Online Extra: A Best-Seller Smorgasbord

Four books with a business angle that might change your life

The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman (Penguin Press *$25.95) An unflagging determination to slash prices lies behind everything that Wal-Mart does, for good and for bad. That's the analysis of Fishman, a senior editor at Fast Company. A huge number of shoppers love the skinflint approach: The retailer sells more each year by mid-March than its nearest rival, Target, sells all year. But as the world's biggest company outside of the oil sector, Wal-Mart's dominance can be frightening, and the ranks of those who feel abused -- from vendors to employees, politicians, and shoppers tired of shoddy goods -- are growing even faster than the company, according to Fishman.

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene (Viking *25.95) You might think that with a real shooting war going on in Iraq, there would be a reduced public ardor for the business-as-combat analogy. Not so, it seems. Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, is back with this windy compendium, drawing upon the experiences of everyone from ancient Chinese strategist Sun-tzu to Napoleon, Ulysses S. Grant, and Mae West (really). Be like Prince Metternich and "dominate while seeming to submit"! Is such stuff really useful in boardroom blitzkriegs? Sure. After all, war is heck.

The Undercover Economist by Tim Hartford (Oxford * $26) Like the best-selling Freakonomics, this nonthreatening but instructive volume considers the economics of everyday experiences. Here you can discover everything from the relevance of classical economist David Ricardo's teachings, to the workings of cappuccino bars -- and why auctions can be the best cash generators for sellers. Author Hartford writes for The Financial Times Magazine and is employed at the World Bank. Say, isn't that institution supposed to be concerned with the Really Big Questions? Sorry, it seems that approach has fallen out of fashion.

Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People by Jane Bryant Quinn (Simon & Schuster *$26) The Newsweek and Good Houskeeping contributor offers a simple take on financial matters -- everything from household budgeting to paying for college and buying long-term care insurance. There are a host of such books and no shortage of overlap among them. Quinn believes that "investing should be about as thrilling as watching paint dry." So she advocates a low-risk approach that runs pretty much automatically.

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