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The Reckoning Hardcover – September, 1986

4.7 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Powerfully developing his thesis that the complacency and shortsightedness of American workers and their bosses, especially the automakers of Detroit, have led to a decline of industrial know-how so critical that Asian carmakers, particularly the Japanese, have virtually taken over the market, Halberstam tells in panoramic detail a story that is alarming in its implications. Immediately ahead lies a harsh scenario that will see America's standards of living fall appreciablyonly sacrifices will restore our "greatness." This lengthy book with its skilled, dramatic interweaving of two little-known storiesthe inside struggles of the Ford organization (including the firing of Lee Iacocca) in the 1970s and the growth of the Japanese automotive industry, notably Nissan, since the 1950scompletes the trilogy Halberstam began with The Best and the Brightest and The Powers That Be. Here is fresh and crucially meaningful material researched with notable thoroughness, replete with graphic portraits of top American and Japanese industrialists competing blindly on the one hand and with brilliant cunning on the other. The book is among the most absorbing of recent years, every page contributing to the breathtaking picture of an America that is going to learn to retool or else. 200,000 first printing.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This massive volume by Halberstam ( The Best and the Brightest , The Powers That Be ) will only add to his reputation. It is a historical overview of the auto industry in the United States and Japan, with a focus on Ford and Nissan. In a well-researched and very readable narrative, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author chronicles the personalities and company politics that decided the key issues. The resulting case study of the gradual decline of U.S. manufacturing and the corresponding rise of Japanese industry has much to tell us about our society. The Reckoning is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries as an important account of a story still unfolding. Richard C. Schiming, Economics Dept . , Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st edition (September 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688048382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688048389
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 2.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read a borrowed copy of this book over a decade ago and it has proven memorable and useful.
Memorable because 12 years after reading it, I still vividly recall many episodes: for example, we read of the American engineer and his wife who took Japanese citizenship during WWII because all their friends were Japanese, but still sent their sons back to the US; Halberstam writes of the president of Nissan's US branch (Datsun) who incredibly had enough strength of character to rename Datsun's new sportscar the Z80 (in North America) from the FairLady (in Japan) against the CEO's wishes; Ford's dismal accounting practices of the early 20th century when all invoices were put in a pile and weighed (!) to estimate how much cash was required in the checking account; and most rewarding of all, the story of Professor Deming, the American inventor of modern quality control, arrogantly overlooked in his homeland and treated as an oracle of wisdom in industrial Japan.
I also found the Reckoning useful, because for the fifteen years I've lived in Japan I've relied and built upon the insights it gave me. David Halberstam presents an accurate evaluation of how Japanese business often works, especially manufacturing businesses. Halberstam doesn't advocate following Japanese practices, he merely presents them and evaluates their success. Sometimes these practices can be applied, and sometimes they can't.
Japanese office practices work well in Japan because they rely on local customs. For example, the reason Deming found a voice in Japan is that a Tokyo University professor took notice of his work and called several old students who were now executives in Japan's car industry. They invited Deming and listened to his lectures.
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Format: Audio Cassette
I work in the automotive industry and I find Halberstam's work to be absolute required reading. The book chronicles the history of the Ford Motor Company and the Nissan Motor Company, comparing and contrasting their vastly different methods for reaching the same goals. In his typical style, Halberstam writes this history like a novel, spinning fascinating stories about Ford Motor Company's infamous union-busting "Service Department" and the effects of American occupation in Japan follwing World War II. Some reviewers have negatively commented on Halberstam's implication that Ford was near death in 1986, but he was right on the money. We have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and know that Ford is once again successful and Nissan was very near complete failure. But, if Ford had not succeeded with the Taurus (which at the time of publication was an unnamed concept) there is a good possiblity the lights in Dearborn may have been turned out forever. An outstanding chronicle of American and Japanese business in the dark days.
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Format: Hardcover
I'll start off with the caveat that I believe David Halberstam is America's finest living writer. "The Reckoning" ranks in the middle-tier of Halberstam's body of work, only because it hasn't aged as well as a classic like "The Best and the Brightest."
Halberstam's 'big concept' here is as follows:
Beginning of car industry:
Ford (and U.S.) - Good!
Nissan (and Japan) - Flat on their backs or making scooters, lawnmowers, surviving WWII, etc.
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In the 50s and 60s:
Ford / US - Good! (but overconfident, cocky, arrogant)
Nissan (then Datsun) / Japan - Bad (making cars on equivalence with cheap transitor radios)
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By mid-80s (the book was published in 86):
Ford (as proxy for US economic model) - Bad! (Hubris brings great fall, etc.)
Nissan (as proxy for Japanese economic model) - Good! (Height of Japanese bubble economy and 'The Japan that Can Say No')
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By mid-90s (Book starts to look very dated):
Ford - Ascendant! (tenures of Red Poling, Alex Trotman put Ford back on top)
Nissan - Collapsed! (popping of Japanese bubble economy; Nissan loses touch with consumers, bleeds red ink)
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2002 (Book regains its relevancy):
Ford (as proxy for US) - Punch-drunk fighter stumbling around taking an eight-count after brain-dead Jacque Nasser era
Nissan (as proxy for Japan) - Firing on all cylinders worldwide thanks to amazing leadership of Carlos Ghosn
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It is worth noting that contrary to Halberstam's premise, Nissan is succeeding *despite* the Japanese model, not because of it. [Ghosn's real success has been his attack against long-held Japanese core principles such as guaranteed lifetime employment.]
What would be great would be a re-release of 'The Reckoning' with about a 75- to 100-page update by Halberstam bringing the events of the last 16 years into focus vis-a-vis the original premise of his 1986 publication.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a masterpiece of narrative journalism. Based on five years of research and interviews, it tells the story of how the Japanese came to dominate the American car industry by telling the stories of key individuals, in the U.S. and Japan, who played important roles in that story. Halberstam is such a skilled writer that every one of these people comes alive on the page; you will meet the Fords and their Japanese counterparts at Nissan, and executives, car designers, union leaders, and workers in both countries. Along the way, as you get to know these people, you will learn the story not only of the automobile industry but also of American business in general, the story of how American companies abandonned the making of quality products under pressure from finance people (trained at the nation's leading business schools) who care only about stock position and short-term profits. There can be no better primer for anyone who wants to understand the economic history of America in the second-half of the twentieth century. Read it and weep--and then take a look at Eamon Fingleton's "In Praise of Hard Industry" (also published under the title "Unsustainable").
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