If you have been on a desert island for the last 10 years and have never heard of the knowledge society, knowledge workers or knowledge management, then read this book. If you are looking for something of more substance on those topics, then you may be disappointed. Leadbeater's book is as thin as its title. I bought it for two reasons. One, because two days before I didn't know who the author was but he appeared in Newsnight introduced as a new Tony Blair guru and invited to talk about the British-French war on beef. His book was quoted. Having articulated something vague about knowledge management instead of beef management, he left me puzzled. "Am I missing something here?". Second, his book hit me in a Heathrow bookshop. I bought the book for my two hour flight to Nice. By Paris I was still wondering about the "message". I landed in Nice with the book finished, a ton of red ink in its pages and a repeat of my puzzlement in front of the TV.
The author proudly warns you that the book is not an academic one. Therefore the bibliography is a pool of references at the end, which allows him to use chapter and paragraph subtitles copied form those books leaving the unfamiliar reader with the impression that there are his. Once you have gone through this highly sophisticated piece of intellectual tourism you will feel richer in trivia and poorer in thinking. You will have attended a massive week end party in the grounds of "knowledge management - a slogan for all seasons", and met "everybody", from Tony Blair to Peter Drucker. You will have had a good time and then, suddenly, you will realize: "oh God, the week end is over, Monday again, let's get serious with real life".
The author's Chinese menu approach to knowledge allows him to write 200 pages of light pseudo-connections and thousands of quotations and references that you eat without making you feel full. Like in a set Chinese menu, you are not 100% sure what those little dishes are but they look nice on the table and certainly give you a feeling of volume.
All the above is far from unsettling about Leadbeater's book or anybody's book. But, the big problem is that, in his pseudo-intellectual promenade he feels arrogant enough to dismiss the socio-political approaches of "stakeholder society" ( personified by him in Will Hutton) or the "communitarism" (personified by him in Etzioni) in a couple of short references. He even describes his thinking as a "blueprint" for the future. Leadbeater is certainly a nice guy but not a modest man. Unfortunately, his "new economy" ( as the book is sub-titled) has a much air as the title of the book. Scarier and somehow amazing is the endorsement in the book's jacket by a Prime Minister in office, Mr. Blair himself, who says that the author is " an extraordinary thinker" and the book "raises questions for Britain's future". I wonder whether those questions are about the quality of the air. There are other endorsements such as the one by Peter Mandelson ( spin doctor- UK government minister and a man of destiny who aspires to make full use of his initials, and show the world that they really stand for Prime Minister). PM says that "the book sets the agenda for the next Blair revolution". Still waiting for this one, I have plenty of time to vaccinate myself.
Revolutions can't be based on the intellectual solidity of a cream cake. Which is what this book has. My best friend suggested that the real missing reference at the end of the book was Sokal's "Intellectual impostures". Too unkind perhaps. Certainly, you need more than mastery in word processing and a Ph.D. in Word Permutation to start a revolution. Intellectual nudity will be eventually uncovered by somebody from the crowd shouting that the emperor has no clothes. If this book represents a blueprint for something, it must be a cut-and-paste society. Given the choice, I prefer the originals to Leadbeter's collage. Peter Drucker said it all a long time ago and Charles Handy dressed it up beautifully as only an Irishman can do. Charles Leadbeater is not Charles Handy and I don't think he has read Drucker either. This guru has no clothes.