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The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America
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The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  913 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
This concise and eloquent manifesto shows how the excess of government regulations does not protect Americans but instead acts as legal quicksand, stifling growth and creating paralyzing overbureaucratization. Using blood-boiling examples of government regulations run amok, Howard reveals a society in which rules have replaced thinking--allowing law to infiltrate the nooks ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 1st 1996 by Grand Central Publishing (first published January 13th 1995)
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K. L.
Mar 01, 2013 K. L. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I read this book, I nodded my head along with the author’s points on almost every page. He describes specific examples of the red tape and bureaucratic insanity we have all experienced firsthand throughout our lives. Though it is somewhat a depressing read, considering that bureaucracy and paperwork have increased by an order of magnitude since this edition was published two decades ago, it was worth picking up anyway. For a book focused on webs of laws and bureaucrats, it was a surprisingly ...more
Jan 10, 2009 Louis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know that this book looks like it would be mind-numbingly boring but it is actually a great read and only takes a few hours. If all of the stories weren't frustratingly true then this could be comedy. This book makes a journey through government regulation that is supposed to save us from ourselves but instead makes government the masters of us, shackled by either bureaucratic stupidity or power trips. For example, in NYC the city government sold two buildings, abandoned after being gutted by ...more
May 02, 2011 Lalena rated it really liked it
This is the first book in a long time that has really challenged my beliefs. Howard shows with clarity how we need smarter regulations, not more or less regulation. His call to bring back law as guiding principle rather than rule book or manual resonated with me. Government employees can't act in the best interest of the people if their hands are tied by legal processes that don't make any sense in most circumstances. I had a hard time with his take on rights, but in the end this is where he rea ...more
Arlene Adkins-Zell
Jan 23, 2016 Arlene Adkins-Zell rated it it was amazing
Great book and I am going to read it again, because the information is just as relevant today as it was a few years ago.
Unchong Berkey
Mar 18, 2017 Unchong Berkey rated it it was amazing
One of many favorite quotes from the book:

"By exiling human judgment in the last few decades, modern law changed its role from useful tool to brainless tyrant"

I agreed with so much in this book. It points to much of what is wrong in America today.
Jul 24, 2007 Shoomg rated it liked it
Shelves: america, politics, law
This is one of those books written from the modern American conservative viewpoint that does a very good job of opening the reader's eyes to a serious problem caused by modern statism, but whose solutions are problematic. The author argues that America is choking on legalistic bureaucracy run amok, a legalism that is sapping the ability of government to actually do anything. His solution is to say that government officials and employees should be allowed more flexibility to make decisions using ...more
Jul 25, 2011 Eduardo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
I had much higher hopes for this book but it was solid nonetheless. I found myself thinking that the anecdotes, while interesting (and appalling) may be the proverbial trees that are keeping me from really seeing the forest. I can't tell if his examples are truly indicative of what is really going on out there. I am also not certain that people are as susceptible to accountability as Howard suggests. While there is much to be said about over-regulation, there is also, I suspect, much to be said ...more
C. Scott
Nov 04, 2011 C. Scott rated it it was ok
I was very interested in reading this book after seeing the author on The Daily Show. Surprise surprise, a book about the perils of bureaucracy can be a bit dry. I found Howard's thesis compelling and am totally on board with his call for a new age of responsibility. However, I found this text long on problems and short on solutions. Example after example of bloated inefficiencies in government eventually had me saying "get to the point already!" When Howard finally does start proposing solution ...more
May 07, 2017 Scott rated it liked it
Not much hope after reading this book... kinda depressing. American bureaucracy and our culture of rights seems so entrenched that I don't see a way out. One potential for an outsider president to make radical changes in the system??
Dwayne T. Wiegand
It's a start.

An enlightening start in the right direction for this country. Seeing this and having someone confirm and explain this, made the book enjoyable and educational for me.
Feb 22, 2017 Gina rated it did not like it
This was recommended to me by a friend who's a lawyer. He raved about it, but I just couldn't get into it. I read the first 50 pages or so and then realized I couldn't remember a single word or concept being discussed because my attention was elsewhere the whole time.
Jun 08, 2015 Scott rated it it was ok
I don't disagree with much of Howard's concise lament, but I do think putting "what we think is right" over a system of laws is the worst thing that could happen to this country. Not to say that libertarianism is a worthwhile political and social stance, but does he really trust the American people? Coupled with a book I just finished, Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, it seems to me the laws of the government cover a fairly large area in a systemati ...more
Robert Beveridge
Jan 25, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it it was amazing
Philip K. Howard, The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America (Random House, 1994)
by what little justice there is on this planet

