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‘The Ultimate Business Library: 50 Books that Made Management’ by Stuart Crainer


The Ultimate Business Library: 50 Books that Made Management (1998)
Stuart Crainer with commentary by Gary Hamel
Capstone Publishing Limited
Oxford Centre for Innovation
Mill Street
Oxford, UK
Visit Capstone’s home page on contact the author directly or to order books.
ISBN 2-900961-38-5

The publishers of this natty compendium claim to be ‘an electronic clearing house for pioneering business thinking, putting the creators of new business ideas in touch with the people who use them’. Visit their website to make up your own mind. The book under review 'The Ultimate Business Library' by Stuart Crainer certainly covers a lot of management ground but whether the ‘50 books which made management’ within its 300 pages can truly be said to cover the spectrum – well I doubt it.

Nevertheless if you want to be able to recognise the basic concepts of well known theorists such as Argyris and Schon (first to suggest the values of a learning organisation) and Mintzberg (master of strategic planning) then this book certainly rates well. It takes the reader a little further than Kennedy’s ‘Guide to the Management Gurus’ 1991 by examining Machiavelli (1513), Adam Smith (1776) and Sun Tzu (500 BC) in the context of modern management thinking. It also names Parkinson (Parkinson’s Law), Semler (Maverick!) and Senge (The Fifth Discipline) as guiding lights in organisational development theory.

You can rely on the book to give accurate if occasionally rather sparse information on each of the 50 books and to reference material carefully. On one or two occasions Crainer overstates the impact a book has had on management practice but mostly he is a pretty shrewd judge. If your working in the not-for-profit sector you may find some of the accounts a little off-beam, but for those wanting a one-stop guide then there is nothing presently on the market.

One of the most interesting features of the book however is the extensive foreword by Gary Hamel. If you’ve ever studied management then you have probably come across Hamel and Prahalad’s 1993 article in the Harvard Business Review ‘The core competence of the corporation’. It challenged the idea that strategy had to be about economics and planned by engineers. What so many of us had reacted to instinctively in the 1980s as the slash-and-burn approach to strategy was challenged at a serious academic level by Hamel and Prahalad. They asked ‘Where are the theologists, and the anthropologists to give broader and fresher insights?’ Hamel gives an interesting summary in his foreword of what he sees as the transcendent issues with which management through the ages have been occupied. What are they? Well management obviously – then leadership, complexity, people, customers, global, the future, renewal, competition, efficiency, strategy and fun. This provides an unexpected gem for those seeking the bigger picture.

Hamel, is Visiting Professor at London Business School and co-author of ‘Competing for the Future’. He contributes further by succinctly commenting on each of the fifty writers. Here’s what he says about Meredith Belbin - ‘High performing companies increasingly believe that teams, rather than business units or individuals, are the basic building blocks of a successful organisation. Belbin deserves much credit for helping us understand the basic building blocks of successful teams’.

The main drawback to the book and indeed any compendium like this is that it quickly dates. The most recent writing quoted is from 1994 (eg. Goold, Campbell and Marcus). There is also no glimpse of some of the most exciting writing on organisations this decade – linking organisational theory with ‘the New Science’: look at Danah Zohar – Rewiring the Corporate Brain (1997); and Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers – A Simpler Way (1996) for real inspiration for management in the new millennium!

Penny Sharland
Framework consultants


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