Consultants aren't alone among professionals reviled beyond reason. The history of commerce is punctuated by the rise and fall of the sharks, shills, and suits who feed off big business. Every era has its pariah. Crass ad-men gave way to the Masters of the Universe. Today, as new businesses pop up at an unprecedented rate, publicists and marketers are taking their knocks. Each of these professions we love to hate has spawned its own literature — a survey of power and influence through the ages. Here are the classics in each category:
"The Partners: Inside America's Most Powerful Law Firms," by James B. Stewart (Simon & Schuster, 1983). Stewart explores the billable hours of the elite members of America's white-shoe enclaves. In the courtroom category, Jonathan Harr's thrilling true story, A Civil Action (Random House, 1995), weighs in a little lighter — but every bit as compelling — as a Bleak House for the '90s.
"Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign," by Randall Rothenberg (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994). Every ad agency wants a car account. But when Wieden & Kennedy won the Suburu campaign, it looked less like a car account and more like a car wreck.
"Liar's Poker," by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, 1989). This ultimate insider tale of the rites and rituals of '80s Wall Street brought the Big Swinging Dicks off the trading floor and into the general imagination.
"The Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood," by Julie Salamon (Houghton Mifflin, 1991). Hollywood's players and divas meet Tom Wolfe's Masters of the Universe. The result? An epic fiasco.
"The Headhunters." by John A. Byrne (Macmillan, 1986). Byrne gets into the heads of the original "grand acquisitors" who bought and sold Masters of the Universe over lunch at the Four Seasons.
"Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry," John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton (Common Courage Press, 1995). This take-out on the persuasion business wears its bias on its sleeve — and reveals how the ministers of propaganda have spun the news and shaped public perception throughout this century.
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.