I don't think there's a single person in America outside Capitol Hill who doesn't realize that the more laws you have, the more loopholes the laws contain, and the more subject to abuse those laws are. But just in case you need a quick refresher course on how Washington is helping the abusers do their thing and giving the rest of us the middle finger, Howa
Leonardo Etcheto
Apr 13, 2014 Leonardo Etcheto rated it really liked it
Great book, He does a great job of describing the problem but the solution is almost hopeless without a real sea change in attitude at the top. The solution is to change how laws are written and forget about the perfectly fair and equal law. Or get government to burn 90% of the laws and leave us all to work from guidelines only. A very tall order because the current system of rules and procedures but no responsibility suits the law makers and the government workers. It just doesn’t work for any ...more
Dec 09, 2009 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This book has forced me to re-evaluate my position about rules and regulations. As a programmer, I have to generate code that should take into account every possible situation and be able to not fail miserably when a user runs it. In other words, I shouldn't depend on the user to have common sense. American modern law, as the author points out, has become extremely detailed, and we, as a people, want the law to be self-executing (just like a computer program!). In other words, we don't trust a p ...more
Jun 24, 2008 melydia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a good bedtime read. It's frankly aggravating, but I knew that coming in. This is, more or less, 287 pages of stating the obvious, but in ways that continue to amaze and infuriate anew. In short, there are too many laws, and more specifically, too many highly detailed universal regulations that don't actually apply to anything in the real world. It was a little upsetting how this book reminded me of all the things I don't like about my job: the idiotic paperwork and endless mandatory ...more
Jun 13, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for anyone in government in the U.S., chock full of examples of absurdity cause by the mountain of regulation we've built over the last 50 years. Howard goes after 1) excessively detailed law, 2) slavish dedication to process, and 3) handing out absolute rights that can erode the common good of society (e.g., it's practically impossible to remove a disruptive kid from a classroom nowadays because every child has been granted an absolute "right to an education ...more
Jan 28, 2009 Kirt rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fowie, beau
Shelves: 2009
I read a couple good excerpts from the book and thought I would give it a shot. The subtitle "How Law is Killing America" made me a little nervous but it turned out to be a great book. The book lays out, using examples of how laws and regulations set out by Congress are ineffective and make getting work done difficult. Accountability has been lost, as no one makes decisions, and the buck stops nowhere. It addresses the cult of rights, a large and complicated bureaucracy, corruption despite safeg ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Jake rated it really liked it
"The Death of Common Sense" or "Common Sense is Dead" is just a common saying that we as a society often don't take it seriously. Better yet, we accept it as an unchangable facet of our existence and just go on with it. I personally believe Mr. Howard is a bit sick and tired of just "going with it," especially when "it" is how law has managed to strangled American society to the point that, as my grandfather used to say, "you can't spit in any direction without breaking some law, somewhere."

Sep 08, 2011 Shalom rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this on the recommendation if a professor. Obviously there was a reason I don't respect the professors in my school, this just furthers my already formed opinions. The premise of the book is very interesting, how law stifles progress and modernity. The quintessential example is a group of nuns wanted to convert an old worn down building into a community center/ health clinic/ homeless shelter. The city board gave legal problems because the nuns didn't want a elevator to save costs. The au ...more
Raphaela Jackson
Jun 26, 2013 Raphaela Jackson rated it it was amazing
I pick up this book from my mother's shelf, who received it from her mother, who traveled side by side with the author in the plane to NYC.
Well, it's not new.
In fact it's from the 1996. And it shows how America, a great country, was being suffocated by uncommon sensible laws.
It was a best-seller at that time and I think that it should be read, because, although I don't live in USA, I think law there is much more severe now and much more uncommonly sensible. Yes, there have been attacks that co
Mike Kowalczyk
May 24, 2007 Mike Kowalczyk rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mike by: Jim Gearhart
The author provides a very concise and interesting account of the ludicrousness of modern law and code. He analyzes many cases in which strict codes (building or health, for example) dampen the ability accomplish anything in a reasonable amount of time and cause much more harm than good. To give an example, he discussed a case in New York City in which a group of nuns gained possession of an abandonded building and using church funds were trying to renovate it into a homeless shelter. However, N ...more
Jack Lauinger
May 11, 2016 Jack Lauinger rated it liked it
The Death of Common Sense, by Philip Howard. Is a book about how law is interfering with ethics and what the right thing to do is. This book tells many stories, each varying in length, about how the general well being of people was abruptly stopped because there were laws in their area that restricted them. For example, in New York there was a group of nuns that built a 2 story homeless shelter with stairs and was up to code on everything else. But the law in New York is that all 2 story buildi ...more
Jan 30, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it
Terrifically sensible. This book is filled with example after example of mindless adherence to rules and regulations even in the face of absurd results. The theme: reformers at the turn of the twentieth century realized that common law relied too much on individual interpretation of facts and began to try to take uncertainty out of law. Regulations became more and more complicated and rigid as lawmakers tried to account for every possible eventuality, until now we have no room to apply sensible ...more
Dec 02, 2011 Esther rated it it was amazing
This book wrapped up a lot of brainwaves I've been having over the last few years. We're all familiar with the mind-numbing puzzle of beaurocracy: the government, businesses and legal practices that all attempt to help society, but, as most have experienced, can often further aggravate.

