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Nonfiction in Brief

June 12, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

LETTERS TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Simon & Schuster: $19.95) Politics, alluring as the art of the possible, also can be discouraging as the realm of the practical. Its limitations are perhaps most apparent during a campaign, when many legislators silence deeply felt ideas and ideals, speaking in phrases based on political polling and designed by Madison Avenue. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), a member and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is up for reelection this year, stands apart from the cynical crowd in these pages. Straying from the safety of ambiguous, sound-bite-size phrases, he advances a specific, usually well-reasoned foreign policy agenda that will be valuable to either George Bush or Michael Dukakis.

Lugar is an optimist, convinced that presidents can assure America's security without resorting to the underhanded tactics of Iran-Contra and can preserve international human rights without undermining the strength of free market economies. One of few conservatives to do so, Lugar openly acknowledges that our shaky support of the Contras cannot be blamed on an obdurate Congress; only a third of Americans back the Contras, he admits, and nearly all Americans oppose "imperialism" carried out by their government. Lugar is convinced, however, that Americans will support a President's decision to intervene if he is honest with the American people (President Reagan, Lugar admits, has not always been so).

Unfortunately, Lugar's discussion of Third World policy in later chapters is unlikely to forge significant bipartisan agreement. Conservatives will applaud his sanguine appraisal of Guatemala's emerging democracy, for instance, while liberals will question his portrayal of Guatemalan military leaders like General Rios-Montt as friends of democracy and, more generally, his emphasis on military aid over economic aid as the principle way of discouraging communist insurgencies.

THE DESTRUCTIVE ACHIEVER Power and Ethics in the American Corporation by Charles M. Kelly (Addison-Wesley: $19.95) Business ethics books are timeless in theme, often culling wisdom from classical and biblical philosophy; business deals, on the other hand, are made and broken in seconds. Business ethics books often celebrate the unique contribution individuals can make if they are given the chance; most business traders follow the herd. Given these stark contrasts, it's no wonder that business ethics books carry so little clout on Wall Street. To reach the people who have the power to make a difference, authors like Charles Perry, who believe the recent insider trading scandals have more to do with moral decline than with increasingly efficient investigations, must show how ethics can benefit the bottom line. Kelly--a management consultant based in Charlotte, N.C.--succeeds to a point, persuasively arguing that unethical but charismatic managers ("destructive achievers") can disrupt a company's social harmony and damage its power base in the long-term. Kelly does not offer real-life examples, however, to substantiate his thesis that long-term planning is the key to providing "the classic motivational environment." "The Destructive Achiever," as a result, will generate interest for its insights into personnel, but will be dismissed for its management strategies by executives who see long-term planning as authoritarian and unresponsive to economic vicissitudes.

LOVING RACHEL A Family's Journey From Grief by Jane Bernstein (Little, Brown: $17.95) This bittersweet story reaches out to parents of disabled children, sharing the author's experience of healthfully, if not always happily, rearing a mentally retarded, epileptic, partially blind child. "Loving Rachel" has a much broader appeal, however, as a probing meditation on why we care for our kin. Jane Bernstein ("Departures") belongs to a new generation of women who traveled through young adulthood without even thinking of children. As she writes in the first chapter, "The unending cycles of caring and cleaning, the sentences that never got finished, the poor, worn women who had buried their dreams and stayed home making sandwiches while the men and children played--not me, no way." By the middle of this chapter, though, Bernstein has given in to a growing maternal urge, becoming pregnant with Charlotte. And by chapter's end, she has come to feel "that Charlotte was not just my first born, but the first child ever born."

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