Holiday Page-Turners Settle in with a History of Great Business Tales, or Click Ahead to the Future

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Holiday shoppers and book lovers looking for business, economic and personal finance books have a wide variety of choices this year.

Take Michael Mandel's book, "The High-Risk Society: Peril & Promise in the New Economy" (Times Business, $25). If everybody is so much better off, he asks, why are we so unhappy? Mandel blames it on job insecurity, retirement problems and rapid technological change, components of a "high-risk society."

In such a world, it's handy to know what comes next. For that, try "Clicking" (HarperCollins, $26), futurist Faith Popcorn's first book in 15 years. She's famous for the concept of "cocooning," the baby boom trend toward a stay-at- home society. Looking ahead from 1996, she sees trends such as "clanning," or the tendency to join or create clubs, gangs and support groups; "pleasure revenge," the rebellion against the shoulds of modern life; and "anchoring," or the search for religious or other spiritual centers. Contrary to its reputation, the business world is full of high drama, which TV is only now discovering. Stories about the origins and tribulations of well-known corporations often are riveting. "Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time," by Daniel Gross and the editors of Forbes magazine (Wiley, $24.95), is a good introduction to business history. Each essay is authoritative but short. The book profiles the likes of Charles Merrill, who democratized the investment world; Walt Disney, mastermind of a new kind of business empire; and Ray Kroc, who created the fast-food industry. This has not been an especially good year for business biographies, but Birmingham author Andrew Kilpatrick came out with a revised edition of "Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett" (AKPE, $30). It's a hefty read at more than 740 pages, which may be appropriate for one of the world's richest men. Georgia State University author and professor Thomas J. Stanley and research associate William D. Danko may have had Buffett in mind when they wrote "The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealth" (Longstreet Press, $22). It turns out that most millionaires are just like you and me, anonymous individuals who shop for bargains and raise their kids without telling them they're rich. Anyone who browses the business section of a bookstore will find that corporate restructuring is still an active topic. Only now it's mostly about the downside of downsizing. "Fat and Mean: The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans and the Myth of Managerial Downsizing," by David M. Gordon (Free Press, $25), is a good example with its play off the "lean and mean" cliche. The book is thought-provoking, but its author, a liberal economist at New York's New School for Social Research, is a bit too one-sided in his criticism of corporate executives. A more balanced account is "Corporate Abuse: How `Lean and Mean' Robs People and Profits," by Lesley Wright and Marti Smye (Macmillan, $24.95). This one is something of a guidebook BellSouth. If you know a consultant, consider this one as a gift: "The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus," by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (Times Books, $25). It's about the growing use of consultants by business executives who are too confused by all the new mana gement options to choose the right one. …