All business books are well-intentioned. Most business books are kinda boring. A few business books are both interesting and instructive, and then there's a small handful of business books that have propagated ideas that have made the world worse. Here are three of them.
1. Reengineering the Corporation (1994)
Subtitle: A Manifesto for Business Revolution
Authors: Michael Hammer and James Champy
Before this book was released, executives and investors considered layoffs a sign of incompetence: The executives in charge weren't able to plan for the future, adapt to changing conditions, retrain their workers, and/or maintain revenue and profit.
Reengineering the Corporation was the first popular business book to conceptually reframe layoffs as something both necessary and beneficial. In its wake, CEOs who laid off large numbers were characterized as "heroic" rather than incompetent.
The term "reengineering"--which treats the organization like a machine with cogs rather than a community of people--launched a series of increasingly weasely buzzwords that further dehumanize the process: downsizing, rightsizing, and the uniquely disgusting "ventilate the corporation."
While this book didn't create the idea that corporations are obligated to neither its workers nor society at large, it's caused untold pain and suffering by popularizing the idea that firing employees is smart strategy. This book is the apotheosis of the "greed is good" mindset.
2. Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Author: Ayn Rand
While this is a work of fiction, it functions as a business book, much like The Richest Man in Babylon or The Greatest Salesman in the World, albeit with a crapwad of dialog and descriptions that rank among the most awkward writing in the 20th century.
The book's utter lack of literary merit aside, its lionization and near-deification of industry moguls, its view as the population as either "takers" or "makers," and its borderline racist tout of meritocracy without accounting for the cumulative effects of wealth and privilege helped justify union-busting and corporate cultures that burn through employees and then throw them on the trash heap.
There is, however, a major advantage to Atlas Shrugged: It's an easily-visible and highly-informative semiotic. When you walk into an office or see the bookshelf in a Zoom background, the tome (which always has a visible spine title) immediately marks that person as a ... well, I was going to write "as a horse's rear end," but let's just say "as somebody who gives a crap only about themselves."
3. The Power of Positive Thinking (1952)
Author: Norman Vincent Peale
I'm sure I'll get pushback on this one, because so many people swear that this book has been of personal benefit. Nevertheless, I think it's a pernicious work full of bad ideas that have been incredibly destructive.
This book, like most others in the self-help genre, claims that success is the result of your thinking. If you have the right attitude, you'll be successful. If you have the wrong attitude, you won't. Therefore--and this is the crucial point--if you're successful, you deserve all the credit, but if you're not, you deserve all the blame.
While ostensibly upbeat, this way of thinking leads to very ugly behavior.
Remember that viral YouTube video of an Uber driver complained to former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick about changes in Uber's business model that had made driving less profitable--after the driver had invested in a new luxury vehicle?
Rather than apologizing for (perhaps accidentally) screwing the driver over, or at least listening and being sympathetic, Kalanick's response was to criticize the driver for not "taking responsibility"--a classic case of victim-blaming.
An even better example just hit the news. Trust fund baby Jared Kushner--a man protected from the consequences of incompetence--recently claimed that more American Blacks aren't financially successful because they don't want it badly enough.
This is classic "power of positive thinking" doctrine. If you're rich, it's not because you were born with a Swiss bank account engraved on your platinum binky; it's because you've been "thinking positively." Similarly, if you're poor, it's not because of systemic racism; it's because you're "thinking negatively."
This is dangerous, cruel egregious bullsh*t. Look, it's one thing to say that you've got to play the cards you're dealt as best you can. It's quite another thing to say it's your fault when the game is massively rigged against you.
While none of these books were written with evil intentions, they've resulted in suffering and misery in real life that far outweighs whatever benefit they might have once provided. All three are long past due to be thrown on history's scrap pile.