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The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small: Being the Third Edition of Systemantics
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The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small: Being the Third Edition of Systemantics

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  400 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
Hardcover published by Quadragle/The New York Times Book Co., third printing, August 1977, copyright 1975.
Hardcover, 314 pages
Published January 1st 2002 by General Systemantics Press (first published 1977)
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Jul 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
I think what this book demonstrates is that a certain kind of common sense isn't sense at all, but rather a cynical tyranny of half-truths. It is disingenuous, in that it attempts to borrow the prestige of technical language exactly while also writing in a register of humor, so that any attempt to see past it would provoke the guard reflect of not being in on the joke. Another frequently-used convention is to use upper-case words to make conceptual entities seem justified, well-known, and cohesi ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some parts systems theory, some parts psychology. Author has a quirky writing style and a consistent dry sense of humor which I enjoyed, but can't see it being everyone's liking.

This book reads like as if a shaman were educating you about complex systems. Very pithy, but also can come across as not rigorous enough.

I wish the author had tackled more systems post-failure scenarios and how to deal with messes, and I would be happy to add that 5th star. Author briefly touches system resiliency, but
Apr 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's a one of a kind book -- it's the System as idiot blind Azathoth, piping a monotonous tune on a flute at the center of the Universe. It's the System at two in the morning, faking a human voice, blithely informing you there is no emergency and you have always been on fire. It's the System you created that tells you it's going to take your face to make its customers feel more comfortable.

It's a book that tells you every program that you write will have bugs, every company you work for will hav
John Fultz
Aug 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a very odd book. The voice is incredibly serious, yet often with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The style reminds me a bit of The Dilbert Principle, but with less overt humor and more "wink-wink-nudge-nudge, but no, this is really serious".

Also, it's an old book, and it shows through the examples and footnotes. Many of them date to the 60s and the 70s. Although this printing was released in 2012, there's a lot of the previous decades leaking through.

All of that having been said, the princi
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read the book in one sitting on a Friday when I was taking a break from working on some annoying distributed systems issues. It speaks to the timelessness of Systems problems that a book that was first published in 1975 can have such an impact even today. There have been many Systems Theory books since this one and I had just read John Miller's "A crude Look at the whole" and expected more of the same treatment. Boy, was I surprised!? The book is broken into very small chapters that essentiall ...more
Alexander Yakushev
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
However satirical, this book presents hard questions and no easy answers. It is a very humbling experience that makes you rethink your approach to solving problems (and whether what you do solves them at all).
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: engineering
A cross between Dilbert, Dao De Jing and Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents. Large technological and social systems lose track of their original purpose and turn self-serving; they do not function as designed because their creators forgot Le Chatelier's principle and were unaware of various feedback loops. The process of observing the systems changes them. Passive safety is better than active safety; when used mindlessly, safety devices and procedures themselves become safety hazards.

The examples
May 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book on a Saturday afternoon. Small book, amusing writing, easy to follow.

This book was published in 1975. Don't be surprised if some of the examples, and some of the language, is somewhat dated.

The author attempts to be both amusing and academic in his approach. I find most academic writing to be dry and overly intellectual. While the intellectual aspects of this book annoyed me to some degree (otherwise it would have 5 stars) the humor does shine through.

What are the common charact
Nathan Glenn
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Not what I expected, but still very relevant. I expected something very academic and mathematical. The author claimed many times that his principles were "axioms", and that they were pristinely mathematical in nature and all self evident. This was a rather annoying claim, since the book was not mathematical at all, nor were the axioms necessarily self-evident (though good supporting examples were provided). Despite this, it all still rings perfectly true. A system can be a blessing or a curse, b ...more
Feb 10, 2016 rated it liked it
"we humans tend to forget inconvenient facts, and if special notice is not taken of them, they simply fade away out of awareness", p. xx.

"The reader is hereby warned that any such optimism is the reader's own responsibility", p. xxi

"Error is our existential situation and that our successes are destined to be temporary and partial", p. xxv.

Efficiency Expert: Someone who thinks s/he knows what a given System is, or what it should be doing, and who therefore feels s/he is in a position to pass judg
George Anderson
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was first published in 1975 and has gone through several printings.
It is a serious book that sometimes masquerades its points with humor. The general theory supported in the book is that: "Systems in general work poorly or not at all". Two representative corollaries of this theory are: "Large systems usually operate in failure mode" and "The system tends to oppose its own proper function." The strength of the book is the examples of real world systems behaviour ranging from the adminis
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a weird book. I found out about it by accident, and read it on a whim. The book mainly covers how most systems don't work, or work mainly for their own ends, and not the ends set out at the system's inception. It does this through a series of maxims which define general systems behavior. Often times the book is irreverant (a lame joke about mental retardation is contained within the first chapter), and the approach isn't exactly scholarly, but it's hard to ignore the basic common sense o ...more
Lou Cordero
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
The copy I read is subtitled "How systems work and especially how they fail". Wonderful easy read sheds light and humor on the development of complex systems. The impossibility of solving the problem correctly and completely. I recommend this book to anyone involved in the design of complex systems.
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I would like this book to be required reading for all high school or college students. It would help dispel the now unhealthy wide-spread blind faith in "systems." To paraphrase the author: A large system (Congress for example) never does what it says it does. Large systems have their own goals.

