December 2000

The business of giving

By John Bogle
By Justin Martin
By Joel Kotkin
By Janet Lowe
Review by
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Do we all approach the giving season with anxiety and trepidation? Do we wonder if a sister-in-law will read too much into a gift of Time Management From the Inside Out? Does the boss already own Who Moved My Cheese? When it comes to gift giving, there's no limit on the amount of anxiety many of us create for ourselves. The truth is plain: readers love to get books but some gift givers are just plain scared to choose them. Business books are no exception. Most of us don't know what to choose, we don't want to choose, so what can we do? This gift-giving season, BookPage has several suggestions on business books to help you make that difficult choice. Follow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's advice, Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think. Here are six books sure to please both gift giver and reader.

An old-timer in the financial field writes one of the season's best new business books. John Bogle on Investing: The First 50 Years by John Bogle, is a perfect gift for newly minted MBAs, stockbrokers and young people considering a career in business. Rarely does one encounter a financial behemoth with Bogle's direct and no-nonsense approach to life, money and the mutual fund. John Bogle on Investing provides an antidote to the popular misconception of the materialistic money manager.

Bogle, recently retired as chairman of Vanguard Mutual Funds, begins the book with a primer on mutual fund management followed by an invaluable guide to the industry. This book, unlike his others, allows Bogle to share his views on integrity and values as essential ingredients for successful business. The point is, he says, ladies and gentlemen, greed is out. Integrity is in. And if you seek success and fulfillment, please accept my advice to hold yourselves to the highest moral standards. It will be 'good business' but it will also be good for your souls as well. Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, wrote the introduction to Bogle on Investing. He says, Vanguard's rise to preeminence in the world of finance attests to the soundness of its principles. For anyone who wonders whether the business world will steal her soul, this book resoundingly says no.

In general, little is known about the private life, education and daily habits of the man who has presided over the longest stretch of American economic prosperity. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, seems a quiet man whose steady voice and black spectacles bespeak a life of economic contemplation. Certainly those who have not read Justin Martin's Greenspan: The Man Behind the Money imagine a sedate and solitary lifetime spent in banking and international finance interrupted only by daily reading of deep, dark tomes on political economy and finance history.

So it's a surprise and a delight to learn that the stoic figure with the unflappable demeanor spent his youth pining for a career in music (he briefly attended Julliard and then toured the country in a jazz band.) He enjoyed a long friendship with the author Ayn Rand and is married to former NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Despite initial appointments by Republican politicians, Greenspan has served as Fed chairman under President Clinton and enjoys a wide array of friendships on both the right and the left. In short, Greenspan is an interesting man whose life has followed many roads less traveled.

Martin's biography is part news account, part history and public policy analysis. His life of the Fed chairman reconstructs recent financial news such as the Asian crisis and Greenspan's chiding words on the nation's irrational exuberance, the phrase that set market tongues wagging. A perfect gift for history buffs, news hounds and anyone involved in the financial markets, Greenspan is a history of politics and intellect, blunders and gaffs, and the amazing man who possesses all those traits.

Executives seeking new jobs and companies trying to lure candidates will have a special interest in Joel Kotkin's latest book on trends in the New Economy. The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape reveals an all-too-evident truth: cell phones, faxes and modem lines are transforming New Economy notions of workspace and place.

Kotkin, a public policy fellow at Pepperdine and columnist for both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, notes the trend by yuppies, childless couples and artists to move back into urban environments for work and home. At the same time, Fortune 500 corporations are creating bucolic campus environments replete with child care centers to lure recruits who seek country havens for young families. Kotkin believes urban use and suburban decay will be a hallmark of the New Economy.

The author intersperses accounts of ancient Greek and medieval European geography for a stimulating journey into the past and future of the business environment. Human resource pros will love this book, but anyone with an interest in real estate, urban decay or city planning will also enjoy Kotkin's intriguing look at business locations.

Still shopping?
Damn Right! Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe should be required reading for Warren Buffet fans. Sometimes called the Brains Behind Buffet, Charlie Munger has served as right hand man to Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffet for 41 years. This biography highlights personal honesty, integrity and generosity as key ingredients in any rewarding career. In his introduction, the Oracle of Omaha credits Munger with making Berkshire Hathaway a valuable and admirable company. These days writing books on How to Get Rich Quick on the Internet seems to be its own popular get-rich quick scheme. The Sixth Market: The Electronic Investor Revolution is a refreshing change from all those promise-the-moon-and-stars guides to making a fortune as a day trader. The Sixth Market outlines a responsible, educated approach to becoming an online stock trader including a realistic guide to computer equipment. It even encourages further financial education, making a case for smart, long-term investing. Best of all, this short book could be used as a practical guide to familiarizing almost anyone with financial market terms.

Every homeowner should have one of those Reader's Digest How-to-Fix-Anything books on a shelf somewhere. And anyone who has a bank account should own The Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Personal Finance, now in its third edition. This is an eminently practical guide to everything from credit histories to mortgage rates. As useful as a dictionary, the guide features colorful graphics and simple language to make financial matters seem as easy as fixing a sink. Give this book to college students, newly married couples or anyone who wants to become a competent manager of their own money.

Sharon Secor is a Nashville based writer.


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