This book helps you stand back and see the deeper issues. It helps to put perspective back in a lot of areas such as the zealots behind far-right and far-left thinking (and implies that maybe both sides are simil
Amanda Rawson Hill
Sep 08, 2008 Amanda Rawson Hill rated it it was amazing
This book was so interesting. I finally felt like my frustrations with government were being addressed. This book explains why so much of law today has become inefficient, never-ending procedure. This should be required reading for politicians and voters alike. It addresses the inefficiency of mistrusting human judgement, the fallacy in assuming that there can be a rule for everything, the abuse of "rights", and the paradox of a government that is asked to fix things but then never trusted to do ...more
L.F. Falconer
Apr 10, 2013 L.F. Falconer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, purchased
"In our country, the words of law are like millions of trip wires, preventing us from doing the sensible thing." So states Philip K. Howard, author of The Death of Common Sense. "Coercion by government, the main fear of our founding fathers, is now its common attribute."

Every so often I have to re-read this book to help keep complacency from taking over. The points of ridiculousness contained within the pages have only seemed to multiply since its publication nearly twenty years ago. The tenuous
Feb 07, 2016 May rated it liked it
Started out strong, but really only gets 3 stars in my opinion. This is an excellent book if you need a collection of ways in which governmental law has killed common sense. It is entirely worthless if you want to actually dissect common sense. If that’s your goal, you’re going to have to take his examples and then do you own intellectual work and exploration. I was sadly looking for the latter. I want to understand what precisely is the mechanism of the death. Short of giving me the mechanism, ...more
The author examines the American trend toward regulating every aspect of our lives -- and I'm not talking just seat belt laws here -- and argues that this trend saps our sense of responsibility and encourages the belief that government should fix everything. Howard provides concrete examples of well-intentioned laws and regulations that make worse whatever problem they were designed to fix. But no criticism is complete without a solution, and Howard makes some suggestions on how to get out of th ...more
Feb 25, 2009 Eric_W rated it liked it
Shelves: current-affairs
We read this for reading club last year and I had forgotten all about it until I heard the author interviewed about his new book on C-Span's Q&A. The book was OK, but seemed to overly rely on scary anecdotes to make larger judgments about the state of the legal world. As far as common sense, it seems to me that much of what we do and how we react has less to do with common sense than our experience and our reaction to anecdotes. So we tend to be more fearful precisely because we have heard t ...more
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Philip K. Howard, a lawyer, advises leaders of both parties on legal and regulatory reform. He is chair of Common Good and a contributor to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Philip K. Howard is a well-known leader of government and legal reform in America. His new book, The Rule of Nobody (W. W. Norton & Company, April 2014), has been praised by Fareed Zakaria as “an utterly compe
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“Plato argued that good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around law. By pretending that procedure will get rid of corruption, we have succeeded only in humiliating honest people and provided a cover of darkness and complexity for the bad people. There is a scandal here, but it's not the result of venal bureaucrats.
(1994) p. 99”
“Uniformity in the common law, consisting of broad principles like the "reasonable person" standard, generally permits adjustment for the circumstances. This type of uniform principle is almost synonymous with fairness. Uniform application of a detailed rule, on the other hand, will almost always favor one group over another. p. 34” 5 likes
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