and self-esteem, and his focus shifted from the problems in his life to the things that were going right, and deserving of recognition and thanks.

For a small story predicated on a seemingly minor activity, 365 Thank Yous is told with impressive humility, heart and soul. It’s touching when the Starbucks worker explains his reluctance to open Kralik’s note, anticipating another complaint from an entitled three-dollar-latte drinker, only to be pleasantly surprised by the gift of simple appreciation.

Readers will forgive Kralik for taking 15 months to write all 365 notes, and thank him for sharing the fruits of the project in this sweet and uplifting book.

—Heather Seggel

 

 

Are you ready to make a fresh start in the new year? We’ve lined up a bevy of guidebooks to help you launch 2011 with a renewed sense of purpose and effective new strategies for dealing with life’s challenges. Choose the approach that best suits your lifestyle and take those first steps toward a new […]

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Leif Enger’s third novel, Virgil Wander, centers on the eponymous protagonist who lives in the quaint, rustic town of Greenstone, Minnesota. By day, Virgil begrudgingly works as the town clerk, but by night, he is the proprietor of the Empress, a fledgling movie theater that specializes in projecting its exclusive and illegal film collection. During a drive one snowy evening, Virgil’s car skids off the road and crashes into Lake Superior. Luckily, he is a saved by Marcus Jetty, the owner of the local junkyard. Virgil emerges from the accident with a fleeting grasp of language and flickering memories of his former life.

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