Required Reading

Overwhelmed by self-help tomes? Start with these fantastic four.

Go to any book store anywhere in the country and you will be all but overwhelmed by what has been a booming segment of publishing: motivational, personal development, and self-help tomes. Books such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Simon & Schuster, $28) have become franchises unto themselves. It’s doubtful that even Dale Carnegie, the author of How To Win Friends & Influence People (Pocket Books, $7.50)–which is widely recognized as the original guide to peak performance–could have dreamed of reams of paper devoted to books, journals, calendars, and other products aimed at people who want to empower themselves. Where to begin?

As an editor with a voracious appetite for reading, and a passion for self-improvement, I’ve read a ton of these books (with another ton or two in my to-read piles at home and at the office). Here’s my short list of books I believe everyone should read at least once.

Take a Lesson: Today’s Black Achievers on How They Made It & What They Learned Along the Way by Caroline V. Clarke (John Wiley & Sons Inc., $24.95)

Part of the Black Enterprise Book Series, Take A Lesson‘s premise is that experience is not the best teacher–other peoples’ experiences are the best teacher. Reading this book is like studying for a degree in success, with people ranging from sportscaster Robyn Roberts to American Express CEO Kenneth I. Chenault as your professors. Don’t sleep on this class.

How To Succeed in Business Without Being White by Earl G. Graves (HarperBusiness, $15)
Yeah, I know. This Graves guy has been my employer for nearly 15 years. But trust me, I’m not kissing up when I say that the book provides clear, straightforward, and sometimes brutally candid insight into what it takes to excel as an African American professional and entrepreneur–and to leverage power and wealth along the way.

Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and Your Life by Spencer Johnson, M.D. (Putnam Publishing Group, $19.95)
Our unwillingness to anticipate change before it happens, and to accept it and move on with our lives after it happens, is at the core of almost every personal and professional frustration. Focusing on a tale of two mice and two “littlepeople” and their search for cheese,Who Moved My Cheese? teaches valuable lessons on facing the unexpected. A bonus: You can knock out this funny and revealing book of less than 100 pages in one day’s commuting time.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers (Penguin USA, $15)
Eventually, becoming a peak performer means facing this question: Do you want to be a player–or just played? Let’s face it: success equals power, and to achieve the former, you have to be capable of understanding, acquiring, leveraging, and defending yourself against the latter. Using examples from throughout history and around the world, the authors illustrate simple principles of power ranging from “Always say less than necessary” to “When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never

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