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Analytical Book Reviews


The three main books chosen for review were:

Pirsig, Robert, 1974, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Bodley Head, London. Reprinted Corgi/Transworld, London

Toffler, Alvin, 1970, Future Shock. Pan Books

Handy, Charles, 1978, Gods of Management: the changing work of organisations. Century Business: London

In addition I have quoted from the following:

McLuhan, Marshall, 1964 (reprinted 1995), Understanding Media (The Extensions of Man). The Mit Press, Massachusetts.

McQuail, Denis, 1992, Media Performance - Mass Communication and the Public Interest. Sage Publications.


IN researching into the effect that the Media has on Victims of Crime I have come across a number of central threads which seem to run through my investigations.

Three key words to emerge from these threads are Growth, Understanding and Explosion (hence the title of this piece). My three main books cover either one or more of these concepts in depth.

Perhaps the two most vital concepts, particularly in the field of information, are growth and explosion and only by understanding these do I feel that I can successfully approach my subject matter.

Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" deals unashamedly with this subject of growth and explosion. Written in 1970, it takes a close look at the future. That we are now living through that future and that Toffler has proved to be so correct in his assessment lends considerable credence to his writing.

"Future Shock" is written with deep insight and yet simplicity and aimed at explaining just how disorientating the future can be.

It speaks at length of the throwaway and transient society and I claim that it is this transience which has helped create the Media explosion and the subsequent pressure placed on victims of crime in society today.

My fascination with books from the 1960s and 70s continued with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which was published four years after Toffler's volume. Here Growth and Understanding refer more to one man's journey towards awareness rather than the human condition itself. Within this one man, however, lurks the desires, the fears and the journey of so many others.

Zen was written in a decade that was preparing us for the electronic and information bombardment that we are experiencing as we approach the new millennium. The 20 years between 1960 and 1980 saw human consciousness increasing at a rate that at times appeared to be out of control. It did prepare us, however, for the experiences of the modern age.

The narrator has much to teach us about attitude and two of his basic concepts are quality and gumption - both of which are needed for research projects. Passages of this book have helped me to come to terms with workloads and my objectives both in my MA work and in my day to day tasks.

Persig has plotted one man's journey for enlightenment and his attempts to find a clear path that over the years has been muddied by indecision and disillusionment. The books central character comes over at first as a strong, almost masterful character in tune and indeed at the head of a small party of four crossing Montana. This party is subsequently reduced to two for the later parts of the journey through Oregon and California and this subtle change helps us to focus in depth on the main character. To me this word focus has also been important in my research. Without focus research is ineffectual and misguided.

Gradually, and at times with swift savagery, this strength is stripped away as we learn of the character's indecision and periods of mental anguish. Suddenly his weaknesses become the overriding theme and the reader, instead of looking at things from his point of view starts to look at him instead.

At first the spectre of Phaedrus is simply that -a faraway ghost. It quickly becomes evident, however, that the character and Phaedrus are the same person. Phaedras is his inner-spectre, his appalling past returning to haunt him and that past was one riddled with doubts and plagued by philosophical indecision.

My third main book was Charles Handy's Gods of Management: the changing work of organisations. I hoped that this book would enable me to understand rather more about the organisation within which I work. I must say that it succeeded in changing my attitudes to much of my daily work and consequently my research to date..

Like the other two this was written in the 1970s - albeit towards the end of the decade. Much of the difficulty in reviewing books retrospectively is in trying to strip away the knowledge and advancement of the years since publication. To me, however, that knowledge and experience can be used to bear out claims of prophecy on behalf of the books involved. Books written in the 60s and 70s may have anachronistic overtones but their general concepts are often sound and at times even visionary.

Finally I needed to look quickly at two important books that dealt with the idea of Media Explosion to help with my ongoing research into the way the Media affects Victims of Crime. Although not reviewing these in details they did help me to understand the underlying trends of my chosen books.

"Understanding Media - The Extension of Man" was written by Marshall McLuhan in 1964 and was reissued to mark its 30th anniversary in 1994. McLuhan was the first writer to use the phrases "Global Village," "Mass Media" and the all embracing concept that "The Media Is The Message." All have entered our language and purely by themselves show McLuhan to be something of a visionary.

According to McLuhan the power of the Media has been a thread running through society's for hundreds of years. He quotes Napoleon Bonaparte as saying "Three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets (Understanding Media page 13). This power doesn't necessary accompany understanding as he points out:


Leonard Doob, in his report Communication in Africa, tells of one African who took great pains to listen each evening to the BBC news, even though he could understand nothing of it. Just to be in the presence of those sounds at 7 p.m each day was important for him. His attitude to speech was like ours to Melody - the resonant intonation was meaning enough (Understanding Media page 20).

In his book Media Performance, Denis McQuail covers the subject of "In the Public Interest." I have always held the rather jaundiced view that many Media outlets would class in the public interest as anything which sells copies of the paper irrespective of any harm it causes.

