Good, Bad or Indifferent – books to flash (or not) at work

Last week I posted on the books that you would prefer not be seen reading in public. I got some great what to read and not to read tips – from not reading L. Ron Hubbard to reading Anton LeVay’s Satanic Bible to keep your seat very firmly free.

But what about those of you who don’t catch public transport? Why should you miss the fun? This week I’m looking at the workplace, and making sure your boss is getting the right idea from your reading material. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to the books to leave conspicuously on your desk – and some to keep wrapped in the recesses of your bag.

The Good : Anything by Malcolm Gladwell

If you are looking for both inspiration and fascinating read, no one does it like Gladwell. His enthusiasm for new ideas, and his ability to write about them in a way that both entertains and informs, has led to three successive New York Times #1 bestsellers, and a place in both Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People and Newsweek’s “Top 10 New Thought Leaders of the Decade.”

Why are these good books to read as well as display on your desk? Well, unlike most motivational texts, they’re enjoyable and treat you like an intelligent reader. (Anyone who has suffered through Who Moved My Cheese, we’re sorry, come back to business and motivational books, please. We have good ones now.) Gladwell’s books celebrate human achievement and entertain while informing. The phrases and ideas they have coined (“the tipping point” after the book of the same name,  and the ideas explained in Outliers of how it takes 10,000 hours of training to become a true master of something) have entered both the media and the workplace.

Not convinced? Try Blink. Not a pretty book to have on your desk, but the subject – how to master the snap judgments that we all make unconsciously and instinctively for successful decision-making – is something that workplaces value. Digest and enjoy, or just place prominently somewhere on your desk and watch the boss take notice of your big read.

The Bad : Anything by Robert Greene

While lots of business books claim to be the “only book you need to read”, Mr Greene has a stronger case than most. His writing, including the 48 Laws of Power and the Guide to Seduction, are filled with the distilled advice of other books that went before, collated into one handy spot. He cherry-picks from the wisdom of Machiavelli, Plato and Sun Tzu and from the diverse examples of leaders like Napoleon and Margaret Thatcher, as well as diplomats, captains of industry and Samurai swordsmen. Greene uses this impressive reading list to formulate themes and guidelines on what he believes transcends all the texts, and illuminate his take on the pattern behind it.

So, what’s the issue with being seen reading these? No one said that politics is nice, or that history is full of laudable behaviour. Quite simply, Robert Greene advocates following in the footsteps of great men (and women) throughout history – and being a mean and selfish sod. His guide to seduction, for example, contains guides to “picking victims” and the 48 Laws contains career advice including cheating, confounding and flattering your way to the top. Laws 7 and 17 variously are “get others to do the work for you, but always take credit” and “keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability”.

His rather depressing take on humanity is that the average office is a den of inequity, lying and back-stabbing, as opposed to somewhere you go to share office gossip, send round funny emails and occasionally get some work done. Probably not one to have on your desk, unless you are trying to make your manager nervous you’re after their job.

The Indifferent – The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.

Going from amorally ambitious to the other end of the scale, you have 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. This semi-autobiographical guide explains how to define, simply and automate your working week until you are doing – you guessed it – just 4 hours of work. It’s an enjoyable read with some good tips for those feeling trapped in the rat race on how to redefine both your job and yourself in a career-obsessed world, and details his own experience in transitioning from being an omnipresent micro-manager to an occasional drop in boss, and how productivity and morale soared when he turned up less.

(I have to admit, my first thought after reading that “if your business does better when you are not there, maybe you just a bad boss?” but according to a friend who loves it and has been following the advice, I’m being overly cynical. I’m still not convinced that is possible to be overly cynical when reading lifestyle books, but my mate is very happy with the book’s advice.)

I would finish with an admonition not to let your boss see this one in your bag, but frankly, if you’ve hit the point where you are reading this on your way to and from the office, the days of your commute are probably numbered. If you’re still commited to your job after reading it, only suggestion I can make is leave this on your boss’s desk – who know, it may give them some ideas. They could decide to step out of office life themselves, or their boss may notice and decide they’re no longer committed. Either way, it leaves a spot free for you.

I’m sure Robert Greene would approve.

Published by

Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.