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Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) Hardcover – October 23, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Media mogul Black, president of Hearst Magazines (Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and O), delivers a memoir masquerading as a guide to career and life. Enthusiastic and hard-working, Black was one of the first women to take a major role in American magazine and newspaper publishing. She came to Hearst by way of New York magazine, where she was the first woman publisher of a weekly consumer magazine, and USA Today, which she helped build from a small upstart into one of the country's most widely read daily papers. Though she positions herself as a role model for professional women, her advice is slim and scattershot. The book mainly consists of anecdotes from her working life and fawning praise for Al Neuharth, retired chairman and CEO of newspaper publisher Gannett Co. and her unofficial mentor. It's an interesting portrait of a groundbreaking career, but Black backs up her own story with only a note or two of advice, waiting until nearly the end of the book to tackle what she originally claims is her main point: the 360 Life, or the difficulty of balancing work with personal life. While the author's life is an interesting one, readers looking for tips will do better with a more pointed book. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Basic Black does a great job of telling the story of how Cathie deftly navigated the challenges of the workplace and the media business, while also trying to balance the demands of a busy life. Her practical tips on handling typical workplace situations make this an important read for any woman who wants to become a better colleague, a better leader ... and a better person.”
Meg Whitman, President & CEO, eBay Inc.

"Bravo for Basic Black! After reading this book, I understand more than ever why Cathie Black is the huge success she is today. She’s totally fearless! She shares her triumphs, but perhaps best of all, she shares her mistakes so that we can learn from them. I love her candor. Whether you're starting your career or going full throttle, you will benefit from Cathie's insights into business--and life. Basic Black is a true must-read.
Gayle King, editor-at-large of O, The Oprah Magazine

"I’m a big Cathie Black fan–in part because we both believe that where you come from in no way determines where you can get to. If you think it, you can create it.Cathie’s career is living proof of that and her experiences, both professional and personal, make for fascinating reading. The life lessons in these pages are smart, true, and reassuring, no matter where you are in your career."
Suze Orman, author of Women and Money and The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom

"Cathie Black is exactly the kind of mentor every woman needs: a talented executive at the top of her game willing to tell it like it really is. Imagine having a private lunch with one of the most powerful women in business, and then feast on her wonderful book. Basic Black is among the very best insider accounts of how to succeed as a leader."
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of Confidence and America the Principled

"Cathie Black demystifies the workplace with her typical brand of pragmatic insight and engaging humor. Basic Black provides a practical guide to the traits we see demonstrated by our greatest leaders at GE---passion, drive, attitude, risk taking, and the ability to nurture and develop great talent. I had fun reading Basic Black, and thought to myself...This is someone I would like to work for."
Jeffrey R. Immelt, Chairman and CEO, GE

"As every woman needs basic black in her wardrobe, she also needs Basic Black on her bookshelf. This is the perfect handbook on getting ahead while staying true to yourself."
Donna Karan, Designer

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; First Edition edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307351106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307351104
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By beckyjean VINE VOICE on March 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Despite this book's subtitle stating that it is a "Guide," I felt this book was more of a memoir than a how-to. It has components of both, and succeeds as neither.

Some of Black's anecdotes about her rise to the top were memorable -- most notably the one in which she very publicly gives one of her superiors a giant tomato from her garden, in order to make an impression on him.

But Black doesn't succeed in turning the anecdote into a lesson. It's just a story about a stunt she pulled to publicize herself -- and in the telling, it comes off as a lame stunt at that. (She also kept referring to the tomato as a "vegetable," which drove me nuts.)

Oddly enough, a few chapters later, she talks about a hopeful interviewee who sent her a four-foot-tall potted plant as a thank-you gift. Black makes fun of the gift and advises against readers doing something similar. I don't get it. Why is it clever for Black to go to a big meeting and give somebody a giant tomato, but it's stupid for a potential new hire to send Black a large plant?

Basic Black is full of muddles like this. In another anecdote, Black talks about the first executive resort getaway she organized after joining Hearst. She tells us that she booked the getaway at a Florida resort that was "not your father's resort," and yet she doesn't give other details to show why the place was so different, special, and fabulous. She does mention that the decor features sweeping floor-to-ceiling draperies.

Later, she describes making a speech to the Hearst execs, and makes a big deal about her rallying cry of, "It's time to shake the dust off the curtains at Hearst!" At which point, she gestured to the resort's big curtains.

Uh, OK. So that was it? You pointed at the curtains, AND...?
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Format: Hardcover
As a working woman, mother and wife, I'm always interested in hearing from other successful working women--and I thank Cathie Black for her attempt. I'm tired of coaching books written by men and would like to see more women write to help other women. Women have the money and buying power, but there aren't enough books out there for us to identify with. Yet, this book disappointed me. Cathie Black's book is black and white: an over-drive of ego. Her stories center around her brilliance. She comes off as self-absorbed and shallow. Where are the business books written by women that have walked our path--eager to share their stories as a woman, mother, wife? Don't tell me to be driven and take risks. I do that every day. Don't bore me with your love story with yourself. Surely she could do more for women than provide canned testimonials and naming a book after herself. I wish Cathie would have dug deeper.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book as a corporate skills review. Cathie Black's book gives good information on basic business life skills. This book gives advice on how to handle the corporate environment and what to do to avoid some office politic pitfalls. However, the subtitle of the book "the essential guide for getting ahead at work (and in life)" does not hold true to the final story. This book does not talk about life outside of the corporate circle Cathie Black lives. Unless you are a recent new corporate entry, most of this book is leadership review. This book helps to iterate what is learned over years of working. Cathie's work stories tend to become tired by 3/4 through the book and her experiences seem limited to some degree. I recommend this book for young, fresh out of college corporate women. They will learn some basic leadership skills from this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people who are unhappy with their jobs or just eager to move up have used company time to work on their résumés. And they've probably gone on to photocopy those résumés on the office machine. And some of them have almost certainly left the original at the copier, where, as luck would have it, it gets found by a senior executive who knows exactly what it means.

Cathie Black did all that. The difference between her and the yutz who regales his friends with his stupidity over brewskis at the corner tap is that Cathie Black is the CEO of Hearst Magazines --- and that she tells this story on herself at the start of her book. Right away you know: This is not a woman who has airbrushed her career.

I can personally testify to that. Over the years, I have spoken at Hearst conferences and flirted with employment at Hearst, and my conversations with Cathie Black have been models of clear communication. She states her position or asks her question, listens attentively, and follows up --- she's the walking example of a "New York minute." But she's not a chilly corporate nun. She gets the joke: Magazines may help you better your life, they may divert you from your cares, they may even help you figure out how to dispose of your disposable income, but they do not cure cancer. And so, when I picture Cathie Black, I think equally of her blunt-as-a-bullet approach to business and her quick, warm laugh.

Those qualities come through in this book, which is, above all, a virtual mentoring campaign. That benevolent sharing is crucial, for Black believes every woman who hopes for a successful, rewarding career needs a mentor.
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