Kenneth A. Mugi's Reviews > The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton
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's review
Aug 17, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: hardcopy-books, non-fiction, social-justice, business, human-resources
Read from August 09 to 17, 2012 — I own a copy


The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (The No Asshole Rule) is an intriguing book that makes a comprehensive case against hiring (and retaining) jerks in the workplace even if they are high earners. It's written in the style of a professional business book with anecdotes and hypothetical situations filling in the gaps where data is lacking. It's well written and, for the most part, quite interesting.


Robert Sutton is a business author and academic who writes about the challenges faced in the workplace. His style is easy to read, well structured and thoughtful. I couldn't say that Robert Sutton has a 'unique voice' like Stanley Bing or Rachel Maddow, but it's functional and tells the story Mr Sutton wants to present to the reader.

If the content wasn't as interesting, I think I would have taken a few days to finish this small book because when the fascinating data runs out, there isn't anything to hold you. It feels like Robert Sutton primarily writes articles for magazines and all he's done is stretch one of those articles into a small novella. His style would definitely work for a magazine, but he's no Johnathan Chait.

Still, it does what it sets out to do: persuade you assholes are not good for your workplace, and that's all that really matters.


I was actually surprised by The No Asshole Rule's reliant on data and research to make it's case. When I bought it, I thought it was going to be an anecdote filled book that showed how assholes wreck the workplace. I was mildly shocked to see the research done on assholes (or workplace bullies) and how they affect the company and staff surrounding them.

Unfortunately, the data intensive arguments get a little slim by the middle and I found myself nodding off when the same anecdotes were used over and over again. There's also a bit of contorting that goes on in the last third where Robert Sutton tries to identify what an asshole is. More importantly, he tries to argue that they can be a necessary evil. Mr Sutton kind of stretches an experiment about littering into an HR situation that has a stack more moving parts than the experiment ever did.

A couple of times I felt (perhaps incorrectly) that Robert Sutton was reading far too much into the data to seem even handed in his approach. To make himself appear realistic to the readers about the challenges faced by people in the workplace. I think it would have been better if he said that assholes, despite their positive properties, were a risk and hazard to a company. Also, to say that workplaces with assholes suck. End of story.

Overall though, I enjoyed it and the final (added) chapter was really interesting. It was compelling to see how 'accidental' assholes occur and how even how the worst assholes can see themselves as being great people. (Even though they probably aren't due to their reliance on confirmation bias).


I've actually lent the book so I can't give an exact price, but the book cost me around $25. I still believe that's a difficult price to justify in a recession and The No Asshole Rule is a tiny paperback so I don't quite understand the cost. But the market's awesome for setting prices, man. So, y'know, whatever.


Despite some of its technical failings and its bumpy middle, I enjoyed The No Asshole Rule. It gave me some sound tips for surviving my current workplace and excellent research to look at when I am in a position of HR responsibility. I enjoyed Robert Sutton's candor and the nuance (at times) of his arguments. If it was half the price, I'd probably recommend it but at $25 it's a steep entry for something you should be able to get at the library and read in a day.

If you live in the US (or use US Amazon for your books) you can purchase The No Asshole Rule over here.
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