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Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do And Why They Do It (Basic Books Classics) unknown Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465007851
ISBN-10: 0465007856
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Wilson (management, UCLA) attempts to explain bureaucratic behavior, beginning with a contrast of similar institutions (armies, prisons, and schools) that have succeeded and failed. He finds that neither the liberal view (more money, new programs) or the conservative ideology (smaller government) provides the single answer. Wilson's key contribution here is his emphasis on the "bottom" of the bureaucracy--those who do the work. Policy, he says, is developed by those with no understanding of its implementation. In addition, Wilson suggests that bureaucracy can be made "efficient" by giving bureaucrats more incentives and flexibility, a strategy, he concludes, that conflicts with our political culture. For academic libraries.
- Jeffrey Kraus, Wagner Coll., Staten Island, New York
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A gold mine of interesting, even unique observations about bureaucratic government on all levels." -- Christian Science Monitor

"A gold mine of interesting, even unique observations about bureaucratic government on all levels." -- --R. Cort Kirkwood,Christian Science Monitor

"Immediately takes its place as the indispensable one-volume guide to American national administration." -- --Aaron Wildavsky,Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The synthesis is shrewd and creative. The prose is uncommonly swift. The fresh insights are abundant and compelling." -- --Martha Derthick, University of Virginia
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Product Details

  • Series: Basic Books Classics
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; unknown edition (January 30, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465007856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465007851
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tansu Demir on January 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is really a "comprehensive" (in the literal meaning of the word), clearly written, richly supported by concrete cases (mostly, federal agencies) guide about government bureaucracy mainly in the United States. From introduction to the end, Wilson clearly and convincingly demonstrates the reasons what the government agencies do and why they do that in the way they do.
The book is organized into six parts: Organizations, Operators, Managers, Executives, Context, and Change. In the first part, Wilson's thesis is simply that organization matters. Organization must be in accordance with the objectives of the agency. In the second part, the author examines the operators' behavior (say, street-level bureaucrats) and how their culture is shaped by the imperatives of the situation they encounter in a daily basis. The third part deals with the issues peculiar to managers of public agencies. In this part, attention is focused upon the constraints that put the mangers in a stalemate (see chapter 7, this chapter is completely insightful!!). The fourth part is devoted to the Executives. This part clearly illustrates why the executives of government agencies compete with other departments and which strategies are used in the process of competition and/or cooperation (especially see the 10th chapter about Turf, insightful!!). In the fifth part, Wilson focuses on the context in which public agencies do their business (Congress, Presidents and Courts). In the last part, Wilson summarizes the problems and examines alternative solutions (the market alternatives to the bureaucracy) and concludes with reasonable and "little" propositions.
In the book, I found especially some points very insightful to me. One of them is concerned with the distinction between government agencies.
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Format: Paperback
Wilson's book is a breath of fresh air after years of being forced to deal with stilted rational choice texts in graduate school. Though the idea of finding a study of bureaucracy interesting seems strange, I literally could not put this book down- and not only because I am a poliSci nerd.
Wilson's review of how bureaucracies make policy is pretty comprehensive- he nods at almost all of the major contributors to the discipline. For this reason the book is an excellent introduction to Political Science for someone wishing to get beyond the 101 courses.
His most interesting work deals with the formation of institutional culture- how the definition of an agency's tasksm and the limitations of its capabilities influence its performance and can often produce seemingly "irrational" behavior.
The most interesting thisn, however, is his discussion of how institutions and organizations develop an "ethos" or organizational culture. What bureaucrats do depends not only on what they think their priamry task is, but to a large degree on who they think they are. It is an area often neglected in the field today.
Wilson is a giant, and I recommend him to anyone who is interested in policy, in academia, or outside of it.
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Wilson, as usual, writes amazingly well in this comprehensive book covering bureaucracies, how they operate, and why bureaucrats act the way they do.

He discusses the different organizational features that persist across all bureaucracies, and why it is that once a bureaucracy is created it's almost impossible to get rid of. This may pique your interest if you've been following the recent attempts to solve our intelligence problems by adding more layers of bureaucrats, as if that will somehow solve the problem.

Highly recommended to all students of American politics.
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I just finished a masters program in public policy, and though this book was not used in any of my classes, it was recommended reading. I have to say that it provides a great introduction to bureaucracies and why they are the way they are. (Spoiler: it's not, as many believe, because bureacrats are idiots) Coming from a background of small, private-sector organizations, this was especially useful for me.

I appreciate Wilson's taxonomies of various organizations. Every political scientist has to have a 2x2 matrix to divide the world, but one of Wilson's, that divides organizations into "production," "coping," "craft," and "procedural" is particularly useful. If you are planning a career in public service, you'd do well to take some time to match your personality to the type of organization you're thinking of joining.
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I've worked with USAID for 20 years and my immediate research interest was narrow, but I found the stories and insights to be most very illuminating. You would think a book about bureacracy to be dreadfully dull but in fact it is a book about people, motivations, success and failure, about organizations dealing with war, education, poverty, justice, and other topics of vital social interest. For anyone working with public or private organizations, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. From first hand, I can tell you that the observations about state department are spot-on, really useful. How organizations are created, and then how they develop and change, is very intresting. This book is right up there with ..., I think that only Drucker is in the same rank.
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