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If Built to Last and In Search of Excellence focused on achieving greatness, Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James A. Champy (HarperCollins; 1993) concentrates on restoring it. The book propounds case studies from divisions of Ford Motor, IBM and Taco Bell.

With Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster; 1990), author Stephen R. Covey became the unabashed champion of personal management. A dozen years after its publication it remains on best-seller lists — with more than 10 million copies sold. The real wonder is why, despite so many people having purchased the book, the average guy is still no more effective today than he was a decade ago.

The book even gave rise to a public company of its own, FranklinCovey, an "an international learning and performance solutions company" with 2001 sales of $525 million.

Before Peters and Waterman there was Peter Drucker. While most of his groundbreaking work on management was published before 1982, our panel gave a nod to the master, naming his The Essential Drucker (HarperBusiness; 2001) compendium as one of the most influential business books of the era.

Telling the Tale in Narrative

Some of our panelists thought that books like Barbarians at the Gate didn't belong on a list of business books because they are not about how to conduct business. But the fact remains: well-written nonfictional narratives like Barbarians and Liar's Poker continue to exert tremendous influence on how the public views Wall Street and the world of business.

Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar (HarperCollins; 1990) chronicled a single transaction, the 1988 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. Today the final number on the deal — $25 billion — seems almost quaint, as do the excesses of the characters involved. But at the time it was the largest takeover in Wall Street history and buyout shop Kohlberg Kravis Roberts' victory over Ross Johnson and RJR's management helped earmark an era.

Liar's Poker (W.W. Norton; 1989) by a then unknown bond salesman named Michael Lewis became a No. 1 best seller soon after its publication in 1989. Lewis himself says he "doesn't think of it as a business book, but as a book that happens to be set in the business world."

No matter, the author says he still gets letters from readers saying they read the book and decided against a career on Wall Street — and an equal number of letters from those who decided the opposite. "In the end maybe its influence evens out."

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown; 2000) is not a narrative book in the traditional sense, and it lands in this category more out of default than design. Gladwell's erudite analysis describes how "[i]deas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do." This idea, of course, is not limited to business. The book, however, has become a favorite of the marketing and sales elites of corporate America.

Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart (Simon & Schuster; 1991) described the darker side of Wall Street in the 1980s. The story of Ivan Boesky, Dennis Levine and Michael Milken — world-beaters who all went to prison — is, among other things, a precursor to the run of scandals today.

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