Book Review - The Puritan Gift - December 2007/January 2008


Book: The Puritan Gift: Triumph, Collapse and Revival of an American Dream
Author: Kenneth and William Hopper
Publisher: I.B. Tauris
Length: 352 pages
Price: $19.95 (softcover edition)
Reviewer: Jim Clauson
Note: the authors were featured as Thought Leaders for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's Ongoing Discussion on December 4th, 2008. Link here to access the announcement for this session, along with the audio recording.

Here is the publisher's description: The Puritan Gift traces the origins and the characteristics of American managerial culture which, in the course of three centuries, would turn a group of small colonies into the greatest economic and political power on earth. It was the Protestant ethic whose characteristics -- thrift, a respect for enquiry, individualism tempered by a need to  cooperate, success as a measure of divine approval--helped to create the conditions which led to America's managerial and corporate success.

Thus, the authors contend, the drive, energy and acceptance of innovation, competition, growth and social mobility, all have their origins in the discipline and ethos of America's first wave of European immigrants: the Puritans. And, the authors warn, as Americans distance themselves from core values which produced their nineteenth and twentieth century business and economic successes, they endanger the basis for their prosperity and security.

The London-based Financial Times recently selected The Puritan Gift as one of the ten best business books of 2007.

"Epic" is a term usually restricted to prose and poetry, seldom to non-fiction books. But, the Puritan Gift may well be classified as an epic as it spans 400 years in search of the roots and development of modern, American management.  This is not a book about Deming or Ackoff or Drucker or any other of the familiar names in management thinking. This is a book about the real roots of American Management and how it has evolved through the centuries.

This incredibly-well researched book covers the period from 1630 to 2007 in America. The impetus for this book started in the 1940's on Scotland when co-author Kenneth Hopper worked for and was impressed by the American company Procter & Gamble (P&G).  This was early in his career in organizations, but the way in which P&G was managed fascinated him. This started a life-long study of how American companies work, how they are managed, and why they are successful.

My own beginnings of serious management study began in the 1970's and I have read countless books and articles on business management, but had never read anything so well researched and detailed.  I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing a draft of this book and can assure you I have read all 352 pages - at least once.  Of the 800 or so books in my library, I have to admit that, except for my Deming books, I doubt I have read more than a few completely from cover to cover.  This book was so engaging that I often forgot the red pen and had to go back and re-read sections as a review and not a student.

For those that have studied Deming and read his concerns about B-schools and hacks, you will find familiar ground here. The Puritan Gift builds to the golden age on American management, then continues analyzing some poor practices.  They warn about the effect human resource activities have had on organizations.  They discuss the "cult of the expert" - the professional manager promoted by American
B-schools. For anyone seriously interested in the American management system and how it got to where it is, this is a critical book for their libraries.

"The best thing about The Puritan Gift is that it is a real book, full of fascinating insights, intellectual rigour and challenging, authoritative arguments that remind us that there is nothing new about the responsibilities of management."
Quoted from Richard Donkins, September 20, 2007. Financial Times.