Thinking of becoming an academic? Then this is the holiday reading for you. It tells you everything you need to know about academic careers, including the vital components of networking, teaching, researching and writing. What's that you say? You are already an academic. Hmmm, perhaps it might be better if you stick with a Jeffrey Archer or Joanna Trollope on the beach this year, rather than discover all the things you have done wrong and ponder how your life might have been different if only this book had been written 20 years ago...

In reality no one should use a self-help book such as this (in any chosen field) as a bible for their career credo. Many of the skills which people need to be academics (and in other careers) are developed and honed by practice and experience, and cannot be picked up from an instruction manual. However, as a reference source, such a book can be useful.

The authors positively discourage readers from tackling the book in the conventional manner - from start to finish - and suggest instead dipping in and out of the bits that are of interest. The book is accessible, with lots of 'handy hints' and useful pointers to other material and experience.

Many of those involved in research and development of health and social care are, or have been, academics. The tension between their academic lives and the policy and practice arena is often evident, particularly the pressure to write and publish. As the authors point out, 'publish or perish' is a familiar maxim in academia, but writing for a specific purpose or particular audience may not always be consistent with other demands, such as writing scholarly material for consideration in the Research Assessment Exercise (which produces the equivalent of a Michelin guide on academic institutions, and on which academic reputations are made or destroyed).

As with any book in such a genre (The Little Book of Calm, The Book of Lists, I'm OK You're OK etc), this is a style that you either find whimsical or irksome.

Typically, extremely obvious material is presented as if it were a profound revelation handed down on tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. Clearly, it is not. But such checklists can provide a useful aide-memoire or stimulate wider thinking, although some of the more banal advice offered to new academics ('find your office; get a key; locate the nearest toilets...') does raise questions about whether some people would ever have been appointed if they lacked such basic skills.

For those who are not academics and never intend to be, there may still be many aspects of their professional lives in which academic skills are relevant: writing reports and papers, undertaking small-scale research of patients' or users' experiences, participating in committees and meetings, and managing teams and departments. All these topics are addressed in the book. Rules, hierarchies and cultures of academic departments bear remarkable similarities to those of any other large institution.

The authors have clearly followed their own advice in not writing purely for academic audiences, but trying to identify a wider readership and a mass market.

Melanie Henwood

Independent health and social care analyst, and visiting fellow, Nuffield Institute for Health, Leeds University.