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Thinking In Time: The Uses Of History For Decision Makers Paperback – 25 Jan. 1988
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I would like to give this book 4.5 stars; however, am limited to 4 or 5.
The authors are both noted scholars and advisors. The late (2001) Richard Neustadt taught at Columbia where he wrote the very influential "Presidential Power." Prior to this, he served as advisor to Pres. Truman, and afterward, he advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton. The late (2009) Ernest May taught at Harvard for 55 years and authored many historical analyses of WWI and WWII.
This book does not serve as a history book, but as a book on how to use history. The premise of the book is that certain tools can be inserted into analytical processes to increase (even in small increments) the effectiveness or success of a decision. The authors propose several mini techniques to facilitate their purpose. These methods are the fruit of several years worth of classes taught by the authors at Harvard. The authors use their insight into events surrounding presidential decisions and crises and look at the use of history in their decisions. Firsthand accounts, biographies and official documents provide further views into the decision processes the authors consulted. Then the authors show where the decision makers could have used history more effectively to come to better conclusions. The Bay of Pigs, The Americanization of the Vietnam War, the Cambodian capture of SS Mayaguez, SALT II treaty, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and even the reparation of Social Security by Reagan. In these, little political bias shines through.
The authors differentiate between effective use and common use of history. They propose that the majority that uses history in decision making use it incorrectly. Problems arise in inappropriate analogies and a tendency to move too quickly to act. These must be overcome and replaced with the simple-to-use and easy to remember techniques.
The authors being Harvard professors may turn some off to this text; however, the verbiage is not pretentious or overly scholarly. The concepts of the book are proposed in a straight-forward manner and repeated with a patience that seemed to underscore the importance with which the authors see this topic.
Why subtract 1/2 star? At times, it seemed the authors belabored points. They repeated themselves often and their techniques become slightly convoluted in the last quarter of the book. Also, the authors placed the conclusion (summary) a chapter too early. After the conclusion, the authors wrote about the importance of thinking of time as a stream or continuum. This is a concept that is important but seems out of place with the rest of the text.
The concept that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. That includes looking at the methods used in reaching decisions, and this book serves well as a means of gathering insight into decision making history. This book is highly recommended to those in leadership positions.
Neustadt and May taught a classic course at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and this is the text that resulted.
I find it extremely useful in my own work. Worth reading for anyone who helps a senior leader make decisions and take action.