Any book calling itself Business: The Ultimate Resource has a lot to live up to.
The InfoPosse -- Inc's team of crack corporate librarians -- reports each month on what's notable in the world of corporate information.
Whump! That's the sound of Business: The Ultimate Resource hitting your desk. Thwip, thwip, thwip: that's the sound of pages turning as you begin to flip through it. Arghhhh: that's the sound you make upon reaching page 1086 -- a profile of safety-razor entrepreneur King Camp Gillette (did you know that his mother wrote a cookbook?) -- and realizing that you're only halfway done. Shhtttpp: that's the sound of the volume sliding into your bookcase.
And there this book will sit -- all eight pounds of it -- until the time comes when you need to know how to calculate borrowing costs. Or the significance of the Mondragon cooperative. Or what tax incentives are available to companies in Portugal. Or the definition of a "permalancer." Or whether it's worth attempting business-process reengineering. Or which organizations specialize in workplace safety. Or why you should still care about Alvin Toffler.
Or ... or ... or....
But hey, why shouldn't a business book be ambitious? Business readers generally are. And there's something appealing about the idea of more than two millennia worth of business history, management theory, and corporate best practices distilled into a single volume. "Although I'm skeptical of anything billed as 'the ultimate resource,' I was pleasantly surprised by this one," says InfoPosse member Genevieve Foskett. " Business doesn't explore subjects in great depth, but I doubt there's a topic it doesn't at least allude to."
Foskett's point about lack of depth is important. Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus Publishing, 2002) is a reference book, a kind of Columbia Encyclopedia for the pinstripe set. Consequently, it offers readers information, not an education. "These essays are not designed to be the last word on the subject, but accessible and practical introductions," explains the preface to the Best Practice section, which contains more than 150 entries ranging from Allan Kennedy on setting objectives to Geoffrey Moore on leading a company through a downturn. Another section, called Management Checklists, allots two pages each to subjects as complex as developing a business strategy and as straightforward as implementing a smoke-free policy. Such 101-style treatments serve chiefly to help readers frame questions and to point them toward additional -- and more exhaustive -- print and on-line resources.
"Failing at business literacy leaves us behind the curve or defensive when others bring up important business ideas that we, too, should be familiar with. Worse, it can leave us clueless while others act on powerful new concepts."
From the introduction to Business: The Ultimate Resource
More satisfying are the biographical capsules of important business figures, from John Adair (the first professor of leadership studies) to Frank Winfield Woolworth (pioneer of five-and-dime retail). A list of books by and about each personality accompanies the entries. But if you don't have much time for reading, proceed immediately to the Management Library, which comprises summaries of "the most influential business books of all time." This CliffsNotes approach is an inspired one: how else could you absorb the gist of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Peter Drucker's The Practice of Management in less than five minutes?
Business: The Ultimate Resource also includes a business dictionary; 200-plus pages of print, on-line, and organizational resources; and a world business almanac with cool stuff like a 2001 ranking of the world's least corrupt countries. (Finland rules. Bangladesh drools.) Some almanac information, such as names of current heads of state, has been relegated to supporting Web sites that will presumably provide updates. Given the transitory nature of economic data, however, one wonders why the editors didn't put the entire almanac section on-line.
Probably, they simply couldn't bear to detract from the exhaustiveness of their product. Business: The Ultimate Resource may be only two or three inches deep, but it's so many miles wide that you're sure to find at least a pointer toward the information you need. In fact, all that's missing is the matching carrying case. And considering that the price is just $60, you can probably afford to buy your own case. Says Foskett, "It's the closest thing I've seen to a corporate library between two covers."
The InfoPosse members are Genevieve Foskett, corporate librarian at Highsmith Inc.; Lisa Guedea CarreÑo, library director at Goshen College; Christine Klein, a corporate librarian with more than a dozen years of experience; and Lisa A. Zwickey, senior research specialist at J.J. Keller & Associates.