"The Systems Bible" is written for the layperson. It is very witty and full of usable wisdom.
Mark Sanchez
Jun 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
Funny at times, but I'm not sure there was actually much I could take away from it. I did like the use of very short chapters.
Nov 20, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
tries unsuccessfully to be flip and not very insightful, but its a quick read with an interesting of mind tickling maxims.
David Westerveld
Presented in a very humorous and entertaining way, this book is packed with ideas that make you stop and think.

Why don't things work the way you expect them to? Well, this book will tell you. It might seem discouraging to know that a "Complex System cannot be 'made' to work. It either work's or it doesn't," but when you think it about, it is easier to (principle 31) align your system with human motivational vectors, than to keep banging your head against fundamental systems laws.

And never forge
Mack Clair
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
A good read. The actual book as such lasts only for 193 pages; the remainder is spent on appendices containing bibliographies, indices, and expertise.

I wish the examples weren’t so dated. In the age of the internet, humans are more intimately involved in systems than ever and interact with systems of unprecedented complexity and size. As examples:
-We add privacy settings to our social media accounts because the information we added to the site negatively impacts our privacy.
-We live in the most
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting quick read that really just observes the world and takes it super literally. Even though it was published 40 years ago we still end up dealing with the same problems in software development and maintenance. If I had to sum it up in a few sentences:

Humans are not as smart as they think they are.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Things are not as they appear. Make sure you understand the root causes of things before you go poking around.
Mike Gunderloy
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Humor masquerading as a business book...or perhaps vice versa. If you remember Parkinson's Law, you'll know the spirit here. "The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small", this one looks at systems as things that stand above and beyond (and often opposed to) their creators. There are many many nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout (and helpfully collected in an appendix), ranging from NEW SYSTEMS GENERATE NEW PROBLEMS to PERFECTION CAN BE ACHIEVED ON THE DAY AFTER THE FINAL DEADLINE.
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A sardonic overview of the systems theory. Gives plenty of advice on recognizing failure modes of systems. Sadly, I recognize many of them from experience. Also gives advice on building systems, e.g., don't, or modify an existing system (and be prepared for unintended consequences), or at the very least build a small & loose system of modest ambition. Did I mention the book is sardonic?
Kevin Shockey
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Best book I ever read on building complex systems.
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Because it’s more pragmatic than theoretical, it’s the perfect complement to Meadow’s “thinking in systems”
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
The version I read is from 1977.

A pithy, wry overview and critique of systems.
Nathan Glenn
Oct 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tory Anderson
Not what I expected, but still very relevant. I expected something very academic and mathematical, but instead it claimed to be so but was far from it (the incorrect claims lose it a star, but it's still a worthy read). The interesting thing, though, is that it all still rings perfectly true. A system can be a blessing or a curse, but it is guaranteed to have unexpected behavior. When it does something bad, you'd better hope that your system is flexible, changable, monitorable objectively someho ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be read by every person. Period.

This explains a lot of how our lives go off the rails in unexpected ways. Health insurance, education, government, these are all large, complex systems that have been messed with by powerful interest groups and have most likely been irreparably broken. This book talks about how we can try to figure out a way of running things but many times what we intend does not end up happening.

Fascinating book.
Nov 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Very compelling ideas, this book has me eager to learn more about the field. My one complaint is that the book leans heavily on anecdote. I was hoping for a more methodical and scientific approach to the field.
John Spero
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amusing cautionary tales on humanity's attempt to anti-tamper an imperfect world.
TK Keanini
Apr 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: systemstheory
Good Intro
How things really work (or don't). Read it a long time ago in it's first edition. Gives insight about why organizations don't act like you expect.
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John Gall (September 18, 1925 - December 15, 2014) was an American author and retired pediatrician. Gall is known for his 1975 book General systemantics: an essay on how systems work, and especially how they fail..., a critique of systems theory. One of the statements from this book has become known as Gall's law.

Gall started his studies in St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. He received fu
“M. Gandhi is reported to have said: “There go my people. I must find out where they are going, so I can lead them.”[a.]” 1 likes
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