WHY THINGS GO WRONG by Laurence J. Peter


Email this review


Dr. Peter, of course, is the Man of Principle, or, rather, one Principle: ""In a hierarchy individuals tend to rise to their levels of incompetence."" He's returned in an attempt to refute the Penman's Precept, ""a sequel is seldom equal."" Though, mercifully, Peter's new entry doesn't simply verify his own great Principle, it doesn't quite measure up to the original standard either. The text is more like a compilation of notes for various earlier works than an articulation of just why things go wrong, anyhow. Peter tells about lots of things that have gone wrong in an effort to ""explain the Peter Principle primarily through actual examples."" Amalgamated with a bit of personal history, a brief glossary of military doublespeak, another proposal for an office of Premier General/ceremonial president (plus lots of subsidiary principles and corollaries and a plethora of maxims), are what must be many years' yield of clippings: minor typos, huge military blunders, foolish performances, botched commerce, and fatuous statutes. From the Charge of the Light Brigade to the spare-key-in-the-locked-room, from the Edsel to the record company exec who didn't sign the Beatles, it all sounds very much like last year's modest offering, David Frost's Book of the World's Worst Decisions. (There are in fact a number of duplicate entries.) Some of it is pungent--like the Nixon Principle: If two wrongs don't make a right, try three. Some of it is not: ""Hierarchiology is the science that attempts, through objective study, to provide a deeper understanding of the structure of human organizations."" Peter is happy to point out that the emperor is a trifle nude, and so is the Chairman of the Board, the General, the Supervisor, and all the rest of us. For prediction of waste and catastrophe, there's no denying that the Peter Principle stands beside Murphy's Law, Parkinson's Law, and the latest Tax Law. This aggregation, however, has more in common with today's curio collections.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow