Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics” as Want to Read:
Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  27 reviews
The author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities looks at business fraud and criminal enterprise, overextended government farm subsidies and zealous transit police, to show what happens when the moral systems of commerce collide with those of politics.
Paperback, First Vintage Books Edition, 236 pages
Published January 13th 1994 by Vintage Books (first published 1992)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Systems of Survival, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Systems of Survival

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  256 ratings  ·  27 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics
Seth Galbraith
Apr 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Seth by: B. F. Galbraith
This book is fantastic but everyone forgets to read the sequel, The Nature of Economies. Don't be like them. Read The Nature of Economies too.
Michael Kerr
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
In this slim and readable volume, Jacobs articulates the two moral systems humans have evolved over the centuries: that of traders (commerce), and that of guardians (government). Once stated, they seem so obvious, but failure to recognize the differences results in serious chaos. This book was a big help to me when I moved from the private sector to the public; suddenly, the foreign behaviours and attitudes I was encountering made sense. As topical today as it was in the 1990s, this book is a mu ...more
Nov 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: multiple-reads
This is a profoundly important book! Jacob's observation that a failure to understand that there is a difference in moral character required between those who are guardians of a society and those who are its entrepreneurs is important and pertinent. She argues that a society will fail if it allows itself to relax the distinction and have the role of the guardians taken over by the entrepreneurs, because their lure for the lucre leads easily to corruption. She suggests that the guardian role tend ...more
Oct 06, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: cultural speculators.
if you're a hard-nosed literary critic it's going to be really hard for you to get past the central conceit of this sociology book-- it's written as a dialogue, with characters and a bare minimum of plot-- and while it's also written by one of the greatest urbanists and essayists to ever walk the planet, it was not written by one of the greatest novelists. i wish that jane jacobs had couched these ideas in a book of essays in her own voice.

BUT: the ideas are pretty neat. if you're interested in
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Thought provoking insight into the unwritten rules we use (or should use) to do our business and governing.
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Jacobs uses character dialogue to outline her belief around two distinct work paths within society; take and trade. Taking is related to guardianship, and trading to commerce and guardianship. She makes clear the characteristics of both sets of interests, explaining why each is valuable and desirable. It is a compelling consideration for how we can relate to the moral 'hazards' loose in the world today, and how we can think about designing systems that will allow us to live as loving, thriving c ...more
Feb 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book should be required reading in every high school in America. The examples are somewhat dated, but the philosophies and concepts portrayed are timeless. I read the book for a second time, twelve years after it was published, and it all still holds water. Not many books on business have that kind of longevity. The tale is told through the dialog of members of a dinner club. Basically, there are two ways to survive – you either barter or steal. Over time, these two survival strategies evol ...more
Andrea McDowell
I was really looking forward to this as my first Jane Jacobs book, but I was disappointed. I found the faux-Socratic dialogue jarring and not believable, and the system they put together was at least lacking one element: survival-by-community. Our instincts for fostering social relationships would not have evolved if they did not enhance our survival, and there are too many groups in society who depend utterly on generosity to "make a living" (children, the elderly, some disabled, etc.). Basical ...more
Nolan Gray
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another wonderful book from Jane Jacobs. Jacob's returns to philosophy's roots for a dialogue concerning ethics and the relationship between the individual and society. At first, I was worried about this style; I tend to prefer my philosophy straight, no narratives or such. However, I ended up loving this as much as the Platonic dialogues, and I daresay her insights are nearly as profound. Definitely worth the read.

Side note: I chose to read this while visiting Prague. Happy to have such a fant
Nov 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Highly recommended examination of the morality of earning a living. Turns out there are two ways, raiding and trading (to use terms Jacobs explicity rejects), both of which have their place in a balanced society as a check on the cancerous growth of the other. Very insightful. This book can change your take on work and the economy.
May 18, 2011 rated it liked it
I'll definitely be reading more Jane Jacobs. She was clearly a very insightful cultural critic. This book presents some useful tools for looking at systems of morality, but the discussion loses traction thanks to its format as a fictionalized dialogue.
Melissa Erin
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book for am Ethics class on Jane Jacobs and I absolutely loved it. It is completely different from what I have ever read and it was just an amazingly well thought out way of how our society works and how we teach ourselves to ruin it... but yet, how to fix it.
Nov 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Compares the values of commerce (trade, transparent, open, innovative) with politics (war, secret, closed, loyal). One works in realm of police, the other in trade. Read on Long Wharf.
Ken Deshaies
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Awesome discussion about the need for balance between government (the guardians) and commerce. Well researched and documented, conveyed in conversational style. I loved it.
José Antonio Lopez
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jane Jacobs is better know by her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities but Systems of Survival is her masterpiece on morality.

