- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (5 September 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141186852
- ISBN-13: 978-0141186856
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 0.9 x 19.9 cm
Parkinson's Law: Or the Pursuit of Progress (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – Import, 5 Sep 2002
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About the Author
C. N. Parkinson had a varied career as a writer. He is best known as the author of Parkinson's Law, but among other books he also wrote a biography of Horatio Hornblower, a series of naval novels and several history books (including Britannia Rules and The Rise of Big Business).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Since there is no correlation between the actual objectives or outputs of the bureaucrasy, One might read something like "The Banality of Evil" to understand the bureaucratic mentality and its potential hazzards to the real world.
This quote, from the preface, sets the tone for the rest of the book. We've all seen just how efficient government and corporate bureaucracy is, but Parkinson shows us that we still give them too much credit. This devastating and witty satire goes after every aspect of administration and really makes one wonder how anything ever gets done at all. And it was written in the 50s. Given the expansion of government and the rise of multinational corporate conglomerates since then, this book is as relevant now as when it was written. Pick it up and find out just how deep the rabbit hole of incompetence goes.
Parkinson begins, appropriately enough, by describing Parkinson's Law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Thus, a retired old lady can spend hours writing and mailing a postcard, while a busy man will get it done in a few minutes. Closely related is the steady expansion of bureaucracies: every bureaucrat wants assistants both to increase his importance and lighten his workload, but it turns out that managing these assistants (who will eventually want assistants of their own) takes up any time he might have saved, and before long there are five people doing a job that one man was perfectly capable of doing himself. Bureaucrats create work for each other. To illustrate this point, Parkinson points out how the staff at the Colonial Office swelled while the Empire was losing its overseas colonies and how the Royal Navy hired more clerks and officials at a time when most of the capital ships were decommissioned and the number of seamen fell by 30%.
That's all in the first chapter. Later, Parkinson shows how budget committees spend their time. Nobody on those committees knows much about nuclear reactors, so there's not much to discuss about a $10 million proposal for a new reactor; it's approved within minutes. However, most of the committee knows about bicycle sheds, so they can have a lively debate on how to cut costs on a proposed bicycle shed for employees--and everyone knows about coffee, so naturally they'll have the longest, best-informed debate on the subject of whether to get a new coffee machine. Penny wise, pound foolish.
Later chapters detail the inverse ratio between the size of a cabinet and its effectiveness as well as why the best indicator of an organization's decline is the construction of a new headquarters, among other morsels of wisdom. Some of the content might be a bit dated (and one chapter is arguably racist), but the rest of the book more than compensates. I highly recommend it.
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