Beach Blanket Books for Business

Five business personalities share their formulas for summer reading -- equal parts information, inspiration and escapism.

There's no right answer to that old interview standard: "If you could take one book with you to a desert isle, what would it be?" But when it's on the record, the choice for tropical exile rarely qualifies as "beach reading." For their part, the business personalities polled by Fast Company were quick to cop to both guilty pleasures and literary landmarks on their summer reading lists. In fact the common critical success factor among this diverse group of individuals is their ability to mix mental sabbatical and continuous learning. From Andy Grove to the Dalai Lama to Ayn Rand, their book lists offer equal parts information, inspiration, and escapism. Taken together they suggest a new core curriculum for success -- or at the very least a good read.

The Inventor

Danny Hillis (danny@disney.com) , 40, VP and Disney Fellow at Walt Disney Imagineering, Glendale, California.

As cofounder and former chief scientist of Thinking Machines, Hillis pioneered the concept of massively parallel computers that is the basis of most supercomputer designs today. These days he's applying his powers of innovation to Disney's creative pipeline -- and experimenting with the biological evolution of software on the side.

If I Could Read Only One Book This Summer:

I can't pick just one. I'm very interested in time and timelessness right now, so I'd choose "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman (Pantheon Books) and "The Modern Clock" by Ward L. Goodrich (Arlington Book Company), about how clocks work.

Beach Reading:

"Payback," by Thomas Kelly (Knopf). It's a blue-collar "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

Perennial Favorite:

"The Way to Freedom" by the Dalai Lama (HarperSanFrancisco).

Required Field:

Reading "The Mythical Man-Month" by Frederick Brooks (Addison-Wesley), one of the very first books about software development. Its lesson: you can't do a project in half the time if you put twice as many people on it.

The Book I'm Most Likely to Recommend to a Colleague:

Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" (Bantam). I give this to people to introduce them to the Web.

The Wanderer

Catherine Winchester (catherine@wanderlust.com), 34, founder, president, and CEO, Wanderlust Interactive, New York City.

Winchester spent her 20s traveling the world and starting a CD-ROM company in Hong Kong. In 1994 she settled down long enough to start a multimedia publishing company, Wanderlust (http://www.wanderlust.com), with a mission to bring global perspective to interactive entertainment. When Winchester, the youngest female CEO of a publicly held company, leaves for business trips or one of her yearly trips to Djibouti, Tierra del Fuego, or Kashmir, she always takes along a book from the 5,000-title library she shares with her husband.

If I Could Read Only One Book This Summer:

Roy Jenkins's "Gladstone: A Biography" (Random House). Gladstone was one of the greatest men in history -- but one with a dark side and bizarre sexual perversions.

Beach Reading:

The series of 19th- century soap opera adventures of the British rich and infamous by Anthony Trollope, including "Can You Forgive Her?" and "Barchester Towers" (Viking).

Perennial Favorite:

Just thinking about "Scoop" by Evelyn Waugh (Little Brown) makes me laugh. It's about a dotty aristocrat sent off to a remote country as a foreign correspondent.

Required Field Reading:

I rarely read business books, and concentrate on key industry periodicals and my books instead.

The Book I'm Most Likely to Recommend to a Colleague:

"The Long Walk" by Slavomir Rawicz (Lyons & Buford), about an innocent Pole sent to a Siberian gulag during the war. He is an amazing inspiration to me.

The Wall Street Sage

James Grant (jgrant@grantspub). com, 50, founder and publisher of the Wall Street publication "Grant's Interest Rate Observer," New York City.

An award-winning author and popular financial commentator, Grant spends as much time with books as with stock tables. His own writings include "The Trouble with Prosperity" (Times Books) and "Bernard Baruch: The Adventures of a Wall Street Legend" (John Wiley & Sons).

If I Could Read Only One Book This Summer:

"The Life of John Marshall" by Albert J. Beveridge (Cherokee). It's one of those wonderful books that sets you off about things you wish you had done and books you want to write.

Beach Reading:

Anything by Patrick O'Brian. Another favorite is A.J. Liebling, who writes about boxing, food, and newspapers in peerless prose.

Perennial Favorite:

James Boswell's "Life of Johnson" (Oxford University Press). I stand in awe of Boswell's technical competence as a biographer.

Required Field Reading:

Fred Schwed's "Where Are the Customers' Yachts?" (John Wiley & Sons), first published in 1940 with drawings by Peter Arno -- the finest, funniest, and truest Wall Street book. It's a shrewd and accessible study of the securities markets.

The Wunderkind

Sky Dayton (sky@earthlink.net), 25, founder and chairman, EarthLink Network http://www. earthlink.net, Pasadena, California.

After multiple careers as coffee-bar owner, software product manager, and new media designer, Dayton founded the popular internet access provider EarthLink Network at age 23. When he's not dreaming about snowboarding in deep powder, Dayton gets his reading in on the planes that take him around the world to proselytize the Web.

If I Could Read Only One Book This Summer:

"The Warren Buffett Way" by Robert HagStrom, Jr. (John Wiley & Sons). This guy has created an enormous amount of wealth by picking winners and getting others to agree with him.

Beach Reading:

"Battlefield Earth" by L. Ron Hubbard (Bridge Publications). One of those nonstop-action-can't- put-it-down-until-sleep-or-starvation books.

Perennial Favorites:

"The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand (NAL Dutton). This story of personal responsibility and determination has been an inspiration to me and probably millions of others who don't let the herd set their course in life.

Required Field Reading:

"Only the Paranoid Survive," Andy Grove (Doubleday/ Currency). What better way to learn strategy than from a person who defined our business?

The Book I'm Most Likely to Recommend to a Colleague:

"Economics in One Lesson," Henry Hazlitt (Crown). Hazlitt's classic is probably the best introduction to economics around. I read it over and over to understand the impact of the high-tech industry on the finances of the world. I've ordered a bunch of copies for all of our executives to read.

The Leader

General Gordon Sullivan (gordon_sullivan@mail.crc.com), 59, former Army chief of staff (1991-95); now president, Coleman Federal Corp., Washington, DC.

General Sullivan is credited with leading the transformation of a $63 billion global organization, the Army, into an Information Age enterprise. Now a high-tech executive, Sullivan recently coauthored "Hope Is Not a Method" (Times Books), based on his 36-year career as a professional soldier.

If I Could Read Only One Book This Summer:

"Lincoln & His Generals" by T. Harry Williams (Random House). Lincoln had a great eye for deploying talent -- he knew how to select the right men for the right jobs.

Beach Reading:

"Naked Came the Manatee" (G.P. Putnam's Sons), a thriller about Florida written by 13 suspense writers.

Perennial Favorites:

Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline" (Doubleday/Currency); Meg Wheatley's "Leadership & the New Science" (Berrett-Kohler).

Required Field Reading:

"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara (Ballantine Books). This book has been required reading for soldiers for years.

Alison Rogers (aliroger@ix.net.com) writes from New York.

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