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4.6 out of 5 stars35
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on 25 March 2003
Everyone who manages anyone should be required to read this book. By focussing on the military Dixon has written a book crammed with examples that show the drastic consequences of incompetence.
In management situations it's seldom a matter of life and death (despite the way some bosses act) but the consequences are still there: demotivated, under-utilised, confused and stressed staff.
So if you're the boss and this sounds familiar you should read this book and learn it's lessons.
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on 29 September 2004
The author's central hypotheses is that incompetent decision making stems not so much from a lack of technical knowledge or theory, but rather personal inadequacies that prevent someone in a leadship role from making appropriate decisions under pressure,i.e. they freeze up.
Also discussed are the possibities of why such personality types are attracted to those roles involving such high pressure decision making, where the consequences of the wrong decision can be dire.
Unlike a lot of 'psychology' books, the author presents a critcal and convincing chain of reasoning to support his hypotheses.
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on 2 January 2007
This book contains some superb information regarding the personality types behind military success and failure, along with considerable evidence and anecdotal support. Dr Dixon's knowledge of both psychology and military history is breathtaking, and his prose is precise and warm. This is not a difficult book to read or enjoy at all, in spite of its subject matter and the academic nature of the subject. Very highly recommended.
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on 26 March 2013
I was first introduced to this book in 1979 and it struck an immediate chord with me. Since then, I have seen examples (too many to list) of the incompetence Dixon ascribes to the media in commercial management, government and education.

The book's central thesis - the Freudian idea that those who aspire to leadership are frequently anally-retentive (surely Dixon is responsible for the current popularity of this term?)authoritarian change-resistors - seems to be borne out by, for example, the collapse of British manufacturing and the propensity for governments to interfere in the affairs of other States before being aware of the consequences of so doing.

Perhaps the state of English education is most closely reporesentative of Dixon's fears, with old, failed, ideas such as times-table recitation and payment-by-results being promoted as the way forward, and micro-management of the system by politicians and administrators relegating teachers to the role of form-fillers and deliverers of prescribed content.

Yes, Military incompetence is alive and well ... read the book and have your critical faculties switched-on. It's more relevant today than when originally published...
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on 12 April 2002
I was lent this book by a retired friend who had risen to a high level in the RAF. He told me that it had been required reading at Staff College.
As soon as I finished it I immediately bought my own copy (from Amazon!) and tried to persuade as many of my work colleagues as possible to read it.
It is a study of the authoritarian character and its need to rise in an hierachy. A rise that is usually totally unwarranted. Just to limit this to a military context is to miss the chief benefit of the book. It should be required reading in every management school.
It also has the advantage of being a very entertaining book (despite the title).
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on 24 August 2003
Dixon's work extends far beyond the realm of the military. It's a wonderful guide to the psychology of organisations and projects of all kinds, especially those where objective progress is hard to monitor.
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on 30 May 2001
The more I read, the more it sounded like work? This book is an excellent insight into how we fail under pressure and exhibit stress. A very worthwhile read. This is a book I have returned to and re-apppreciated.
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VINE VOICEon 25 November 2012
This is one of my favourite books of all time. The descriptions of British military defeats are eye-popping and concise, the interpretation using Dixon's theories, can sound a bit out of date now, but some chapters like 'Education and the Cult of Muscular Christianity' are pretty relevant for today. The public schools are in his sights:

two traits in particular must be blamed: the first an absence of curiosity and dislike of new concepts, and the second such complete self-assurance as to rule out ancilliary traits, including a mystical belief in the virtues of amateurism back up by the equally optimistic credo that a mind encumbered with little more than a rudimentary knowledge of the humanties will somehow muddle through, provided its owner has irreproachable good manners, unquestioning loyalty, total obedience and a sense of public duty.

These values may well do for the Conservative Party.

The book is full of anecdotes, character studies and psychological theories, but it's always easy to read. It's helped me understand our cherished British institutions.
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on 8 January 2012
Dixon tells us that military organisations are inherently prone to inefficiency and mismanagement. This is due to the sheer obtuseness of some military officials, the inertia entailed by large numbers etc. He enlists some of the best known historical expamles of military failure from the recent past to prove his point. I am not sure I agree with his indictment, which appears one-sided. The book has become famous, something of a classic, and has contributed to a fixed view of the responsibility of the military for the tragic outcome of many conflicts in our time. I do not think the author is always right, but it is a provocative polemic that I have enjoyed engaging with.
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on 26 August 2010
I found this book highly readable, entertaining and illuminating. Although Dixon focuses solely on the military in analysing the origins, pathology and disastrous consequences of the Authoritarian Personality, I believe his thesis has a universal application to ANY hierarchical organization, whether it is in education, business, religion, the public service or even supposedly benign not-for-profit groups. I'm sure that anyone who has suffered under dysfunctional, irrational and even destructive "managers", and wondered why, will have many of their questions answered. They will understand what makes a man like The Office's David Brent tick.

The only pity is that the very people who should read this book won't. That would be like a flat-earther or creation fundamentalist picking up a tome entitled "On the Psychology of Scientific Denial".

One can only hope that those charged with selecting and promoting staff in any context will read it, and so be able to identify those with the potential to cause catastrophic harm to their people and organizations. Professionals in child raising and education will find it valuable in understanding how these sad and stunted but dangerous authoritarian types are created and how, I sincerely hope, they can be helped to become less menacing to themselves and those unfortunates unlucky enough to work under them.
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