Shaping an American Institution: Robert E. Wood and Sears, Roebuck, James C. Worthy (New American Library: $8.95). "The General," as Robert Wood was known when he headed the nationwide chain from 1924-54, emerges as a superhero in these pages, albeit with a little help from the author, a former vice president of Sears and now a management professor at Northwestern. Wood undoubtedly was an achiever and an adventurer from the time he graduated from West Point and began assisting Col. George W. Goethals on "the biggest job on Earth," the Panama Canal. "The day we run out of cement," Goethals cautioned Wood, "you're fired." They never did, and a decade later, when Sears was in danger of failure because of its success (the company couldn't handle a skyrocketing volume of customer orders), Wood was called in to help. Worthy's history of Sears is a celebration of the specialization of labor, the process through which talented people build on earlier successes. Richard Sears started it all by selling watches through his skills as an advertising copywriter. Alvah Roebuck's talent as a watchmaker, in turn, permitted the fledgling company to buy commodities at bargain rates. Julius Rosenwald, who became a major investor in the company, contributed his business sense. Human interaction, of course, isn't always this harmonious, and so it's no surprise that Worthy skips over feuding in the company and, more important, over Wood's anti-Semitism: Wood had expressed doubts about joining Sears, calling it "a Jewish family firm," and before the United States entered World War II, he helped lead the "America First Committee," which argued against intervention. Admittedly, Wood's views about the war need not be included in a profile of an institution, but they do illustrate the dangers in a seemingly laudable principle: Help those who can help you.