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Helping to merge lives at work, home

Reviewed by Sue Shellenbarger

Last year's crop of work-life books reflects some noteworthy trends, from a shift in men's roles to a growing emphasis among business books on work-life balance. If you're looking for a thought-provoking read, here are my top 10 picks:

Good Company: Caring as Fiercely as You Compete

By Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters

Perseus Books, $25

Though the sheer niceness of this book strains credulity at first, its insight and creativity won me over by the second chapter. Hal Rosenbluth, chief executive of Rosenbluth International, a travel-services company, and Diane McFerrin Peters tell how Rosenbluth and 14 other companies cited for employee-friendly values maintain them through layoffs and restructurings.

Anecdotes enrich the book's lessons on streamlining operations, respecting employees and fostering leadership. In one memorable yarn, Rosenbluth tells how he hit upon the idea of the family farm as a humane model of efficiency _ and a new, flatter structure for his company.

Everyday Revolutionaries: Working Women and the Transformation of American Life

By Sally Helgesen

Doubleday, $24.95

Family-values rhetoric fails to capture the breadth of the changes under way in how families earn, learn, relate to their communities and derive meaning from life. Through interviews with hundreds of women in fast-growing Naperville, Ill., near Chicago, Sally Helgesen captures that breadth.

By "having to make everything up as I go along," as one of her subjects said, working women are breaking down boundaries between work and home, charting diverse career paths, remaking traditional approaches to parenting, reshaping entrepreneurship and self-styling spiritual pursuits to suit their needs.

In such actions, Helgesen says, today's working woman compares with William Whyte's "Organization Man" as a symbol of a "frontier epoch" in American life. Though Helgesen lays too much responsibility for change at the feet of women (The changes she describes are too sweeping to be wrought by one sex alone.), her book offers a valuable new perspective on work and family life.

Working Fathers

By James Levine and Todd Pittinsky

Harcourt Brace & Co., $13

Working dads' longest-term advocate, James Levine, and Todd Pittinsky take a deep look at the problems men face on many fronts. Drawing on his experience running seminars at companies from Merrill Lynch to Apple Computer, Levine, head of the Fatherhood Project at the Families & Work Institute, exposes the rationalizations men, women and employers all use for keeping men from getting more involved with kids, and shows how shattering those myths will help all involved.

Marathon Dad

By John Evans

Avon Books, $23

Psychotherapist John Evans' long experience counseling frazzled working dads, coupled with his assertively masculine voice, elevate this self-help book above the pack.

Arguing that men are crossing the threshold of a historic shift in gender roles, he charts a distinctly male course for men who want to play a bigger role at home. Rich in anecdotes, this book shows how to cross male hurdles to work-life balance _ the ambivalent wife, the "guy guilt," the boss from hell _ and nurture the kind of parenting skills that are often the province of fathers.

Working with Emotional Intelligence

By Daniel Goleman

Bantam Books, $25.95

Psychologist Daniel Goleman promotes the subject of his 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, as a major asset at work. EI _ the capacity for recognizing your feelings and those of others, for motivating yourself, for managing emotions and for listening and empathizing _ trumps both IQ and technical skills in spurring excellent job performance, he asserts.

I question one of Goleman's premises, that EI can and should be taught in corporate training programs. Such essential EI underpinnings as empathy and self-respect are usually learned through long, hard labor in the family or in private therapy. Beyond elite executive-coaching programs, I wonder how many managers would want to have that Pandora's box opened at work. Still, low EI among corporate leaders gives rise to a lot of family-unfriendly behavior in the workplace, and this book offers vast wisdom on how to end that problem and others.

Managing Telework

By Jack Nilles

John Wiley & Sons, $29.95

Jack Nilles has been advancing the ball on telecommuting since he dreamed up the whole idea while stuck in a 1974 Los Angeles traffic jam. This latest book is no exception. This is the best guide yet to surmounting obstacles to telework, a term that includes all modes of technology-assisted work.

-- Sue Shellenbarger reviews books for the Wall Street Journal

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