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On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  160 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
This unique and penetrating book surveys 100 years of military inefficiency from the Crimean War, through the Boer conflict, to the disasterous campaigns of the First World War and the calamities of the Second. It examines the social psychology of military organizations, provides case studies of individual commanders and identifies an alarming pattern in the causes of mili ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published January 6th 1994 by Pimlico (first published 1976)
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(showing 1-30 of 418)
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Nov 14, 2014 Wilte rated it really liked it
Shelves: ub
The book starts with short description of unnecessary carnage in WW-1, Boer war and Crimea, among others. Very helpful for someone who is not a history-buff like myself (buffs are advised by the author to skip this first part).

Then Dixon tries to psychologically explain what caused these mishaps, quoting from many sources.

For example on British in America (p.199): "The men in their scarlet uniforms and white spatterdashes, marching in columns, were the sort of target an ambush force dreams of.
Emmanuel Gustin
Dixon's study of military incompetence deepens the traditional observation that peacetime armies and wartime armies prefer (and promote) very different types of officer. Dixon seeks to give this observation an explanation a basis that is rooted in Freudian psychology. The work appears rather dated in its psychology. I doubt many modern psychologists would credit the idea that Field Marshall Haig sent thousands of men to their death on the battlefield of the Somme because his mother had been too ...more
Oct 04, 2009 Sam rated it it was ok
The book was interesting in that it brought a whole new approach to thinking about military leaders and where they come from. It also brought an interesting perspective about military leadership, military organizations and who they potentially attract for leaders. The author suffers from not having a deep or particularly wide understanding of war. Additionally, he is very focused on the British military which really narrows many of his conclussions. It is a topic that is worth thinking about, I ...more
Mar 11, 2012 Kenneth rated it liked it
This book is worth reading on several levels. The anecdotes of military incompetence are fascinating and the reasons for failure are well linked in. More importantly anyone who works in a heirarchy (most of us?) should read this book. It explains why those most anxious to increase their status are often the least suitable for management positions. It should not only be read by the military but also in business schools. It's only the emphasis on Freudian psychology that prebents me from rating it ...more
Michael Burnam-fink
Jan 10, 2016 Michael Burnam-fink rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, war, 2015, psychology
Dixon is an engaging and entertaining curmudgeon, who takes a psychological stab at explaining military incompetence. With several years as a bomb defusal specialist in the Royal Engineers before becoming a psychiatrist, Dixon is well suited to write such a study of generalship. Taking the British-centrism and psychoanalytic perspective as features rather than bugs, this is an interesting attempt to explain and improve the serious failures of military incompetence; starting from lost battles and ...more
May 19, 2011 Speedy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ensayo
Interesante análisis sobre las causas psicológicas de a incompetencia militar. Comienza con una breve reseña de grandes desastres militares, enfocados en el ejército británico, y luego realiza un análisis de los puntos en común que tienen las personalidades de los generales que estaban a cargo.

La tesis del autor es que la estructura misma del mundo militar atrae y premia a personalidades autoritarias (aunque pueda parecer evidente) y que éstas tienen tal falta de amor propio que terminan siendo
Sep 15, 2013 Ugh rated it liked it
OTPMI opens with a bang (potential "spoiler" alert, in that I was happily surprised by the below, which you won't be if you read it now):

'In war, each side is kept busy turning its wealth into energy which is then delivered, free ... to the other side. Such energy may be muscular, thermal, kinetic or chemical. Wars are only possible because the recipients of this energy are ill-prepared to receive it and convert it into a useful form for their own economy.'

This really has little if anything to d
What were they thinking?!

If you’ve ever wondered that while studying the Great War, you’re in good company, although it’s Norman Dixon’s contention that most of us who have done so, have come to the wrong conclusion. As a former British Army officer and an experimental psychologist, he is under no illusions about the war’s horrific cost in lives and resources, nor is he bashful about laying the blame where it belongs. But he believes there’s another way to explain and understand the characterist
Tim Poston
Feb 16, 2015 Tim Poston rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book was one of those I left behind when I crossed the Atlantic for my first job (in Rio de Janeiro), with no more possessions than fit into a 20kg weight allowance, and carry-on. My carry-on was 13kg of books (including the original hardback
Feynman Lectures), but so much stayed behind ...

I was delighted to be reminded of it in this fascinating list, which also mentions a book by a coauthor of mine.

I won't try to review it based on half-century-old memories of reading it, but a l
Jan 18, 2015 Ciarán rated it liked it
Interesting read, though the psychological theories are somewhat (and entertainingly) out of date
Mar 13, 2013 David rated it liked it
Make no mistake, this is a psychology book. While the first half is an in-depth examination of (primarily British) military incompetence from 1850-1950, the second half is a psychological examination of the factors that could have caused such incompetence. The data and theories were still current when the book was written in the 1970s, but would not hold water today.
Jul 25, 2013 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book for examining military leadership and understanding some of our current leaders. I'm not sure if many of the psychological theories are still current, however it's still a great book for helping leaders become self aware of their own leadership shortcomings. I really enjoyed reading it.
Jesse Callaghan
May 01, 2015 Jesse Callaghan rated it really liked it
Despite the title, I wasn't really expecting what the book delivered. This made it an even more enjoyable read.
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 Sean Chick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with the thesis, but I'm wary of psychology being the answer for everything and the author is not a very good or organized writer. He does have a laudable sense of humor.
John Brown
Jan 25, 2013 John Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb a must read. The premise. That the skills that get you promoted in a peace time army are not the skills you need in wartime. A simple premise.
Olli Helttula
A bit dry and some of the psychological conclusions seem outdated but interesting nonetheless.
Peter McC
Apr 14, 2009 Peter McC rated it it was amazing
A collection of poor military decisions over the years. Yes, the Brits have plenty of entries
Jul 16, 2010 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bar none, one of the best books I have ever read on the decision-making process.
Jan 23, 2008 Arthur rated it it was amazing
witty, insulting, and very revealing
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Norman F. Dixon, M.B.E., Fellow of the British Psychological Society, is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University College, London.
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