Different from her previous work Systems of Survival is written as a dialogue which is interesting in itself. Each character represent a different point of view and together they develop, through a series of socratic dialogues and research, a moral system that answers the initial quest of a systemic thinking about morality in practical working life.

Jacobs ca
Rob Mills
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A short book, written as a dialogue between a group of friends of differing backgrounds.

The question finds root in Plato's ideal republic and his division of responsibility. Jane Jacobs appoints a lead character in Kate who proposes that there are two moral syndromes (guardian/government vs commerce) inherent in our society. Each syndrome is made up of various inter related components and the characters debate the origin, intent, and modern representations of said components.

The conclusion see
Sep 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
[In my ratings 2 means quite OK and 3 means good.]

For the sake of both, yes, let us return to separation of commerce and government. Beyond that, this is a book for Libertarians or anyone who thinks that government, however necessary, is evil. I don't. I am proud to have spent a career as a bureaucrat. I find this book offensive and destructive as guidance, at best.

It is not mine to judge my own actions, but when I think about coworkers they do NOT tend to meet the book's stereotypes. Deceit in
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
I give this book a 2 out of 5, even though its a great book my attention was total of. I did not get the book but the part in which I did read with potential attention I did enjoy, This book is the kind of book where you finish reading and you learned something. This book in my perspective is trying to teach us that our world is filled with lies, diminishing people and etc. It teaches us that government political things or people lie, and we should be careful with what we believe. This book is r ...more
Nick de Vera
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I first heard of this book from Venkatesh Rao, subconsciously I'd been building it up in my head for years. The actual text is a letdown, and the dialog format is a distracting affectation. The Wikipedia page on Systems of Survival gives a perfectly adequate encapsulation of the guardian and commerce syndromes

Still fun to think about. Reminded me of Trevanian's Shibumi. The protagonist assassin Nicholai Hel who compares himself to a paladin, over and over we hear about the centuries of breeding
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I refer to this book constantly.

If you ant to understand the difference between private and public sector organizations, who they serve and why, and why they should never try and behave like the other, this is the only book you need.

a caveat: This book is written in the construct of Platonic Dialogue, and I HATED it. Once the characters get into their discussions however, it's what they say is that is important and well worth any frustration you may have with the structure.
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Why did she write this as a series of dialogs?
Insight into two different ethical systems

Insight into two different ethical systems and when each is appropriate and inappropriate. Also examines the problem of admixture between them.

This explains much of what both sides of the political divide like and dislike about our political leaders, past and present.
 Xiao Wen Xu
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jane Jacobs’ acclaimed book, Systems of Survival, argues that all work fits into two fundamental moral systems that Jacobs identifies as the commercial and guardian syndromes which provide direction for conducting human life. Canadian-American author and activist Jacobs, born in 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, moved with her sister to New York City in 1935. There, Jacobs attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies for two years, after which she became a writer for the Office of War ...more
Hannele Kormano
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: something-old
The dialogue-style of this book comes off a little bit odd at first, but I appreciate it from the perspective of exploring ideas and theories rather than decreeing them from on high. I disagreed with some of the examples used, particularly in a few places where it placed some behaviour in one syndrome or another. But also, I think that's really the point -- this is a book to contemplate, and it's designed to let you build your own thoughts on top of it (in particular, it was really interesting r ...more
Lance Cahill
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
disappointing. A novelization (poor one at that) of Plato's Republic
Jolie Lemoine
Jun 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Moral Obligations are created by whom?
Denise Pinto
rated it it was amazing
Aug 09, 2014
Justine Marcus
rated it really liked it
Jun 18, 2012
Jon Hegg
rated it it was amazing
Aug 08, 2016
rated it really liked it
Jun 16, 2008
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Agent Running in the Field
  • Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying
  • Uncommon Carriers
  • The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration
  • Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution
  • River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
  • A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
  • The Contrary Farmer
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
  • The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose
  • Among Schoolchildren
  • Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth
  • Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883
  • Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen
  • The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters
See similar books…
Jane Jacobs, OC, O.Ont (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American-born Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. The book has been credited with reaching beyond planning issues to inf ...more

Related Articles

There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
66 likes · 24 comments