Martin Mayer's book "The Bankers: The Next Generation" has a familiar ring to it.

Readers in the industry couldn't help but be reminded of his 1974 best seller "The Bankers." The new version includes an anecdote from the earlier book about a wizened old banker who regarded air conditioning as the industry's greatest advance. And a painstakingly detailed description of a check's journey between a gas station on Shelter Island, N.Y., to a branch of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is also repeated from the earlier work.

Still, "The Next Generation," released in January, is the first popular hardcover book to examine what it means to be a banker in the age of electronics and mergers. But while the book is selling well-it is in its fourth printing and has appeared on one best-seller list-it is hard to find many people in the industry who have actually read it.

"It's sitting there in this big pile of things that are waiting for the next airplane flight," said Frank Jaffe, project manager for electronic banking at Bank of Boston Corp. "I haven't read it, but I understand that it's not very much different from his last version, which has generated some snide comments."

The sequel got a glowing review in The New York Times Book Review., the on-line bookseller, has promoted the book and posted a lengthy interview with Mr. Mayer on its World Wide Web site.

"I read it and liked it a lot," said Thomas J. Kitrick, who was until recently a vice president of technology at First Union Corp. "I got it for my wife, too."

But in general, "The Next Generation" has appealed to a more limited audience than the original. Many readers find it plodding, and negative reviews in Business Week and other periodicals have soured potential readers.

"It got such mixed reviews that I decided it would be a waste of time to read it," said Martha C. Campbell, a former senior vice president at BankAmerica Corp.

Bernell Wright, a former Citicorp officer who is now a consultant in New York at Advanced Business Concepts, said, "I did read a couple of chapters, and, um, it's very, very topical .... That's politically correct enough, isn't it?"

Mr. Wright said he put down the 500-page opus because he found it repetitious: "How many different ways can we extol the virtues and problems of bankers in the 21st century?"

Mr. Mayer has said he deliberately repeated material from the older book, in part to show how times have changed. The meanderings of his $27.33 check to Piccozzi's gas station contrasts with today's more streamlined check delivery.

"I felt like I had to read it, and what I read was enjoyable," said John Morris, Citicorp's director of corporate communications. He added, however, "I think bankers have not felt a great need to read about this, because they know it."

Mr. Mayer, a scholar in residence at the Brookings Institution in Washington, "writes very well," said James R. Barth, a banking professor at Auburn University. But the book is "somewhat backward-looking, and bankers are more interested in a forward view."

He said such a banking book lacks mass appeal because "there is no crisis. Banks are performing quite nicely."

The publisher is pleased. "It's doing really well, even better than expected," said Shelly Auster, a publicist for Truman Talley Books/Dutton. In February, the book placed 12th on the San Francisco Chronicle best- seller list.

Linda Caine, public relations manager for the 940-store Waldenbooks chain, said the new "Bankers" is "doing very nicely for us"-selling more widely than a normal "high-priced business book." It lists at $29.95.

Mr. Mayer's book is selling particularly briskly in the New York financial district. At the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, an unshaven man in a knit ski cap was selling it for $17 alongside other new releases on a table set up next to the cart of a roasted peanut vendor.

"That's my best-seller," he said. "I'm in the right neighborhood for it."

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