All Madoff, All the Time

Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff

Portfolio (Penguin Group); $25.95

Now's the time to brace yourself for the inevitable landslide of books about

ber-fraudster Bernie Madoff. This is one of the first we've seen, and comes with the recommendation that it's by the Barron's reporter whose prescient 2001 article about the fishiness of Madoff's returns apparently escaped the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Though it bears many of the hallmarks of a book rushed into production, it provides a fascinating glimpse into Bernie's world, including details of his legitimate business (yes, he had one!) and on the many people in orbit around him who, the book makes clear, are as culpable in their own way as he was in his, even if they probably won't end up in prison. What it cannot provide is the answer to the main question: What was he thinking? If our prisoner friends are telling the truth and he really does have terminal cancer, we may never know.

Use This Way, Ray

100 Ways to Profit in a Volatile Economy

Capitol Books; $18.95

A concerned friend once told Paul Simon that there must be 50 ways to leave a lover; the authors of 100 Ways to Profit in a Volatile Econ­omy go her 50 better in their concern for businesses struggling with the economy. Their "ways" run the gamut from tax and cash-flow strategies to management, operational and human resources tips, and will work at companies large and small. The book ends with a Master Action Plan to help you prioritize the strategies you're going to use, and each way comes with a mini-action plan for implementation. They do not rhyme, however.

A Smack Upside the Head

Profits Aren't Everything, They're the Only Thing

HarperCollins; $24.99

Turnaround expert George Cloutier's Profits Aren't Everything, They're the Only Thing isn't about trendy tax strategies or fancy financial analysis or operational improvement. Its prescription for failing businesses is a smack upside the owner's head - or rather, 15 smacks, in the form of 15 "Profit Rules" that pull no punches. Cloutier has no time for modern management mantras on the importance of delegation, teamwork and being liked by employees; he insists on micromanagement, strong leadership, and using fear as a motivation, as well as working on weekends, freezing pay and firing every family member you can. His advice may sound blunt and brutal, but from the many real-life examples that pepper the book, it's clear that one of the biggest problems businesses face is being in denial about their problems, and a smack or two is often the best solution.

Your Bad

From Lemons to Lemonade: Squeeze Every Last Drop of Success Out of Your Mistakes

Wharton School Publishing; $22.99

Let's suppose a business owner doesn't read either of the previous two books, and finds themselves confronting the complete failure of their company. The obvious course of action is to crawl into the most convenient hole and disappear, or to actively and vigorously find someone else to blame. As a third option, one might try to salvage something from the wreckage, even if it's no more than useful lessons for the future. Here From Lemons to Lemonade can be helpful: It offers methods for getting past the shame and denial, and mastering your emotional response to the failure so that you can figure out its root causes, and avoid them in future.

With Gun and Camera

The Only Guide to Alternative Investments You'll Ever Need: The Good, the Flawed, the Bad, and the Ugly

Bloomberg Press; $25.95

In the ongoing quest for portfolio diversification, investors are straying more and more into the unexplored jungle of alternative investments, which is populated by some extraordinarily complex (and occasionally dodgy) creatures. Larry Swedroe and Jared Kizer have been there, mapped the territory, and returned with a handy bestiary. The Only Guide to Alternative Investments You'll Ever Need handily divides them into categories: the Good (like real estate and fixed annuities), the Flawed (such as junk bonds, private equity and precious metals), the Bad (in which they include hedge funds) and the Ugly (like equity-indexed annuities and structured investment products). Each is described in some detail, including information on their expected returns, volatility, and trading and operating expenses, so now you'll know exactly what ate your portfolio during the night.

The only Constant

Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in the Age of Turbulence

Amacom Books; $25

Back in the good old days, things used to change at a manageable pace. It was 150,000 years after we emerged as a species before we left Africa, and another 40,000 before we had our first revolution, in agriculture. Our next revolution, the Industrial, came more than 9,700 years after that. But between the Industrial and the Information Revolutions, we've had only 300 years - and now it seems like there's a revolution every day, with all the attendant uncertainty, disturbance and mess. The message of Chaotics is that we should get used to it, having entered a new Age of Turbulence where the sort of volatility we've all experienced in the economy recently is the new norm. Fortunately, the book is full of advice for businesses to face this: Among other things, they need to be faster on their feet, with far more frequent strategy reviews, flatter management structures, and more willingness to act quickly. It also offers new approaches to risk assessment and management, and marketing, that should help businesses - at least until the situation changes again.

Welcome to the Club

Breaking into the Boys' Club: 8 Ways for Women to Get Ahead in Business

M. Evans & Co.; $15.95

The deck is stacked against women who want to advance in the still male-dominated world of business, so it's good that there are books like Breaking into the Boys' Club, a compendium of tips, stories and advice that show women how to build a successful career plan. The book also examines the biological basis for the different leadership styles of men and women, and includes a chapter on the unique challenges facing African-American women. Of course, once women see what an ungodly mess the club really is, they'll wonder not so much why they tried so hard to break in, but why more men aren't trying to break out.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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