Business Books are Bad

Well, some business books are bad. Or maybe it's just that there are too many that aren't very good. That is what how 51 Gorillas Can Make You Rich is all about.

If you want to profit from your pen, first write a bestselling business book. In few other literary genres are the spin-offs so lucrative. If you speak well enough to make a conference of dozing middle managers sit up, your fortune is made. You can, says Mark French of Leading Authorities, a top speaking agency, make a seven-figure income from speechifying alone.

Given this strong motivation to succeed, it is astonishing how bad most business books are. Many appear to be little more than expanded PowerPoint presentations, with bullet points and sidebars setting out unrelated examples or unconnected thoughts. Some read like an extended paragraph from a consultant's report (and, indeed, many consultancies encourage their stars to write books around a single idea and lots of examples from the clientele). Few business books are written by a single author; lots require a whole support team of researchers. And all too many have meaningless diagrams.

The formula seems to be: keep the sentences short, the wisdom homespun and the typography aggressive; offer lots of anecdotes, relevant or not; and put an animal in the title — gorillas, fish and purple cows are in vogue this year. Or copy Stephen Covey (author of the hugely successful "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People") and include a number. Here, though, inflation is setting in: this autumn sees the publication of "The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation" by Ronald Alsop. And Michael Feiner has written a book offering "the 50 basic laws that will make people want to perform better for you".

Personally, I like two kinds of books. I like the kind with valuable information on something I know little about, that I can always use as reference. And my favorite are those that jump up, slap you in the face, and make you question everything you ever thought was true. I don't find many of the latter, but when I do I read them time and time again. It's like I'm addicted to cognitive dissonance.

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