Stripped down to its most basic following the pattern of what is truly in the public interest means that Media outlets must pull out once the public themselves feel they have had enough of the story and when it is beginning to enter the arena of bad taste and they are saying this is not in the public interest. If the Media outlet continues to cover the story then I claim they are overstepping their remit.

McQuail looks at the whole question of the freedom of the press and what is meant by the term In The Public Interest. One interesting aspect of his very learned book is a discussion on the differences between the press of varying nations. He points out that where in politics the world is polarised where nations have effect on other nations this doesn't happen in the Media world. Countries have their own codes of ethics which they still apply when reporting in foreign countries.

This I found to be true when I spoke to Supt Louis Munn who was in charge of the Press Bureau at the Dublane massacre.

We had problems with the foreign press. They didn't play by the same rules as the British Press. When the British Press decided it was time to withdraw from Dunblane because to continue their presence would not have been in the public interest, the foreign Media outlets stayed on causing us considerable problems.

Control of the broadcasting Media is much easier than that of radio because of the licensing situation.

The licensee is, in effect, a trustee, in the sense that he is licensed to operate his station imposes upon him Page 50

Charles Handy in his book accepts that "variety is the spice of life" when it comes to management techniques. This could also be argued to be true in research where free thinking and originality is so necessary but within a structured environment.

The essence of his book is that the characteristics of four Greek Gods can be used to describe management techniques and conversely research techniques.

Zeus employs a Club Culture formed around an encircling spider's web with the spider itself in the middle with links of power and influence reducing in importance as they become more distant from the centre.

Zeus is the patron God . . . He was feared, respected and occasionally loved. He represented the patriarchal tradition, irrational but often benevolent power, impulsiveness and charisma (page 20).

Handy claims that this club culture brings speed of decision and the essence of it is personal contact.

Apollo employs a Role Culture centring around the definition of the role or job to be done and not around personalities. This is the organisation of sub division, organisational flow charts and I would claim the majority of large organisations today. It thrives on stability and predictability where the future is based on the past.

Apollo cultures are efficient and life is predictable.

Athena rules the Task Culture where management styles is aimed towards the continuous and successful solution of problems.

This makes for a more flexible culture with groups given the initiative and resources to solve problems.

I am sure that this is the model that most employees would like to work within.

It is a good culture to work in if you know your job. Since the group has a common purpose (the solution of a problem), there is a sense of enthusiasm and joint commitment (page 28).

Dionysius represents the Existential Culture and is possibly the most difficult to understand and come to terms with. The essence of this style of management is an acceptance that we are in charge of our own destinies.

In this fourth existential culture, the organisation exists to help the individual achieve his purpose (page 32).

This culture relies on the skill and enthusiasm of the individuals working together within a group, all of whom share that skill and enthusiasm - a kind of Utopia but one that thrives on talent.

Whilst reading the book I began reflecting as a manager within Norfolk Constabulary on my own style, on the general style of the Force and also on the style of management that exists at Victim Support. I soon realised that I felt happy in accepting myself as something of a mixture of Apollo and Dionysius working within a Zeus structure. I was unable to portray Victim Support, however, which immediately told me that I need to do more research into the structure of that organisation before I can represent them with any confidence within my research.

Handy's book goes on to discuss how different cultures can work together although at times this can produce "resentment, cynicism and reluctant conformity." This has prompted me to look closer at the relationship between the Police and Victim Support to find if any such resentment exists.

Balance and dilemma are keywords in Handy's book. Handy illustrates a balance between functionality and culture deeply rooted in the past. He suggests that the Gods must work in a balance. If this balance does not exist in an organisation there will be "slack and ineffectiveness." The fact that we are all different adds spice to the whole subject.

Handy discusses not only personal differences in organisations but also differences amongst races and cultures. The book allowed me to accept the concept of the difficulties and diverse nature of management styles. Handy urges us to look beyond the obvious and this will be valuable advice when I am talking to the bereaved during my research. It will teach me to look beyond the grieving to try and establish a person's deeper feelings. Certainly this is another concept embraced by Robert Persig's book where the narrator is constantly in search of the deeper self.

Handy suggests that although "small may be beautiful" sometimes organisations must grow to enable them to compete for resources and to give the best possible service.

Handy's book allowed me to understand the idea of predictability.

For a time, the feeling of spontaneity carries its own brand of charm ... But slowly the irritation mounts ... Organisations demand predictability (page 143)

But this idea of predictability is challenged in the case of victims of crime. There is nothing predictable in how they are handled by the Media or how they respond.

In discussing the dilemma of an Apollo Handy touches on the stressful nature of change and the stress of coping with overload and this is something that is a cornerstone of Toffler's book. Coping with overload has been something I have struggled to come to terms with in my own working environment. Overload and the stifling of initiative will lead to an individual feeling demotivated and devalued.

Interestingly Handy suggests that improved educational facilities help an individual to confront negative factors. I find myself totally in agreement with this and look upon it as one of the major reasons I am involved with further education.

Return to University Research index.