Last week, while shopping on Amazon for books about marketing on Facebook, I was surprised to see that some users had reviewed a particular book published in late 2008 as “out of date.” My first reaction was to feel bad for the author (note to potential social networking authors, you may want to consider a medium of communication other than a book, lest your information be deemed irrelevant shortly after it’s published), but I also felt disbelief – how could an entire book of information be invalid less than 12 months after it was published? Is the information really irrelevant, or do people just assume irrelevance because the technology around social networking has changed in the past year? To address this problem I did a little investigating.

As it turns out, only 12 of the 30 books on INC’s “Business Owners Bookshelf” list (http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090401/the-business-owners-bookshelf.html) were published after the year 2000 and 2 of the books were published before the year 1950. The oldest book on the list is Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations published in 1776.

Additionally, only 10 of the 20 books on Amazon’s user created “Top Business Books” list (http://www.amazon.com/Top-Business-Books/lm/2F3ECKWH4ZB4L) were published after the year 2000.

It is true that the world was very different before the rise of the internet, but I would argue that many older works are as relevant today as they have ever been.

 

Note – while poking around I found US News and World Report’s list of Best Business Books as chosen by top executives (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/bestinbiz/bestbusinessbooks/).  Some of these books will be appearing on my Audible queue to keep me company on thanksgiving travel days.

Out of Date
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  • Well, books that focus on tools – like Facebook – and are proscriptive (focus on “doing X, Y, and Z”) as opposed to principles can go out of date if the tools change. If people are looking for a manual – e.g. use this application, or these are the available communication paths and here are the pros and cons to each – then as the tool changes, the book can go out of date.

    On a side note, I’d recommend the Origin of Wealth (http://www.mckinsey.com/ideas/books/originofwealth/index.asp), certainly over most of the books in that US News collection. Drucker is good, but seeing Collins pop up repeatedly was a shame – there are serious problems with the methodology he employed in both his ‘famous’ books, and a good number of the companies he selected ended up doing poorly a few years afterwards. Not to mention Friedman, whose pop science misleads more than it informs (reading his columns should make that clear…). Drucker, however, is well worth reading.

    It was also interesting to note the preponderance of meaning-type books – inspirational, if you will. There weren’t many nuts and bolts books (with the exceptions of, say, Drucker and Porter).

    The humorous listing is clearly Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” I posit that most people who buy the book never read it – else people would clearly not attribute to him half the things they do. Nor is it nearly as useful as a modern economics textbook, since a good percentage of it is either outdated or simply wrong.