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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Which book to swap with the boss
We're being encouraged to exchange books at work by the government. But when it comes to recommending your favourite author to the boss, do you risk ending up reading the "jobs vacant" ads?

How many books have you read in the last year? A proper book. For pleasure. Beginning to end. If the answer is none, you're not alone. More than one in four British adults did not strain their eyes with the pesky printed page.

Tony Blair on Book Day
What do you think the boss should read?
The government's National Reading Campaign thinks that swapping books in the workplace, and recommendations of what to read, is the best way to encourage reluctant readers. So to mark International Literacy Day, we're all being asked to bring a book to work to give to someone else.

But when it comes to suggesting reading matter to your boss, are you in danger of revealing too much about your personal tastes? Will the offering from your bookshelf be met with confusion, derision or plain horror? Or could this be a golden opportunity to bond with the person who hands out the pay rises?

"Do not phoney it. There's no purpose," warns Cary Cooper, an expert in the psychology of the workplace. He says, just as no one would dream of recommending something by the Marquis de Sade to the boss, a worker shouldn't try to guess which book would impress them either.

"You might be more circumspect about what you swap with a superior, but it is important to be honest. That way you will reveal something about yourself. It's like saying to them: 'I'm a rounder person than you think'."

Professor Cooper thinks that book swapping is an excellent way to forge bonds and build teams in the modern workplace where employees interact with machines more than they do with each other.

But if you're still agonising over whether to cart all three volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to work or just slip your dog-eared copy of Harry Potter in your bag, we've asked some of the UK's top bosses what they'd recommend.

Sir Richard Branson

Winston Churchill
Churchill, the gambler
I've just finished reading the Winston Churchill biography written by Roy Jenkins just before he died. It's an amazing story and written is such a way that makes you feel as if you are really there as events unfolded.

It helps you realise that nothing in life is certain. Winston Churchill was a man who took calculated risks and was constantly rolling the dice in the fight for Britain's survival in the 1940s. For anyone interested in management politics it's a must read.

Ian Livingstone, Creative Director, Eidos (creators of Tomb Raider)

Jack Kerouac
Kerouac, why not?
I'd say On The Road by Jack Kerouac. It's a book about free spirits in the 1950s who said 'why not?' instead of 'why?'

Trying and failing in life is something I prefer to not trying at all.

Ruth Lea, Head of Policy Unit, Institute of Directors

The last thing I'd recommend is a management book. They're mostly appallingly written and just fill people with jargon.

I think that if your employees know what you like reading, they understand far more about you.

I have all Tom Sharpe's books. I think he's ever so funny, and a little bit rude. If I had to describe his books, I'd call them iconoclastic. I really like that, which says something about me, I think.

Richard Deverell, Head of BBC News Interactive

What I'd recommend changes with my mood, but I think I'd go for Seven Pillars of Wisdom by Lawrence of Arabia.

TE Lawrence
Lawrence, a complicated book by a complicated man
It's a complicated book by a complicated man, but it's a great mix of history, adventure, autobiography and beautiful descriptions of the desert - a place I like very much.

His is quite an extraordinary story of a public school, English army officer who inspired the Arabs to rise up against the Turks who were occupying their lands. It's also the story of how that struggle was betrayed after the war.

TE Lawrence is the only person I've ever read two biographies about.

John Demaine, European Head of Individual Investor Business, Barclays Global Investors

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. It has everything worth saying, said best.


Some of your recommendations so far:

How to Win Friends and Influence People would be a good start - our HoD has neither skill.
Justin, UK

The Memoires of the Duc de Saint-Simon, the inside story of the Court of the Sun King at Versailles. All the scheming, the manouvring, the back-stabbing - even the equivalent of the 'what so-and-so did at the Xmas Party' gossip. It certainly changed my view of how my company works.
Mark Ynys-Mon, London, UK

I would recommend The Beach. It is by far my favourite book ever. My copy is so dog-eared and tatty - I've read it so many times - that I would probably be embarassed to hand it over to my boss though!
Cat Bell, England

The Day of the Triffids because it is an unexpectedly serious book describing humanity's tendancy toward self-destruction in the guise of a thoughtless struggle for gain.
Jennifer, UK

Fight Club by Chuck Paluniuk.
Justin, England

Machiavelli's The Prince. I'm sure the boss would see the funny side... wouldn't he?
Andy Morgan, UK

Bob Geldof's autobiography, Is That It? because it will enable my boss to see how to deal with a creative person like myself who has convictions. The answer to leave me alone and let me get on with it! Judge me by results, not by my methodology.
Dennis, UK

I would have to give the bosses The Mind Map Book by Tony and Barry Buzan. It might make them see that what looks messy to them can be a gold mine!
Robert Stewart, UK

Lord of the Rings (the complete version) by JRR Tolkien. I view it as a wonderful escape from modern day pressures, but also paralleling modern day life in that it shows that good can and will triumph over evil at the end of the 'day' - even if the 'day' takes a long, long time.
Keith Robertson, UK

The title of the book is Comrie in the Distance Fair. It spans 2,000 years of British history told in poetic format. The reason I would recommend it is because I wrote it!
Peter McNaughton, Canada

I just read Gareth Gate's autobiography, Right from the Start , and was fascinated. A life so young, but yet so much has happened in his life so far. I look forward to the next one. I am definitely recommending this gem to my boss.
Paul Scanlon, Bradford, UK

Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf because it's beautiful! It mixes the old and the new, the Celtic and the Germanic (Anglo-Saxon). And it's a great adventure story with brilliant philosophical underpinning. It has a strong theme of leadership that my boss might enjoy.
Rose Richards, South Africa

Do you know exactly what you'd pick off your bookshelf to recommend to your employer? Send us your tips using the form below.

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Which book would you give the boss and why.

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