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The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business [Paperback]

by Alfred D. Chandler Jr.
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 31, 1993 0674940520 978-0674940529
The role of large-scale business enterprise—big business and its managers—during the formative years of modern capitalism (from the 1850s until the 1920s) is delineated in this pathmarking book. Alfred Chandler, Jr., the distinguished business historian, sets forth the reasons for the dominance of big business in American transportation, communications, and the central sectors of production and distribution. The managerial revolution, presented here with force and conviction, is the story of how the visible hand of management replaced what Adam Smith called the ‘invisible hand’ of market forces. Chandler shows that the fundamental shift toward managers running large enterprises exerted a far greater influence in determining size and concentration in American industry than other factors so often cited as critical: the quality of entrepreneurship, the availability of capital, or public policy.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Chandler's book is a major contribution to economics, as well as to business history, because it provides powerful insights into the ways in which the imperatives of capitalism shaped at least one aspect of the business world—its tendency to grow into giant companies in some industries but not into others. (Robert L. Heilbroner New York Review of Books)

This very important work of historical synthesis by Harvard's premier business historian should be read not only by economists and historians, but also by middle and top managers of the modern, integrated corporation. (Library Journal)

The Visible Hand is a revolutionary work. Business history in the past was largely about entrepreneurs—either as 'robber barons' or 'industrial statesmen.' Chandler shifts the spotlight from the promoters to the managers… The Visible Hand is a superb book—a triumph of creative synthesis. (New Republic)

A monumental effort summarizing much of what is known about the rise of the managerial class… Chandler deserves a wide audience. (Susan Previant Lee New York Times Book Review)

Alfred Chandler has produced an extremely valuable account of the development of the large managerial firm. How—and why—did the visible hand of management supersede the invisible hand of market coordination? The study provides a rich empirical basis for work on the new frontier of industrial organization concerned with the determinants of the boundaries of the firm and the nature of interorganizational coordination in the large region between impersonal markets and complete integration. (Victor P. Goldberg Journal of Economic Issues)

Business historians have tended to be more attracted by the great entrepreneurs—the robber barons of industry—than by the institutions they created. Professor Chandler has corrected this bias by writing a masterly account of the rise of the modern business enterprise and the methods of running it. (Economist)

Review

A monumental effort summarizing much of what is known about the rise of the managerial class...Chandler deserves a wide audience.
--Susan Previant Lee (New York Times Book Review) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (January 31, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674940520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674940529
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 3.6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Chandler give a fascinating review of America's physical history, with emphasis on the development of the coal, railroad, steel, and telegraph industries in making the transportation and communication revolutions possible. The birth of this infrastructure made the rise of mass production and mass marketing possible. The most interesting changes which resulted were in the evolution of the managerial structure and science which became necessary, and which in turn made the transformation of our world possible. "Big business" became not only possible, but essential. That this was an evil system driven by greed is a myth. The book gives detailed descriptions of the birth and growth of many large companies including the big railroads, US Steel, Standard Oil, Singer, MacCormack, DuPont, etc. It is a fascinating narrative.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent History, Weak on Theory May 31, 2008
Format:Paperback
The Visible Hand is so widely used that I had it as assigned reading in three separate graduate classes, in both Economics and History classes. The fact that economists and historians find this book so useful speaks to its best attributes. The Visible Hand examines business history from an economic perspective. Many historians have so little understanding of economics that they cannot sort out the economic angles of history. Chandler focuses on the right issues (accounting methods, finance, entrepreneurship, public policy, technology) and applies enough common sense economics to do some good analysis.

The main problem with The Visible Hand is that its theoretical analysis is limited to the more obvious common sense insights of economics. Chandler aims at contrasting the Invisible Hand of markets with the idea of conscious planning in organization. While there is much merit in this approach, there is more to the analysis of markets and organizations that you find in this book. Economists have discovered many subtle differences and similarities between markets and organizations, more than you find in The Visible Hand. Consequently, the quality of its analysis varies.

I agree with the emphasis that Chandler places on accounting methods. However, Chandler sees finance capitalism as phase, which gave way to managerial capitalism. I disagree with Chandler on so called managerial capitalism. He underestimates the importance of financial factors both between and within `managed' organizations, and misconstrues the nature of private sector bureaucracies. There are important differences between private and public bureaucracies of which Chandler seems unaware. Furthermore, Chandler does not fully appreciate the role of public policy in shaping modern American corporate organization.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding July 14, 2007
Format:Paperback
This superb book is an exceedingly well documented and well written description and analysis of the birth of a major contemporary institution, the modern corporation. As Chandler points out, this is an American story. The modern multiunit, vertically integrated corporation run by professional managers emerges in the USA and assumes its modern form by the eve of WWI. Chandler distinguishes carefully this form of "managerial" capitalism from other forms of capitalism. A major distinction is between this (and other) form(s) of large scale capitalism and a Smithian market capitalism characterized by multiple price interactions at many levels of production and distribution. In the large, integrated enterprises Chandler describes many of the market tranactions are replaced by internal, administratively managed transactions under the direction of specialist managers and central coordination. Hence the replacement of Smith's invisible hand with "The Visible Hand" of the title. Other alternative forms of large scale capitalism discussed by Chandler include "entrepreneurial capitalism" in which even large enterprises are dominated a single figure, a small number of figures, or a family, and "finance capitalism" in which enterprises are controlled by financiers as opposed to professional managers. Both these forms appear in various industries in Chandler's descriptions, often as precursors of modern corporations.
Chandler begins with a discussion of economic organization in the USA in the early 19th century, stressing that even with national expansion and improvement of waterborne transportation, the economy remained largely Smithian in nature. Chandler is something of a technological determinist.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is basically the business history of the United States (in fact, I read this book for a class entitled that). It traces the story of how the visible hand of management in business replaced what Adam Smith called the invisible hand of market forces. The content is very in depth and only the most serious economic historian would find this a good book to read.
The book is divided into the following sections:
--The traditional processes of production and distribution (plantations, textile mills, factories, etc.)
--The revolution in transportation and communication
--The revolution in distribution and production
--The integration of mass production with mass distribution
--The management and growth of the modern industrial enterprise
It should be noted that Alfred Chandler, Jr. won the Pulitzer and Bancroft awards for this book.
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