December 19, 2008 / 6:55 PM / 11 years ago

Reading to brighten the holiday mood

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even in a holiday season darkened by recession, job losses and tight credit, a business book can provide an antidote to economic angst.

Of course, not just any business book makes the perfect gift. The key is to pick something that offers humor, hope, nostalgia or just plain escapism.

The good news is that plenty of recent releases fall into those categories.

In the “success literature” genre, Tarcher/Penguin is reissuing three famous early works on December 26 — one day after Christmas but just in time for Hanukkah and the new year.

Elbert Hubbard’s “A Message To Garcia” ($10), a paean to the entrepreneurial spirit in a Spanish-American War setting, was required reading for many workers in the early part of the 20th century.

People still quote from Temple University founder Russell H. Conwell’s “Acres of Diamonds” ($10), which advises readers to seek opportunity where they are right now.

Finally, “The Law of Success” ($16.95) is the 1928 magnum opus of Napoleon Hill, whose “Think and Grow Rich” was one of the books that inspired the book/DVD phenomenon “The Secret.”

More recently, paperboy-turned-oilman-turned-hedge-fund-manager T. Boone Pickens brought his own brand of inspiration to “The First Billion Is the Hardest” (Crown Business, $26.95).

The book came out last summer, before the news that Pickens’ funds lost billions as oil prices tanked. But as the tycoon and alternative-fuel advocate wrote, it’s never too late to start over.

Other recent biographies of the super-successful include “The Snowball” (Bantam, $35), an in-depth portrait of uber-investor Warren Buffett by Alice Schroeder and — since a corporation enjoys the same rights as a person — “The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs” (Penguin: $37.95) by Charles D. Ellis.

For those with a more limited attention span, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera has compiled the stories of business celebrities, including Buffett and Pickens, in “Good Guys & Bad Guys” (Portfolio: $25.95).

Despite the book’s title, Nocera takes an even-handed approach. While acknowledging, for example, that Andrew Fastow was “at the center” of the notorious Enron scandal, he also writes that the ex-chief financial officer rendered “incalculable assistance” to federal prosecutors and “does indeed seem to be a changed man.”

When it comes to business history, Wall Street is particularly wistful about the 1980s, when deregulation began, conspicuous consumption came back into vogue and the tech stock, housing and buyout booms still lay ahead.

The 20th anniversary reissue of “Barbarians at the Gate” (Collins, $27.95) by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar brings back the good old days in this no-holds-barred account of the takeover battle for RJR Nabisco.

Burrough and Helyar have added an author’s note for some contemporary perspective and an afterword that tells what happened to the major players.

Everyone knows what has happened to the economy, and many experts have written books explaining why.

Not all come with cartoons, but Grant’s Interest Rate Observer editor James Grant has sprinkled them throughout “Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond” (Axios: $22).

This collection of essays, intended for knowledgeable investors, spans the dot-com boom through the collapse of the mortgage market.

Given today’s economic conditions, it might hurt to hear Grant’s warnings of bubbles that would eventually burst, but he chronicles the last decade with wit and flashes of humor.

And the book beats reading the average financial statement.

Reporting by Lisa Von Ahn; Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Eddie Evans

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