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The author: Paul Wilson, a Sydney advertising hotshot, management consultant and hospital director. After a bout of work-related panic, he chilled out, set up a "Calm Centre" in 1995 and emerged as a New Age- accented but certifiably sane anti-stress guru.

The book: Calm at Work (Penguin, pounds 7.99), the office-handbook follow-up to his mega-selling missal for compulsive worriers, The Little Book of Calm. Mr Cool lifts the format of the US self-help blockbuster (checklists, tables, diagrams, feel-good homilies, step-by-step routines) and concocts a guide to survival in the downsized, delayered, lean and very mean modern company. "Take control of your own life" is the core message, even when the corporate jungle tries to strangle your serenity and self-esteem.

The deal: Outselling even Bridget Jones through much of 1997 (at a rate of around 40,000 per month), The Little Book still perches atop the paperback non-fiction charts. In fact, it induces regular stress attacks when would- be buyers find it sold out. Behind the books stretches a laid-back empire: the Website (www.calmcentre.com), the therapy, even the relaxing CDs. US self-improvement manuals focus on success and Getting On; Wilson twigged that the Oz and Brit market prefers a course in Turning Off.

The goods: There's nothing weird or flaky about this comforting compendium of relaxation and assertiveness techniques. From learning how to breathe to diet tips (cut that caffeine!) and crisis management (take off your shoes!), Calm at Work wraps up common sense in a beguiling bedside manner. What's distinctive - and alarming - about the Wilson plan is its deep pessimism. Cost-cutting management and new-tech have led to the "rampant dehumanisation" of our workplaces. So much for the Sixties dream of expanding leisure. Now, we're all "doing more, with less help, and with decreased resources". Since the hard-nosed bosses are clearly here to stay, it's up to screen-gazing plebs to conquer fear and say no to stress.

The verdict: Forget collective solutions - unions, politics, social movements. To the West's bullied hi-tech drones, Wilson offers "the power of the individual". Within his own limited terms, it works pretty well. But remember one of this year's anniversaries. 1848: The Communist Manifesto. 1998: Calm at Work. Progress, or what?

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