What are the fundamental forces guiding business? Can capitalism co-exist with humanism? What is leadership, and where does creativity come from?

Former Wall Street Journal columnist Tom Petzinger Jr. traveled across the United States to find the answers to those questions, and in ''The New Pioneers'' (Simon & Schuster) he gives us the answers. It was the best of the many recent business management books.Petzinger states, ''Today's pioneers have embarked on a new frontier, some in search of riches, others in search of freedom, all in search of the new.''

No one has pulled the New Economy into sharper focus than Petzinger, while keeping the human element in clear perspective. More than that, he provides new models for managing in turbulent times. It's a gripping read.

Here are the rest of my Top 10 choices from the crop of current books. From making diversity your competitive edge to thinking like an executive, these choices are indispensable for the 21st century manager.

2.) ''Executive Thinking'' by Leslie L. Kossoff (Davies-Black). Who you are, what you do, what you value - all are byproducts of how you think. Compact and poetic, this book captures the mindset of the management leaders of the next century. Visionary.

3.) ''Net Profit'' by Peter S. Cohan (Jossey-Bass). This book is an essential e-primer for anyone feeling threatened by the electronic marketplace. It explains in a savvy manner the nine Internet business segments that make up today's e-universe. Electrifying.

4.) ''The Innovation Journey'' by Andrew H. Van de Ven, Douglas E. Polley, Raghu Garud and Sankaran Venkataraman (Oxford University Press). No book better distills the real journey that occurs whenever an enterprise attempts to nurture a new innovation into existence. There's an insight on almost every page. Enlightening.

5.) ''The Experience Economy'' by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore (Harvard Business School Press). It's no longer enough to build a better mousetrap. Attracting customers to products and services increasingly requires managerial stagecraft. Dramatic.

6.) ''The Post-Corporate World'' by David C. Korten (Kumarian Press and Berrett-Koehler). Anyone sensing the age of mercenary capitalism is over should take note of this book. While it details the dangers of out-of-control corporatism, it also offers an agenda for healthier ways. Daring.

7.) ''The Lexus and the Olive Tree'' by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). No one can afford to be isolated in a marketplace that bridges all continents. But what does it mean to be global? This New York Times columnist and journalist of world affairs has better answers than anyone. Worldly.

8.) ''Re-Creating the Corporation'' by Russell L. Ackoff (Oxford University Press). With corporations growing ever larger, Ackoff's book places modern structures within the reach of any manager, offering a compelling design for 21st-century organizations. Transforming.

9.) ''Building A House For Diversity'' by R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr. with Marjorie I. Woodruff (AMACOM). Opening with a fable, this book quickly delves into the real issues that can change diversity from an issue to resolve into a genuine competitive edge. Constructive.

10.) ''Don't Compete...Tilt The Field!'' by Louis Patler (Capstone). With an ideas-per-page ratio approaching the speed limit, this book offers 300 irreverent lessons for today's manager. Its hard-breathing pace and upbeat style make it an inspirational standout. Exhilarating.

A special award for innovative thinking goes to ''Profit Patterns'' by Adrian J. Slywotzky, David J. Morrison, Ted Moser, Kevin A. Mundt and James A. Quella (Times Business). First you'll gasp at the dazzling Picasso reprints that adorn the pages. Then you'll be swept away by the 30 unique ways to not only meet the forces of change but beat them. A work of art.

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