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Customer Review

Charles Handy is arguably the UK's top business "guru", but in my opinion this title somewhat diminishes his life's work, which has gone beyond matters of simple business administration into a philosophy of life and work, and is imbued with a spirituality that I find infectious (even though I am not a very spiritual person). This, however, is his seminal management text, and there is but a hint of the philosophical musings of "The Empty Raincoat" and "The Hungry Spirit".

Understanding Organisations was first published in 1976, and my fourth edition (I don't know why Amazon describes this as the third edition - that must be an error) was published in 1993, with a revised introduction in 1999. It cannot claim to be entirely up to date, therefore, but it remains valid both as a commentary on previous work on motivation, roles, leadership, power groups and organisations as well as contributing many of Handy's own ideas on the subject. I think that it was here that he first used analogies with the ancient Greek gods to describe the cultures of organisations, which he later developed in "Gods of Management". I've dipped into this book in the past, and have worked through it systematically recently as one of the key texts for a course on "Organisational Behaviour". My impression is that there are few more recent developments in this field than were taken into account in the writing of the book.

I have few quibbles. Handy's style is scholarly - I had wondered if this was his doctoral thesis but in fact he did not do one (he has an honorary one from Trinity College Dublin). It is accessible - and I do like the dry humour with which he delivers some of his case studies - but it is not as an easy or entertaining a read as some of his subsequent works. This is an excellent book, whether to use as a course text or to dip into as you experience and reflect on "trouble at mill" in your working life.
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