Lawrence A's Reviews > Cheaper by the Dozen

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.
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Oct 15, 07

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in November, 1970

Although this book was sold to me as a 7th-grader as a "heartwarming" memoir of children raised by an efficiency expert, I realized not too long thereafter that the book presented an insidious hidden agenda. In real life, the Gilbreth father was an acolyte of efficiency engineer Frederick "Speedy" Taylor (1856-1915), considered the founder of "the theory of scientific management." Taylorism, as it had come to be called, destroyed the craft underpinnings of much of the manufacturing industry in the US, and segmented factory workers' activities into simple, repetitious, mind-numbing tasks. While this may have increased the wealth of the owners, and, over time, provided a steady wage for some industrial workers, a fairly decent critique of Taylorism, and in particular management's treatment of workers as replaceable cogs in a well-oiled machine, rather than human beings with inherent capabilities and imagination, can be found in Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital. If I were subjected to the indignities inflicted on the Gilbreth children by their father, I would have gone on strike, or run away from home as soon as possible. The recent Steve Martin movies, of course, have little to do with the raison d'etre of the book---any movie with Steve Martin and Eugene Levy can be guaranteed to yield plenty of laughs. Not so the book.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Bob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bob Wow...I don't disagree with a word that you write, but nonetheless I enjoyed the book immensely. It was funny.

message 2: by Miriam (last edited Jul 20, 2008 06:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Miriam I'm with you, Lawrence A! This book was recommended to me as cute and heart-warming back when I was a kid, and my friends all thought it was, but I hated the dad way too much to appreciate the anecdotes.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

The movie with Steve Martin is disgusting, but the book is hilarious.

Miriam Oh, I don't deny that it was funny, I just didn't find it heartwarming. But I never enjoy the scenes in books or movies (or real life!) when characters are embarrassed or put on the spot. Too much empathy, I guess.

message 5: by Lia (new)

Lia I love your unique critique. Very insightful. Haven't read it myself, but if I ever do, your words will echo in my head.

message 6: by Kira (new)

Kira Lerner Frank Gilbreth is the originator of the idea of having a nurse "caddy" a surgeon's instruments for him/her, rather than having the surgeon hunt for the instrument; Lillian was greatly responsible for the evolution of modern kitchen layouts. (and, IIRC, owned the patent for the step-on garbage can, which opened the lid when you stepped on a pedal at the bottom of the can). Anyway, my point is, though they were initially allied with Taylorism, they parted ways and would hardly be considered 'acolytes' of the man's work, again, because of his focus on profit over the workers' welfare, whereas the Gilbreths proved one could improve both.

message 7: by Kira (new)

Kira Lerner Yipe half my comment went missing. The beginning stated that the Gilbreths parted company with Taylor and in fact there was a rift between them due to their differences in approaching motion study and efficiency; the Gilbreths were more concerned with ergonomics (though the science wasn't called by that name at the time) and improving the work situation for the workers, rather than just the manufacturers; they took issue with Taylor's monomania for efficiency at the expense of the employees' welfare.

Lawrence A Kira wrote: "Yipe half my comment went missing. The beginning stated that the Gilbreths parted company with Taylor and in fact there was a rift between them due to their differences in approaching motion study ..."

Kira: Thanks for the information on the rift between the Gilbreths and Taylor. Do you know of any book or web site that describes it in detail? I'd love to read more about it. btw, it's quite funny to me that you happened to post your comment yesterday in connection with my 5-year-old comment, since, only one night earlier, I was having dinner with the friend who introduced me to Goodreads, and she mentioned the book in the course of some random discussion (although she couldn't remember the title). In response, I told her what I had written on this site and, as fate would have it, your new post magically appeared! Best, Larry

message 9: by Kira (last edited Aug 08, 2012 01:29AM) (new)

Kira Lerner Hi Lawrence! Wow, I didn't even realize your comment was that old, how embarrassing. I'd read up on the Gilbreths from an admittedly biased source, "Time Out for Happiness" by Frank Gilbreth Jr., but there's also a good overview of the Gilbreths initial admiration of Taylor and eventual split around 1912 here: (see p. 8). Wikipedia also sources Claude George's "The History of Management Thought" (1968) with the quote: "The symbol of Taylorism was the stopwatch; Taylor was primarily concerned with reducing process times. The Gilbreths, on the other hand, sought to make processes more efficient by reducing the motions involved. They saw their approach as more concerned with workers' welfare than Taylorism, which workers themselves often perceived as primarily concerned with profit. This difference led to a personal rift between Taylor and the Gilbreths which, after Taylor's death, turned into a feud between the Gilbreths and Taylor's followers."

The article on Lillian Gilbreth refers to "Critical Biography Without Subjects and Objects: An Encounter with Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth," The Sociological Quarterly 35:621-643 and quotes: "Both Lillian and Frank Gilbreth believed that scientific management as formulated by Taylor fell short when it came to managing the human element on the shop floor."

And finally there's the Gilbreths' own booklet, "Fatigue study: the elimination of humanity's greatest unnecessary waste" (Fatigue study being the forerunner of what today we call ergonomics.)

From the preface:

"In the final analysis that organization is best that has the best quality of workers No organization can continue to be of first quality whose workers are over fatigued Other things being equal that country will be most happy and most successful whose workers have the least unnecessary fatigue Aside from the pleasure one may obtain from it it is the duty of every one to eliminate the causes of unnecessary fatigue and to promote the dissemination of knowledge of how to recover most quickly from unnecessary and necessary fatigue."

I have to admit I'm also biased in favor of the Gilbreths. My cat is even named Therblig. :)

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