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Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail Paperback – May 1, 1978


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Pocket; 1ST edition (May 1, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671819100
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671819101
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 15 customer reviews
If on the other hand you enjoy a bit of thoughtful and edifying entertainment, do your best to read this book.
Jon Richfield
The more suboptimal the system is, the more likely its behavior will be unexpected and unpredictable, and the more likely its behavior will be harmful.
Izzy Dunne
Ok, if you see how serious this is, you will aprreciate the issue is treated with a touch of humour, a trait that is beyond logic.
Humberto Mejia

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By rhhardin on March 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There is no better book, with more startlingly accurate insights into one's current predicament.
It has the slight failing that it can't quite decide if it ought to be another _Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown_ or not, so there's a few paragraphs to skip here and there.
The rest is great.
I can quote from memory my favorite system axioms:
``Systems grow, and as they grow they encroach.''
``Systems attract systems-people.''
``Intra-system goals come first.''
``Reality is whatever is reported to the system.''
``Fail-safe systems fail by failing to fail safe.''
My favorite chapter is ``Administrative Encirclement,'' where each researcher is asked to write out his objectives.
The deepest insight, very subtle indeed, is Orwell's Inversion: the confusion of input and output:
``Example: A giant program is to Conquer Cancer is begun. At the end of five years, cancer has not been conquered, but one thousand research papers have been published. In addition, one million copies of a pamphlet entitled ``You and the War Against Cancer'' have been distributed. Those publications will absolutely be regarded as Output rather than Input.''
Nobody who knows the book will be surprised that the biggest killers of dogs today are humane societies.
People who follow the book will understand why the small early version _General Systemantics_ (1975), privately published, is an absolute gem; this version is pretty good, almost the same; and today's version (_...the underground text..._) is expanded beyond belief. The author has made it a system.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jon Richfield on November 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that should have become required reading, but possibly because it is too thought provoking, never became prominent. A great pity. It is as entertaining as Parkinson's works on his famous laws, and to me personally it has proven a good deal more valuable in practice. (Parkinson himself reviewed it and liked it!) It is a pity it is out of print. I hope that its follow-up (which I have not yet read) is as good.
Though jocularly written, this is really valuable, stimulating material. Its aphorisms may read like jokes, but they are all the more valuable for being quotable and easy to remember in context. Thinking back on all the godawful systems that I have seen, political, management, engineering and computer, there is not one that could not have been mitigated by intelligent anticipatory digestion of this book.
Unfortunately mentalities prominent among power-seekers, control freaks and grandiose designers, not to mention outright dishonesty among managers with conflicts of interest, cause considerable resistance to the ideas and attitudes that Gall promotes. If you are one such, I have nothing to say to you. If on the other hand you enjoy a bit of thoughtful and edifying entertainment, do your best to read this book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gary Sprandel on August 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a lighthearted look at how systems fail and are destined to fail. These laws of human behavior, though tongue-in-cheek, offer more than a grain of truth. Perhaps some of the laws could be updated, for example "Systems tend to expand to fill the known universe", could be rewritten as: "The Internet (or amazon.com?) tends to expand to fill the known universe." I'm afraid that the Internet is a classic example of "The real world is what is reported to the system", as we look to our search engines to find the truth. As an employee of state government, I understand Le Chatelier's Principle that "Systems tend to oppose their own proper functions". A quick read, and enjoyable book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Kirk on August 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
and it is... at least in my department of systems analysts. While people everywhere are continuing to want to develop complex computer systems, even before the concepts have been worked out on paper, this is a refreshing sanity check that most systems are too complex, ill-designed, not focused, and not meeting the business objectives. This is a book that you can read several times, learning more each time. After studying this entertaining book, you will be able to forecast which new systems are doomed, even before they're finished. I reread the book each year to help me stay sensitive to poor systems ideas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. Railean on December 23, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must-read for engineers, programmers or anyone who designs, builds or maintains systems of any kind.

It is very funny and very educational.
It made me a better person.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Ultimate Comprehensive Rules of every organization of every kind ever assembled. I've given copies to friends for decades...

Don't take it all in one dose...
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Format: Hardcover
This is a classic book that I wish I'd read thirty years or more ago. It might have helped assuage my long-standing existential angst, and seemingly fruitless railing against the system. "The fundamental problem does not lie in any particular system, but rather in systems as such," Gall writes, and then lays out a witty, bitingly accurate description of the "antics" to which systems inevitably fall prey. I could go on and on, but let me just say that after reading this book I finally see that the problem is not only with the political system, the educational system, the medical system, the religious system, the capitalist system... which are all obvious and glaring... but rather the problem is that the nature of systems is to devolve to dysfunction! Thank you John Gall. You've done a masterfully loving job of showing us our predicament.
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