Staff Picks

6 Non-Fiction Gift Books for the Business Reader (and really, anyone)

Sally Haldorson

December 15, 2015


When a tie or scarf just won't do.

I chose Leadership: Essential Writings By Our Greatest Thinkers, edited by Elizabeth D. Samet, as one of the top leadership and management books of 2015, and I believe the hefty volume of leadership literature is the perfect gift for the striving and intellectual leader in each of us. Not all writing about business need be nonfiction, and certainly it need not be boring. This anthology offers up narratives and characters that illuminate leadership from beyond and within via a kaleidoscope of voices. Included are non-fiction articles from Sports Illustrated and the New Yorker, poems from philosophers like Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu, excerpts from pop lit like Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and, of course, Shakespeare’s MacBeth. The end result is a collection of works that remind us that leadership is a quality present and necessary in all walks of life and in all situations.


Over the past year, both my son and my husband spent four weeks in the hospital (not at the same time). By extension, I have spent a similar amount of time curled awkwardly in stiff reclining chairs, walking the halls to find a bathroom and/or procure essentials like fast food, coffee, and sugar for patient and visitor alike. Being at the hospital for so many days and nights has given me ample time to observe how the hospital’s employees—nurses, care providers, doctors, specialists, hospitalists, interns, residents, technicians, floor managers, transportation (moving patients from room to room and floor to floor), etc.—go about their business. The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives by Theresa Brown will open the curtains on the realities of hospital life without you actually having to spend time there. Brown recounts one day (i.e., twelve hours) in the work life of a nurse in a cancer ward, and you will be stunned by both the monotony and the gravity of the work. Caregivers of all sorts, whether nurses, parents, teachers, or therapists, will appreciate the attention to the demands of human-centered labor, and everyone else in your life will gain a new appreciation for the work that is done to care for all of the rest of us.


There is no guarantee, certainly, that eating well will extend your life. Each of us knows of folks who survive well-enough on donuts and coffee for breakfast, gyros or burgers for lunch, and takeout Chinese or pizza for dinner. But if you, like me, feel better eating a diet that balances more indulgent fare with whole foods, then The Vitamix Cookbook: 250 Delicious Whole Food Recipes to Make in Your Blender makes doing so easy without complicating your already busy life. Yes, you’ll need to invest in a Vitamix blender, but the company makes various styles to suit most budgets. While it may seem strange to recommend a cookbook in a business book column, The Vitamix Cookbook is written by Jodi Berg, President and CEO of the company, a direct descendant of John Barnard, the man who started the company and the family who has kept the company innovating and successful for nearly a century. She tells the story of a family committed to healthy eating, which in turn, may inspire you to do the same within your family unit, or just for yourself. But in the main, this is a straight-forward cookbook that provides recipes so that your family can better integrate whole foods, via a multi-tasking blender, with ease.


One of my favorite business books is The Emperor of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars (1998) by former Washington Post reporter Joël Glenn Brenner, which tells the tantalizing tale of competition among two of the largest chocolate makers in history. In Vino Business: The Cloudy World of French Wine, investigative journalist Isabelle Saporta digs deeply into the muddled and Machiavellian battles for supremacy of the French wine trade. While I do love wine, I’m more of the $10-$20 dollar a bottle type buyer so the dollar amounts of the transactions that occur on a daily basis were staggering. Saporta reveals the how and the why behind how wines are bought, sold, and rated, kept safe for consumption (not always possible due to high pesticide content and includes a process that resembles the power brokering of the US senate and its lobbyists), and the industry’s impact on both the environmental and financial health of France.


In my review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear, I wrote: “Belief is a big part of Big Magic, and that's exactly the way Gilbert wants it. She has a … paranormal kind of relationship with creativity that she shares with us, and even if it doesn't make you a believer, it will, if you let it, make you a creator.” But she isn’t specifying what kind of creator, as in, there is no expectation that you must write The Great American Novel or find a cure for cancer. Being creative is simply a pursuit without concern for the results of that pursuit. Big Magic is all about tapping into your creative drive, giving yourself permission to create (instead of waiting for permission from an exterior source) and being kind to yourself during your exploits. What better gift to give than your support of your friend or loved one’s creative inspiration? And maybe you should even give yourself a copy. The act of making will help you make peace with failure and open you up to living a creative life.


So, I understand the dilemma. You wrap the book with care, with a bow, and maybe even a note that explains your good intentions. After opening, the receiver raises an eyebrow, turns over the book to read the dust jacket, thanks you courteously, and moves on to her next gift. Both of you are a bit unnerved. You wonder, “What was I thinking?” She thinks, “That’s a weird gift.” Later on, you approach her. You say, “I know that book wasn’t exactly festive, but promise me you’ll keep it on your bookshelf. Because one of these days, it will be a life-saver. Literally. That’s why I wanted to give it to you.” She smiles, says “Of course.” And you know you’ve done what you could. You gave her a copy of The Patient’s Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love by Leslie D. Michelson. Which also means you gave her the tools with which to navigate our ever-changing health care system and our ever-changing (no, aging) bodies. Everyone is going to need a good doctor and some medical intervention in their lives: The Patient’s Playbook is the way to optimize your chances of successful treatment.




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