Workplace Wisdom Found in Fiction

Forget this month's business book—skip on over to literature for the best job lessons.


You can read the Management-Flavor-of-the-Month bestselling biz books and not pick up the insight found in many works of fiction. (Of course, some of those business books are works of fiction, but that's another essay.) Try these on for size:

Ethics: The Warden by Anthony Trollope. A good man gets trapped in an ethical dilemma.

Ambition: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. It may be impossible to avoid feeling sympathetic as Brutus is led into betrayal.

Eccentricity: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly is pushed from his Big Chief tablets and his lute into the world of work.

Weasels: What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg. A wag once noted you're either fighting Sammy Glick or you are Sammy Glick.

Philosophy: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. A businessman falls on hard times and discovers Epictetus.

Power plays: I, Claudius by Robert Graves. When Caligula is in the family, you'd better be power-savvy.

Leadership: The Aubrey-Maturin series of books by Patrick O'Brian. There's a reason why O'Brian was invited to lunch at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Insane workplaces: Company by Max Barry, Something Happened by Joseph Heller, and Catch-22 by Heller. You will find something familiar in each of these books.

Litigation: Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Who really won the case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce?

Teams: The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman. An extremely funny book about a climbing expedition.

Destructive personnel practices: Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. There are many Willy Lomans, and they deserve better than they get.

The dignity of work: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. This tale of a small-town barber is beautiful and uplifting.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.

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