Books: Three of a kind - Help in raising your self-esteem

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Confidence Boosters Martin Perry Hamlyn £6.99

Written clearly and with well-laid out exercises, this handy book not only tells you how to improve your levels of self-confidence but also explains why they might be depleted. And if you're an arrogant bastard, Perry will tell you how to keep your ego in check. The approach is practical, if sometimes patronising; otherwise, Confidence Boosters does exactly what it says on the tin - BEST OF ITS KIND

Weekend Confidence Coach Lynda Field Vermilion £8.99

Get past the naff chick-lit cover and the schmaltzy preface, and Field's chatty style draws you in. By using everyday anecdotes and giving emotional advice, Field hopes to make you your own confidence coach. Will she succeed? Her approach won't suit everyone - Weekend Confidence Coach is more Bridget Jones than Alpha Male - but no-one would expect Philip Green to need this kind of self-help book, anyway - COULD BE USEFUL

Confidence Rosabeth Moss Kanter Random House £14.99 [TE Those looking for a more heavy-weight discussion of confidence will want to pick up this offering. Harvard professor Kanter considers what confidence means for individuals, business, countries and even the West Indies cricket team. Her style can be rather self-indulgent - her favourite movie is Major League; her friend Linda had a bad divorce - but this is an original read - COULD BE USEFUL.

Management Today 16/01/2006 Books: A good motivator or the root of all evil? This jaunty trip through what cash means to us offers entertainment but little useful analysis, says John McLaren.

If this was a review for Butterfly Monthly or Organic Quarterly, I'd hesitate to presume that most readers had a healthy interest in money, but I suspect that I'm on pretty safe ground with MT. So for all you lucre-lovers, I can recommend this book as a bright and breezy blast through the subject.

We get an examination of money's role in the workplace, in the nursery, in our personal lives, even in the loo. There are a few old chestnuts, of course, such as 'money is the great aphrodisiac', the only evidence adduced for which is that rich old men often have trophy wives. This may demonstrate that young spouses are beguiled by wealth and status, but a barrister might object that it hardly proves that they like the sex.

(It reminds me of the tale of the young man who learned that he was going to inherit a fortune when his sick father died. He went to a singles bar, approached a ravishing woman and told her that any day now he would inherit a cool 20 million. So she went home with him and three days later became his stepmother.)

Familiar though the component parts may be, the book taken as a whole will make you reflect on your personal relationship with money, and some of the checklists and tests are very entertaining. But the authors fall down when they try to offer real advice.

The most comical example is the chapter on children. The authors start out - reasonably, no doubt - by suggesting that many parents find it easier to discuss sex or drugs with their children than money. But practical suggestions, delivered with tongue far from cheek, include explaining to seven to 12-year-olds how VAT works, the use of verbal and written contracts, and taxing their pocket money.

The lavatorial section is, unsurprisingly, very Freudian, and, starting with the great man's fascinating assertion that the anus and money are intimately related, goes on to warn parents not to confuse their kids by treating their potty products as miraculous bonus-worthy performances and then rapidly flushing these treasures away. Make this sort of mistake, we are told, and you may be creating a spendthrift or miser.

The workplace section is less amusing and the least original part. The message is that money can motivate but also cause problems, and there are many non-financial ways to gee up the troops, such as appraising them regularly, making them feel more empowered, blah blah blah ... Not exactly the first management book to suggest this.

Indeed, it takes the authors until near the end to point out that it's relative rather than absolute wealth that makes people happy (a view expressed by nearly every study of the subject). Their overall recipe is stunningly platitudinous: 'So to be happy, get a good job, a satisfying close relationship and a meaningful philosophy of life ... Exercise, sleep well and realise that happiness does not result from economic success.' I'd have hated to go all the way to Delphi to get that from the oracle.

What's also disappointing is the absence in the analysis of any sense that times change, and, with them, approaches to money. Money may not have been a big motivator when employees could reasonably expect to stay with a company until gold-watch time, but in an era of hire and fire, multiple careers and short economic cycles, many people are forced to take a different view from that of their fathers.

The impact of money has also changed. Fifty years ago, there were many financial classes, since business hierarchies had more layers than today; relatively few people owned shares, or received bonuses or inheritances. Everything significant that you might have wanted to buy cost a lot: families defined themselves by whether they had a car, a TV or central heating, took foreign holidays, etc.

The consequence is that today the practical difference between, say, a schoolmaster and a chief executive is surprising small, except in bragging rights. (Does renting a big villa in Tuscany really provide the family with a better time than a simple gite in the Dordogne?)

What we're left with is a book that's light in both senses. There's more than a hint here of a magazine article stretched to book length. But it's a fun article.

- John McLaren is chairman of the Barchester Group and a novelist. His latest novel Blind Eye is published by Pocket Books.

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