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Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers [Paperback]

Robert Jackall
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 8, 2009 0199729883 978-0199729883 Updated Edition
This classic study of ethics in business presents an eye-opening account of how corporate managers think the world works, and how big organizations shape moral consciousness. Robert Jackall takes the reader inside a topsy-turvy world where hard work does not necessarily lead to success, but sharp talk, self-promotion, powerful patrons, and sheer luck might. What sort of everyday rules-in-use do people play by when there are no fixed standards to explain why some succeed and others fail? In the words of one corporate manager, those rules boil down to this maxim: "What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you. That's what morality is in the corporation." This brilliant, disturbing, funny look at the ethos of the corporate world presents compelling real life stories of the men and women charged with running the businesses of America. This anniversary edition includes an afterword by the author linking the themes of Moral Mazes to the financial tsunami that engulfed the world economy in 2008.

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Editorial Reviews


"Some books have the rare fortune to become ever more relevant, more useful, and more interesting twenty years after they were written. This books fortune involves a kind of misfortune, because the phenomena that Moral Mazes analyzes are deplorable, and we would wish that the book were no longer relevant. Originally published in 1989, Moral Mazes has been supplemented for this second edition with a long analysis of how the 'organized irresponsibility' Jackall analyzed in the 1980s has become the key to understanding our current Great Recession. ... I can think of no single book that has more opened up my sense of how to do philosophy in the last year."--Philosophical Practice

"An interesting, unorthodox, and provocative book.... Better than any other I have seen, [Jackall's] study reveals the normative reality of the manager's world."-Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr., Yale Journal on Regulation

"Reformers who want to change the corporation, first must understand it. Robert Jackall's carefully researched analysis of the 'bureaucratic ethos' is one place to

"A finely honed tour of an odyssey of moral transformation, in which the actors themselves remain largely unaware of the nature of their journey. It is a brilliant work."--Troy Duster, New York University

About the Author

Robert Jackall is the Willmott Family Third Century Professor of Sociology & Public Affairs, Williams College; author of Image Makers: Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy (Chicago, 2000), Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders & the Forces of Order (Harvard, 1997), and Street Stories: The World of Police Detectives (Harvard, 2005).

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Updated Edition edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199729883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199729883
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Objective, sad, but true May 5, 2002
By D J
"Moral Mazes" is an extensive, award-winning and highly accurate sociological portrait of life in the modern corporation, an academic precursor, so to speak, of the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. Unlike many other writers on this topic, Jackall doesn't resort to Marxist rants, but rather, compares modern corporate culture to the "Protestant" work ethic most Americans are raised into.
Jackall's inquiry, based on in-depth interviews with managers themselves, is broad in scope, and it is hard to generalize. Within about 200 pages, he covers the social circles of the corporation, cronyism, bad decisionmaking and public relations, to name a few. He discovers that corporations, at the upper levels at least, resemble a king's court more than a meritocratic organization. The essential work of a manager is not "management" or "leadership," but constantly making the right friends and adopting the correct posture. Anyone who has worked in such a setting, or knows people in such a field, will be able to relate instantly, although it can be argued that Jackall did not need to spend years of ethnographic research to reach this conclusion.
This book is not for everyone, as Jackall must conclude that "ethics" as practiced by managers is nothing more than "survival" and ambition for one's own "advantage." While such a diagnosis may seem harsh, it is difficult to rationally explain recent events in the marketplace, such as the Enron scandal, without concluding that corporate executives have a moral compass that differs from that of the everyday person.
Contrary to what a layman may think, Jackall makes no moral judgments of his own, although readers most certainly will. The title itself can be misinterpreted by people not familiar with sociology.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Throughly depressing but an absolute must read October 6, 1998
By A Customer
This book ought to be required reading for all MBA candidates and would be corporate middle managers as an intro into the sad and dysfunctional but real corporate world. In numerous scenes that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has worked at a Fortune 200 firm the book recounts numerous instances of failed and misdirected management. Depressing because it reveals the underbelly of corporate America and capitalism but readable in its accurate portrayal. Occasionally at times slow (particularly towards the end when he presumably is tired of writing) it does a clinical autopsy on management. Like watching a train wreck you are compelled to keep reading even as you realize the denouement. If you think that ignorance is bliss - give this a miss - on the other hand, if you are a frustrated idealist and need proof that in order for evil to overcome good, good only has to do nothing, it is worth the investment. An excellent primer on why we need ethics courses but more importantly ethical actions.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading: Business 101 July 26, 2011
An outstanding book.

Jackall correctly discerns that in the corporate world of bureaucratic double-speak, "details are pushed down, and credit is pulled up." Without prejudice or malice, he ably shreds the myths of corporate excellence, accountability and supposed work ethic.

As a corporate middle manager, I cannot recommend this book enough to those about to enter, or who have newly entered into the corporate world. It should be a bible to those who are determined to stay in the corporate world, and an encouragement for those looking to jump ship.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inverted Values August 2, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
American culture claims to value individuality, risk-taking, team work, straight talk, and personal responsibility. American business culture pays lip service to these values, too, but it actually rewards conformity, sucking up, self-promotion, euphemism, cronyism, expediency, and, above all else, having the knack for never never never being associated with a bad decision or a failure. "Moral Mazes" explores and exposes these contradictions in lipsmacking detail. The author is a sociologist, and he did a great deal of field research for this book. He wraps his argument in the jargon of social science. But, in reality, he's a satirist and an acute observer of the human comedy, like a modern Veblen or Mills. His book is very good, but I suspect it's a bit unfair to corporate managers, who do, after all, make useful widgets and other things from time to time.

Memory lane: I was the manager of a chain bookstore for eight months after I graduated from college. Our CEO visited one day, not long after he had summarily fired 30 percent of the managers in the Los Angeles area in order to terrorize the survivors. While inspecting my store, he paid close attention to the magazine racks. We had a normal assortment of periodicals: news magazines, sports mags, skin rags (Playboy and Penthouse, but not Hustler), womens' journals, biker mags, etc. After a long and careful scrutiny of the mix, the CEO pronounced his verdict: "This store needs more porn." So we put out Hustlers. The CEO had an MBA from Harvard. The chain went bankrupt about 10 years later. That made me glad.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely book July 5, 2010
How often does a twenty-year-old academic book get reprinted? Seldom does one stand the test of time as this book has. The new edition has a chapter connecting his thesis to the Great Recession--though really, if you have read the book, you can connect the dots yourself. (The book is that clearly written.)
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