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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull dull dull, 4 Jun 2011
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This review is from: Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Paperback)
John Kay has jumped on the Malcolm Gladwell/Tim Harford/Freakonomics bandwagon, and no doubt most people buying this book will be those who read and enjoyed those others. If that's you, then I suggest you do yourself a favour and give this one a miss. Kay came up with the name Obliquity to encapsulate the idea that problems (large problems at any rate) are best solved with an indirect approach. He takes this approach to writing the book. "Get it down. That is how this book was written..." and my goodness it shows. He just jumps around all over the place without any sort of clear idea of a structure to his narrative. Just whatever idea comes into his head is immediately splatted down on the paper. It's a jumble and it's hard to follow the thread of what he's saying. Maybe because there isn't a thread - what he has to say is an idea that can be encapsulated in one sentence and doesn't need a whole book of exposition.

In the way that Gladwell writes in such a wonderful, lively style, so you can't wait to turn the next page, Kay's writing plods on in a semi-academic fashion. You struggle to work out what he's saying, keep having to re-read passages to get the gist of it. And the words oblique and obliquity, never the prettiest of words, are there in every flipping paragraph, jumping off the page and hitting you between the eyes so you get to the point where you're just waiting for the next one (and trust me, you never have to wait very long) and missing the point of whatever it is he's driveling on about. Here's an example to give you a flavour of what I mean, and I picked this page at random - "The achievement of high level objectives, intermediate goals and basic actions needs an oblique approach, based on interactions that value and make use of the parallel objectives, goals and actions of the individuals who are asked to contribute to their realisation." If that gets your juices flowing then you'll be rushing to buy this but if not, trust me, this is the standard of prose in this book. It's one advantage is it's so unutterably dull that it makes great bedtime reading. One page and you're asleep.

I'm not quite sure why I plodded through to the end, but when I did I came across yet more irritation. He compares Paris to Brasilia, the former a great city, compared to the latter, because, he says, Paris has developed "through a process of constant adaptation.... Paris grew by muddling through, Brasilia by design." I assume, rather shockingly, he's never heard of Baron Haussmann, the great urban planner who in the nineteenth century completely transformed Paris to the, um, planned city we see today. If he sits down and plans his next book rather better than he did this one, he might have a bit more success. Which I guess completely contradicts the message of "Obliquity".
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