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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence (Pimlico)
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on 22 March 2017
It gives a look at an emotive subject without pointing a finger, interesting.
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on 1 June 2017
Essential reading for any historian
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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 9 June 2017
In some respects this is an interesting and thought provoking book..
In other respects its a load of sanctimonious guff of epic proportions. The constant blether about asthma being all in the person's mind is offensive and dogmatic, even for a time when Austin Allegros roamed the earth.
The selective memory is another thing, blaming Hoess for snuggling up to astronomers and claiming that as a problem, yet completely forgetting to mention "Dowding, Hugh Caswell Tremenheere Dowding" a man so far out of his box that he'd have needed an Olympic size swimming pool to keep his collection of mystical psychoses (former lives, talking to spirits and dead colleagues, mysticism) that made Herr Hoess look positively stable by comparison. It has to be said that Dowding, despite the fact that he was nuttier than a fruitcake, was probably helped by this very fruitcakery to create the Chain Home system and the associated early warning network. Does he get a mention? Nope.
Our author carefully doesn't mention that Hitler's mother lost child after child before one survived, or that his father was a sociopathic nut job above and beyond the usual level of Victorian sociopathic nut jobbery. Much of the information he's based his conclusions on is outdated and much later information is missing by necessity so the conclusions aren't really valid.
The choice of inclusions and exclusions make little sense, Shaka Zulu is eulogized as the greatest general ever to hit a uniform (for a given value of uniform) but Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift aren't mentioned and his opponent, Lord Chelmsford, possibly the second biggest walking disaster area to hit the British army after Elphy Bey isn't mentioned once! (although to be scrupulously fair he wasn't helped by the Marconi-Henry rifle - which, combined with drawn brass cartridges, would have been more use as tent poles or possibly impromptu golf clubs.. It jammed as a matter of pride, and if all else failed cooked off the round in the chamber and did it's level best to blow its operators head off..
I do wonder what the author would have made of some of the more recent members of the general staffs and politicians around the world.. Dubya or Tony "WMD" Blair etc.
An interesting book but far out of date and oddly selective in who it chooses to discuss, not to mention the habit of discussing something half way and then wondering off on unrelated tangents - not to mention an obvious bias for not properly discussing WW2 "heroes" so as not to rock the apple cart (or hang out the paras). Montgomery almost without exception nicked the ideas of more talented men, was almost universally hated by his direct colleagues, and the one time he had an original idea it was a disaster (for which he blamed his subordinates) of epic proportion.
Recommended, with proviso that it's taken with a large dose of salt..
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on 23 November 2015
Leaves you wondering how on earth battles are actually won.
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on 26 July 2016
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 March 2010
Dixon does a good job of examining both social and individual psychological / structural reasons for military incompetence. The author does not folow the approach of finding individual scapegoats, or blaming the individual's knowledge or prowess for failure but looks for systemic explanations for failure. These are to be found in the socialisation of people who are drawn to the military career (individual psychology), reinforced by the organisation of military establishments.

It's a very solid piece of systemic research and dos a good job of showing the interdependencies and causal loops between individuals drawn to the authoritarian organisation and those individuals, once in power, cementing the authoritarianism further. On top of that Dixon also shows a good case of how developmental psychology of a type of individual influences the development of institutions.

The book starts with a section on case studies of military disasters, follows on to the main thesis of the systemic issues bringing about military incompetence and closes with a section on trying to fit individual commandersi nto the framework - the way they are chosen the framework is largely confirmed.

The book is also written in a light, witty style and the author will probably not rub many people the wrong way even if they find some of the theory preposterous (not uncommon if unkind things are being said about you or an organisation you identify yourself with) because of his self deprecating manner.

Finally, the book is 35 years old and in some ways it shows its age - several issues, which would be useful in explaining the military performance, even from a psychological perspective are omitted - work done by Marshall (Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command) would usefully enrich the thesis posed by Dixon, as would Grossman's On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. While Marshall should have been known to the author, Grossman wrote significantly later. On another note some of the insights on the development of institutions as well as the military from as far back as Veblen (The Theory of the Leisure Class (Dover Thrift)) is another piece of the puzzle that someone interested in the subject should look at. In addition to the subsequent developments in the field that the author could obviously not have captured, his view of Zhukov was also clearly still a product of inference rather than careful scholarship - facts coming to light subsequently would have made a slightly grimmer picture emerge.

Is the book applicable beyond military organisations? Certainly - there is a case to be made that most civilian organisations and corporates will exhibit some of the traits described here and that those will to an extent impede performance. It will however not provide the reader with a good enough guide to a sufficient range of situations to be primarily recommended for that purpose.
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on 5 May 2014
I have read numerous books on the military. I am ex military myself and know from too much personal experience how when being lead by idiots, even intelligent ones, how dangerous they can be. Well worth reading and rereading. it exclusively deals with the British Army so a larger world view is not given, that is the only fault I have with this book as the Americans need the equivalent of this.
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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 23 December 2015
Book as advertised. No problems.
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