It's remarkable that many entrepreneurs can be so successful -- for a time at least -- without really understanding the financial underpinnings of their businesses. Then the inevitable cash-flow crisis hits, and it's only the fortunate business owner who gets a second chance to acquire all those dull but essential financial-management skills.

Of course, it needn't be that way. A new crop of business books takes square aim at teaching entrepreneurs everything they ever wanted to know about internal financial matters. Most are too dull or too simplistic for their intended audience, but here are two that do the job well:

Understanding and Managing Financial Information: The Non-Financial Manager's Guide, by Michael M. Coltman, a professor of management accounting (Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, Wash., 800-663-3007), is good, cheap, and comprehensive. Managers can learn more than they would have believed possible about cost management; the book includes sections on how to tell the difference between discretionary costs, relevant costs, sunk costs, fixed costs, semifixed costs -- you get the idea. A detailed section on cost-volume-profit analysis seems especially useful for fast-growing companies. This 218-page paperback is well worth its $9.95 price tag.

A breezy alternative, The Financial Statement Workbook (LYCO Enterprises, Rochester, N.Y., 716-442-6602), bills itself as a "basic tutorial" on the balance sheet, the income statement, and break-even analysis. Anyone with a weakness for quiz books will enjoy the question-and-answer tests, "case scenarios," and work sheets. This gets the thumbs-up at $19.95.

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