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How to Be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work Hardcover – May 2, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618713506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618713509
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #950,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Just in time for college graduation comes a career guide for the smart liberal-arts grad who believes such guides are nothing more than a pile of self-help mush." Newsweek

"Very soon, despite the difficulty of job hunting in tough economic times, newly minted graduates will march into Day One of their first real jobs . . . With some luck, these neophytes might meet with someone like Megan Hustad . . . Part study of best-selling advice literature, part collection of cautionary tales from herself and her peers, the book is an engaging blend of prescription and cultural history . . . Hustad manages to make the process of identifying your professional goals and then setting out to achieve them palatable -- even hip." The Washington Post

"This smart little book is a wry new entry in the burgeoning literature of the new economy's workplace." The Chicago Tribune

"Author Megan Hustad combed through the dustiest self-help tomes for nuggets of wisdom that might actually apply to today's postcollegiates. The end result . . . has helpful career hints for associates and architect grunts alike." New York Magazine

"Most people wouldn't think that Dale Carnegie, Benjamin Disraeli and Paris Hilton belong in the same book; but they aren't Megan Hustad." The Globe and Mail

"A book that presents itself as a guide to workplace success but that is really a (frequently hilarious) meditation on the notion of ambition. " Guardian

"Hustad has done her homework, reading dozens of 'how to succeed' books, including some by such old-timers as Andrew Carnegie and Napoleon Hill sandwiched in with such relative newcomers as Stephen R. Covey and Donald Trump . . . the writing is bright [and] brassy." Booklist, ALA

"Every woman's guide to not hating work . . . full of timeless bits of mood-boosting wisdom." -Glamour

"Long story short: This is the book you'll want to travel back in time and press into the hands of your 22 year old self." - Galleycat

"A how-to guide for artsy young people with liberal arts degrees who [are] as bewildered by the realities of corporate life as [Hustad] had once been." - New York Observer

About the Author

MEGAN HUSTAD is a former book editor, former bookstore manager, and current freelance writer. Originally from the wilds of Minneapolis, she now lives in New York City. She is addicted to buying 50? midcentury paperbacks with interesting cover graphics, and should soon be able to boast the country's largest private collection of bad vintage business books.

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Customer Reviews

I took this book out at the library after looking at it a few times.
Oh Mamacita
I would highly recommend this book to career services offices, high school guidance offices, and any other place that prepares new graduates for the workforce.
K. Hutchinson
This is the best book of its kind I have read - easy reading, well researched and simply informative and entertaining.
Michael L. Harvey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Robert Donoghue on May 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
How to Be Useful more or less fell off the shelf into my hand at a local bookstore the other day. The title's catchy, the cover is distinctive, and the subtitle - 'A beginners guide to not hating work' very much struck my fancy.

The premise of the book is simple - Megan Hustad has read a ludicrous number of self-help business books and has put together a book of the high points of a number of the unlikely ones, with each chapter focusing on a certain kind of idea and a book or author who is iconic to it. A few of these are familiar but dated, such as Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' or Covey's 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' but most of them are either much more obscure or far more unlikely to be useful. 'Sex and the Single Girl'. 'Dress For Success'. The etiquette writings of Emily Post. Even Donald Trump gets a nod.

The book walks a marvelous line between enthusiasm and criticism. Some chapters, especially dedicated to older or more obscure sources, seem to focus on uncovering lost jewels. Other chapters, usually dealing with more modern books, are all about cutting away the bulk of it for the one or two choice morsels inside. The author has no love of Stephen Covey, for example, and restricts her analysis so a single habit, but drills down into it very seriously.

I was particularly amused by one non-chapter, which can really boil down to "There are no good examples from the 70s. They're all really terrible." She takes a little time to talk about the books and ideas of the period, so the dismissal is not entirely arbitrary, and in the end I supported the decision. One word: est.

All in all it was a fast, enjoyable read.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By K. Hutchinson on June 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to make a Downtown Women's Club event at Barnes & Noble to hear Megan Hustad speak on her new book, How To Be Useful. Hustad is a soft-spoken veteran of the book publishing world, and extremely nimble with her words. Despite the interference of the cafe machinery, Hustad read a few excerpts and explained the process of writing a retrospective of 100 years of Success Literature.

Now that I've finished this book (and already re-read a few sections), I place this at the very top of my list of recommended Success books. I have a certain amount of envy that Hustad thought of the project first, but really she does a fantastic job in surveying a long list of advice books and distilling the essence of each down to its most useful principles. Through interviews with contemporary colleagues and research on her fellow Success authors, she deftly equips the reader with a range of situations for practical application of the proffered career advancement methods.

Hustad's writing is at once intelligent, and easily digested. She adds a certain amount of fine dry wit to her work, as well as an icing of footnotes to flush out certain points. Any book she has gone over is helpfully included in the bibliography, for further reading, although this might be extraneous.

My personal favorite chapters are "2 - Dodging the Great Failure Army" and "8 - Self-Deprecation." In Chapter 2, we are introduced to Orison Swett Marden's ideas on being relentlessly cheerful and kind to everyone, from the CEO to the concierge. The idea is not new (Marden wrote in the early part of the 20th century), but the various applications of how to apply this optimism to career development is wonderfully explained.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Aaron M. Hierholzer on April 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Well, join the club. But Megan Hustad shows that there are ways of making it not suck, besides precious Dilbert-style resignation or ruthless backstabbing. "How to Be Useful" takes what's good from self-improvement books you wouldn't be caught dead with (Carnegie, Covey, Trump) and shows that--who knew?--they actually contain some sound advice for the shrewd, secretly ambitious entry-level worker.

"How to Be Useful" is a history of career-advice literature and a guide to getting what you want out of work--something that, like it or not, consumes most of your daylight hours. And it doesn't come across as an upper-management handout, either. (One tip buried in Chapter Seven: "freeload.")

Favorite lessons included how to play off a sub-Ivy League education in a snooty crowd; how to defuse an enraged higher-up; how to resist the delicious temptation of workplace snark; and how to slowly, purposefully fire yourself when you know you're done with a job.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Andrey Pavlov on May 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A student walks into my office complaining that the grade she received on her group project is not at all reflective of her efforts. "I pulled an all-nighter to finish it -- she says, -- all while my teammates were enjoying the MBA beer night." You've ever done that? Have you ever taken desperate measures to get noticed, to get rescued from the "talent pool?" Did it work? Minds of varying greatness have been giving advice on how to do this right for a century now. You should go read it all, but, if you don't have two years or so to spare, you can find what really can help you in "How to Be Useful." You might, for instance, learn how to join the right group (or job), or how to leave the wrong one. You might also get a laugh or two along the way.

Then, save the Epilogue for a quiet evening at home, with a favorite CD on loop, and a glass of red not far from reach. The last few pages might just touch you, they might just dust off some of that cynicism you've accumulated over the years. They did it for me.
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