Unhappy families

Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!

Wise Circle Books; $19.99

When Tolstoy said that all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, he was only partly right. A great many unhappy families are unhappy over the same thing: the division of the spoils. The battles of famous families over wills and estates (think Anna Nicole Smith, Brooke Astor and the like) aren't just highly entertaining; they also offer valuable lessons in estate planning. Trial & Heirs recounts a number of the most tabloid-friendly family battles, and uses them to illustrate the pitfalls of improper legacy planning, with useful advice for all sorts of families - whether famous or not - on how to build strong estate plans. After all, many a family only becomes unhappy when it has to carve up the estate.



A Tale of a Business Failure: A Successful Entrepreneur's Story of a Deal that Went Bad

Danbury Publishing; $18.99

Unlike those jerks in the other cars, who ogle car crashes purely for voyeuristic thrills, we here at New Products study them in hope of learning important lessons about automotive safety. In that spirit, we recommend A Tale of a Business Failure, in which CPA John Davis relates the collapse of one of his business ventures in exquisitely painful detail. While some may get their kicks out of watching the slow-motion crash, the more enlightened will realize that it offers valuable insight into the emotions and actions of the small-business entrepreneur. Davis himself originally intended to leave the story untold, but after finding that he was continually drawing on his own experiences in counseling clients, he decided to share the many useful lessons he'd learned. You can use the book to help your own entrepreneurial clients - and if you happen to get a twisted little frisson from it, what's a little schadenfreude among friends?


More rubbernecking

The Billion-Dollar Mistake: Learning the Art of Investing Through the Missteps of Legendary Investors

Wiley; $29.95

While it's clearly wrong to enjoy the misfortunes of others, we'll make an exception for those of millionaires. If you have a million dollars, and then lose it through your own stupidity, you can hardly expect much in the way of sympathy, and The Billion-Dollar Mistake is full of opportunities to gloat over the downfall of people who have more money than us. The narratives have a novelistic fascination, but the main bonus is that the book derives some very valuable lessons in investing from them, not least the fact that nothing - not passion, not friendship, not leverage, and certainly not the mirage of outsized returns - can replace serious due diligence. At best, the book can help the common investor avoid all manner of traps; at worst, they can find comfort in the fact that supposedly sharp mega-investors fell into the same ones.


Finding the 'I'

Thriving on Pressure: Mental Toughness for Real Leaders

Easton Studio Press; $17.95

There may be no "I" in "team," but there is one in "team captain," as well as "chief executive," "managing partner" and "president." A great many books on leadership focus on the team, rather than the "I," emphasizing how leaders can motivate and get the best out of those below them. In a refreshing change, Thriving on Pressure is all about the "I," and how leaders can motivate and get the best out of themselves. It's not a feel-good exercise, however: The book presents extremely high standards for leadership, and paints a pretty scary picture of the pressures that accompany it. For those who don't find the prospect too terrifying, it then offers five "master classes" in building your internal resources as a leader, from toughening yourself mentally and handling stress, to distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy motivation, and boosting the self-confidence and self-esteem you'll need to be a real leader.


Managers who manage

The Communication Problem Solver: Simple Tools and Techniques for Busy Managers

Amacom Books; $18.95

It seems obvious that you'd choose an employee based on their skills at the task they'll be set: Salespeople, for instance, should know how to sell, auditors how to audit, and so on. And yet when it comes to managers, they're rarely chosen for their ability to manage, but on a host of other criteria - seniority, for instance, or expertise in the area they'll be managing, or the compromising pictures they have of senior executives - which is why so many managers can barely manage to manage, and why there are so many books that attempt to teach management.

The Communications Problem Solver tackles one of the most important elements of management, with a focus on improving the clarity of communication, and on using it to avert crises and build relationships. It demonstrates how to use strong communication skills to set clear expectations, create a cooperative climate, ask useful questions, listen efficiently, and motivate employees. Now if only we could communicate the importance of such skills to management ... .


The inside scoop

Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company

Jossey-Bass (Wiley); $27.95

Since Behind the Cloud, which recounts the rise of Salesforce.com and the Software-as-a-Service model it pioneered, is written by company co-founder Marc Benioff, you can expect both the inside scoop and a positive spin, but what really makes the book interesting is that it's structured around "the Salesforce.com Playbook," 111 business tactics and strategies that the company has used to succeed, turning what could have been a run-of-the-mill victory lap into a master class in building a successful business.



The Dollar Meltdown: Surviving the Impending Currency Crisis with Gold, Oil, and Other Unconventional Investments

Portfolio (Penguin Group); $27.95

The premise of The Dollar Meltdown is simple: The U.S. dollar is headed for a fall, as our debt skyrockets and the rest of the world starts questioning the dollar's privileged status as the pre-eminent reserve currency. That's the bad news, which the book goes into at (often acerbic) length; the good news, it says, is that there are ways for investors to protect themselves, and even profit, from the dollar's decline, in alternative investments like gold, silver, commodities, other currencies and more. It's a sobering view, if occasionally a little apocalyptic.


Tax-time traditions

In its annual harbinger of tax season, J.K. Lasser has released updated versions of its tax guides: Your Income Tax 2010; 1001 Deductions and Tax Breaks 2010; Small Business Taxes 2010; Real Estate Tax Edge; and New Rules for Estate and Tax Planning. Run and buy them all up before your clients read them, then recycle the ideas as your own.


Also in print

The Story of American Business: From the Pages of The New York Times (Harvard Business Press; $29.95) is a fascinating overview, with short, informative essays on various business-related subjects, such as the evolution of the corporation and the rise of Wall Street, backed up by well-chosen representative stories from the archives of the Times.


Many of the books mentioned here are available at discounted prices online at WebCPA.com, under Special Offers.

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