He Reads--So You Don't Have To
By Julie Schlosser; Chris Murray

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Can elephants dance? Who did move that cheese? And does any businessperson actually have the time or patience to read all the business books that come out each year? That would be a resounding no, according to Chris Murray, 44, editor-in-chief of Soundview Executive Book Summaries in Concordville, Pa. Every year Murray and his cohorts sift through stacks of new releases and publish about 30 eight-page summaries of the latest must-reads. A one-year print subscription costs $129; Soundview's circulation is over 50,000. We caught up with Murray to talk about the Mafia, which CEOs can really write, and business fables. --Julie Schlosser

Q: How many books do you read a year?

A: Several thousand.

Q: Who are your subscribers?

A: Our core audience is really middle to top managers who have a lot of issues to deal with and lack a lot of free time.

Q: Any pointers for finding the best books?

A: First of all, if it sounds too familiar, we are not going to be that interested. If we see a book that says, 'Don't be afraid to delegate,' I'm not even going to bother. They are about 20 years behind.

Q: Last year leadership books were big--any recommendations?

A: I don't think the best book was really Giuliani's leadership book. I liked both The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, which said that the quick leader who can make snap decisions is not necessarily the best leader, and Leading Quietly, which talked about how much of the leadership work in organizations is not done by the headliner. It is done at a level below by people who really have their sleeves rolled up. It sounds trite, but believe me, it was a really good book.

Q: Who is the best CEO-turned-author?

A: Larry Bossidy. Execution was a bestseller and deserved to be.

Q: What's the most surprising advice you remember an author giving?

A: Many years ago we reviewed a book called The Mafia Manager, which was allegedly written by a Mafia capo and was filled with tips on how to manage yourself and others. I have to admit I still have the book in my office. One tip was: Before making an important management decision, get as much as you can of the best information available--even if you have to beat it out of someone. I don't know if that was serious, but it was definitely surprising.

Q: Is it moral to claim you've read a book when you've just read the summary?

A: Well, you can claim that you know the ideas in the book. If the summary is well done, you should know the book's general ideas.

Q: Any recent books you think are worth reading in full?

A: Value Shift, The Influentials, and The Responsibility Virus.

Q: What do you make of megasellers like Who Moved My Cheese? and Fish!?

A: I find it hard to warm up to these fables. We're not going to summarize them--you might as well take another ten minutes and read the books themselves.