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False Prophets: The Gurus Who Created Modern Management And Why Their Ideas Are Bad For Business Today Paperback – International Edition, April 15, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738207985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738207988
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Babson College history professor Hoopes traces American business theory's antidemocratic strain by starting with "management manuals" for slave owners and overseers, seeing plantations as among the nation's earliest forerunners of the modern corporation. The inference that modern workers are just as commodified as slaves isn't accidental; one of Hoopes's theses is that management gurus, by nature idealistic and utopian, are uncomfortable addressing the fundamental discrepancy in American culture between corporate power and political ideals. In order to avoid confronting that contradiction, they posit "bottom-up" organizational models-in one extreme case, suggesting corporate authority doesn't exist, but is conferred upon managers by employees who reject the responsibility of decision making. By examining the lives and writings of eight 20th-century business writers, Hoopes aims to demonstrate how their management theories have steered American industry wrongly. By pretending corporate power doesn't operate from a "top-down" model, management theory fails to address the moral questions that come with authority, he says. And it's that blind spot, he claims, that leads to the self-deception and self-righteousness that fuel corporate scandals. The book's biographical elements are strong, offering brief but well-rounded portraits depicting not only the successes but also the shortcomings and failures of figures like Frederick W. Taylor, whose ruthless quest for efficiency put him in conflict with the laborers he sought to regiment. He also highlights theories that still have some practical value, such as Peter Drucker's proposal to promote specific objectives rather than abstract missions. Knowing the weaknesses of popular theories is useful in its own right, but managers looking for quick fixes to ethical dilemmas won't find them here.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Hoopes, an academic, offers a contrarian view of today's management theory that heralds freedom and bottom-up management. He states that managerial power, while undemocratic, is a necessary evil in an imperfect world, and we check our freedoms at the workplace door in exchange for increasing productivity and wealth. Managers, like all-powerful people throughout history, can be corrupted by their power, and he recommends the need for spiritual humility, which they can get by acknowledging that they must be trusted with power but are not worthy of it. With stories about famous management gurus, including Frederick W. Taylor, W. Edwards Deming, and Peter Drucker, the book uses history to help today's managers gain a more realistic perspective on a morally ambiguous world where there has always been power and injustice. Contending that there is no resolution of conflict between management and democracy and between power and justice, Hoopes' thought-provoking views will attract both followers and critics. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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I think it is well written and thought out.
TS Moody
This is truly a wonderful book for any business student, leader in the making, and, of course, all existing managers.
Edmund Burke wrote that 'coarse distinctions' are the foe of good judgement.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE on September 6, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hoopes' book presents a gallery of management thinkers and introduce their work through the lenses of a political science perspective. Political scientists who use the concept of power to describe economic or social mechanisms are sometimes prone to its abuse: they see politics everywhere, and they consider all references to general ideals or moral sentiments as stratagems used by rulers to obfuscate the brutal exercise of top-down authority.

Power is indeed a key concept for political scientists, as interest is for economists, and both concepts may help them to build theories or propose models of corporate behavior. But management scholars are practically oriented, and they know that power or interests can sometimes be bad for practice. That is why politics is a bad name in a private business setting, and motivation takes many forms other than paycheck retribution.

According to Hoopes, the simple existence of top-down management power contradicts the democratic political values at the heart of American culture. "Ordinary citizen get their closest exposure to undemocratic government when they go to work for a corporation." The book argues that remembering that contradiction, rather than covering it up, as many management theorists have done, is the best way to manage well. "Top-down power and its potential abuse are here to stay in corporate America. It is foolish to think otherwise." So it is better to admit that we live two lives, one as free citizen and one as submissive employees, and that instead of extending corporate values in our democratic institutions we should build checks and balances in our political system to limit the abuse of management power. Unfortunately this is not the direction that management gurus have taken.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jussarian on November 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
Edmund Burke wrote that 'coarse distinctions' are the foe of good judgement. James Hoopes' writing here is no enemy of good judgement. He makes clear ethical distinctions about the moral content of rule by managers and political rule by the people. In the early days of management writing in the slave south - one of the historical highlights of this book - such distinctions would have been commonplace. But in our day, with the spirit of Humpty Dumpty governing the use of language in business, academia and politics, Mr Hoopes' assertion that management is un-American is bold iconoclasm.

But Mr Hoopes is no Seattle street fighter. Showing the moral difference between free government and management is only one part of his project. He knows that not everything democratic is good; and not everything good is democratic. Mr Hoopes praises management for its many achievements in the sphere of business organisation and defends it against those 'false prophets' who attempted to give it democratic legitimacy. Management is legitimate because in its rightful place, the business world, management achieves what businesses need and what society needs business to provide: profit, productivity, workplace order, efficiency, speed and flexibility.

Outside of that sphere, however, management is bad. Applying 'industrial best practice' to free government is to fetter the people. So, Mr Hoopes argues, let us weigh the worth of management and free government on different moral scales and never get them confused. Though he never makes the analogy himself, Mr Hoopes is arguing for a similar distinction we already make with judicial courts and military structures. Neither of those are democratic either, though both are useful and good and enable the larger democratic project to continue.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAME on June 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
Despite its title, this book doesn't say much, or much of substance, about business today. Instead, it concentrates on lively professional and personal profiles of eight twentieth century management theorists of varying impact. Hammer and Champy, who launched the 1990s re-engineering movement, are mentioned only in the conclusion, and the gurus behind managing for shareholder value aren't mentioned. A little less detail about peccadilloes of the long dead and a little more about crucial management ideas that have shaped contemporary business might have made the book more relevant. Interestingly, it indicates that slave owners anticipated some of the progressive ideas in modern management but the author leaves it to the readers to make the connection: voila, contemporary workers believe the cant of empowerment about as much as the slaves believed the plantation master's pieties. We recommend this book for its anecdotal, gossipy entertainment value. It will make you cautious about management consultants - but if you aren't already, you can't have spent much time in business.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tiffany Jana on July 1, 2010
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This is not your average textbook! I read it for a doctorate level course. Considering the state of he post 2008 global economy, this book sheds light on the dark side of management theory. It was truly eye-opening. It provides great fodder for skeptics!
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ken Schroeter on May 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
Hoopes does an very good job deconstructing the neo-managment concept of a democratic workplace, contrasting it with the juxtaposition of top-down power in an ostensibly democratic society. If one believes that the US is a democratic society (it's not, it's a republic), then one might take umbrage with his not novel revelation that the workplace functions best in a top-down style. Americans, in particular unionized America, has a big problem accepting this. His examples support this, but further, add light to the discussion that top-down power must be mitigated to some degree (the adage of absolute power corrupting withstanding). After reading his book I beleive that top-down power within a workplace that changes its policies as needed based on the demands and needs of the workers while fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities, is the best mix for success: keep you eye on why the institution exists (profit and/or service), but take care of your workers to accomplish your goals, and yes, management is in charge... This book helps illuminate how we got where we are, without burying the reader.
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