In previous columns, I've reviewed the best motivational books, the best business books, the best sales books, and best marketing books of all time. I've also reviewed the most intriguing books, best books for entrepreneurs and books that every boss should read.
As you can probably gather, I've read a fair number of business books. Most are merely mediocre but there are a few so eye-rollingly dreadful that they deserve special recognition. Here they are, in reverse chronological order:
1. Control Everyone with Hypnosis (2012)
Authors: Dr. Jrgen Bauer and Jason Farley
Subtitle: The ultimate guide on Hypnotism--Mind Control--Psychology and hypnosis driven sales closing techinques (sic)
Why It's So Awful: The premise of the book is that you can mind-control your customers into buying. Even if it were true that "The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded," using it to close sales wouldn't be ethical. Plus it would result in very angry customers when they woke up and found out what they'd bought.
Admittedly, though, it's fun to imagine what might occur if this method actually worked: "Keep your attention on my iWatch as it goes back and forth, back and forth... You are getting very sleepy, very sleepy... You will now quack like a duck! And sign this contract!"
Fun Factoid: Hypnosis (then called "Mesmerism") was proven to be just a placebo all way back in 1784. Junk science never dies.
2. The Problems of Work (2007)
Subtitle: Scientology Applied to the Workaday World
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Why It's So Awful: Many of the books reputed to have been written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard were actually ghost-written, literally. According to my source, the person (a scientologist, of course) doing the actual writing is supposed to be channeling Hubbard's ghost.
Maybe the scientologists are onto something, because this book shares the characteristics of Hubbard's actual writing in the sense that it manages to be both simultaneously preposterous and trite. Definitely "chloroform in print," as Mark Twain might have put it.
Fun Factoid: Check out the "About The Author" write up on this book's Amazon page. It's like the official biographies of the Kim family in North Korea: unintentionally hilarious.
3. Corporate Magick (2002)
Subtitle: Mystical Tools for Business Success
Author: Bob Johnson
Why It's So Awful: For those not familiar with the term, "magick" refers not to stage magic (like pulling a rabbit out of a hat) but the use of magical spells (like in Harry Potter). This book is exactly that: a set of magical spells and ceremonies that the reader can attempt in order to advance their work agenda.
Fun Factoid: The man who coined the term "magick" (author/mystic/conman Aleister Crowley) died nearly penniless after squandering his inheritance on mountain climbing and communal living.
4. Dow 40,000 (1999)
Subtitle: Strategies for Profiting from the Greatest Bull Market in History
Author: David Elias
Why It's So Awful: Back in the dot-com era there were a slew of analysts making TV appearances and writing books claiming that the Internet had suspended the laws of economics. As a result of this "new economy" (so the theory went) the Dow Jones average would continue to increase in value reaching 40,000 by 2016.
Needless to say, that didn't happen and after two crashes, the stock market is about where it is when this book was written. Hindsight isn't needed, though, to see that this book was bullsh*t. Reaching 40,000 by 2016 would have required an average yearly return of 9 percent for 17 years running.
If you believe that, I've got a bridge you might want to buy..
Fun Factoid: According to LinkedIn, about half a dozen people who work on Wall Street are named "David Elias." As far as I can tell, none are admitting they wrote this book, though.
5. Countdown Y2K (1998)
Subtitle: Business Survival Planning for the Year 2000
Authors: Peter De Jager and Richard Bergeon
Why It's So Awful: The Y2K turnover generated a slew of books, but this one was responsible for much of the Y2K overspending inside thousands of business. While Y2K bugs did exist, they were never a major threat requiring "survival", as evidenced by the complete lack of the worldwide disasters that the authors predicted. In other words, it was a huge hoax that the business world perpetrated on itself.
In the end, companies wasted tens of billions of dollars on unneeded hardware and software upgrades, creating a dip in computer purchasing in the following years. That, combined with the crash of the dot-coms, helped propel the economy into a recession.
Fun Factoid: Like most of the analysts who warned of a Y2K armageddon, De Jager has quietly buried his involvement. His webpage no longer cites this book in his list of publications. Gee, wonder why?
6. The Enron Story (1990)
Author: Kenneth Lay
Why It's So Awful: For some reason, almost every CEO thinks that his or her story is remarkable enough to put into a book. Lay was no exception to this rule, although his book was never widely distributed and whoever published it is no longer owning up to having done so.
After Enron collapsed (bringing Arthur Andersen along with it), Lay claimed that he though he had been running the company, he didn't really know what was going on, thereby creating a new standard for what a large company should expect from a CEO.
Fun factoid: Ken Lay's best quote: "I take full responsibility for what happened at Enron... But I can't take responsibility for criminal conduct of somebody inside the company."
7. The Fifth Generation (1983)
Subtitle: Artificial Intelligence and Japan's Computer Challenge to the World
Authors: Edward A. Feigenbaum and Pamela McCorduck
Why It's So Awful: The premise of this book is that the Japanese government was on the verge of creating truly intelligent computers and that therefore the U.S. government should immediately invest billions in similar research.
While computer hardware has become exponentially faster, there have been no significant breakthroughs in AI since 1970s. For example, programs similar to Siri have been around for decades; the only difference is that Siri has more data to draw upon; it's no smarter, really, than Eliza.
Fun factoid: Since the 1950"²s, AI proponents have promised that truly intelligent computers would be created "in the next 20 years." Like I said, junk science dies hard.
8. Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Author: Ayn Rand
Why It's So Awful: While many entrepreneurs find this book inspiring, to me it seems like the kind of book that you read in high school and then try to reread in your 30s and immediately think: "What did I ever see in this piece of...?" I've also noticed that people I meet in the business world who haven't outgrown their Rand-iness seem to be--let me be diplomatic--a tad self-absorbed.
More important is that the book provides the worst business advice possible. No leaders in their right minds would position themselves as intellectual geniuses without whom the entire company (or economy) would collapse. Give me a break. Nobody's that important.
Fun factoid: Despite her criticism of government safety nets, Rand happily accepted her monthly social security checks.