reviews

reviews: The Peter Principle; The Art of War; The Saint

The Peter Principle by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull

What it's about: The Peter Principle is very simple: in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. That is, a salesman who is good at his job will be promoted--to manager, a job for which he is completely unsuited. And there he'll stay until he retires or is fired for whatever reason.

Why I read it: The title caught my eye as I was lying on the floor by the bookcase. And I was feeling completely unmotivated to do any of the things I ought to have been doing--such as yardwork or unpacking from college. I kept reading partially because it was intriguing in itself, partially because I'm entering the work world in earnest, and the ability to recognize competency (or rather the lack thereof) in both myself and others seems like a necessity. (Also, there were pictures.)

Why you should/shouldn't read it: Although it is written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's funny the same way Dilbert is funny--almost painfully, because it is mostly, I think, truth. And anything that might help combat incompetency is a good thing.

Excerpt:
Compulsive Incompetence File, Selected Cases


  • Macbeth, a successful military commander, became an incompetent king.

  • A. Hitler, a consummate politician, found his level of incompetence as a generalissimo.

  • Socrates was an incomparable teacher, but found his level of incompetence as a defense attorney.



The Art of War by Sun Tzu

What it's about: War, from the general's perspective. Particularly, how to win with as little actual combat as possible.

Why I read it: A bunch of reasons: it's been referenced in a couple stories I've read, so I've been curious about it for a while; I'm trying to write about soldiers, so I figured it might be helpful to get into that headspace; my dad was reading it when I came home from college and it was right there. (That last reason's the real one.)

Why you should/shouldn't read it: It's beautiful. Well, and it's a good base if you're going to be writing about battles and stuff. Mostly, I find that it's influencing the way I read and watch anything with a military content--that is, it's much harder to ignore how stupidly the military is usually written. The incompetence-for-the-sake-of-plot. Hopefully this means I'll do a better job of avoiding doing the same in my own writing.

Excerpt:
The warrior skilled
In indirect warfare
Is infinite
As Heaven and Earth,
As inexhaustible
As river and sea,
He ends and begins again
Like sun and moon,
Dies and is born again
Like the Four Seasons.


The Saint: five complete novels by Leslie Charteris

What it's about: A modern day Robin Hood who runs around (very stylishly) taking down gangs and riff-raff--and lines his pockets in the process. The plots are a bit unbelievable (in the best fashion), the main character is a definite Gary Stu (but a very witty one), and the law is made to look like an ass (you can't help but feel sorry for Inspector Teal).

Why I read it: Again, my dad had it out, and I was looking for something to read that was simply fun. And I found it.

Why you should/shouldn't read it: It's frivolous fun, but underneath the frivolity is the serious question of how we ought to live--and what we should be willing to die for. As the author says in the preface to The Saint vs. Scotland Yard: "Personally, I like the Saint--but maybe I'm prejudiced. He is my protest against the miserable half-heartedness of these days."

Excerpt:
"I might deceive you," he said with disarming candour, "but I won't. I am the Saint." He absorbed the reflex ripples of expression that jerked over the seated men, and smiled again. "Yes--I'm the guy you've been wanting to meet all these years. I am the man with the load of mischief. I," said the Saint, who was partial to the personal pronoun, and apt to become loquacious when he found that it could start a good sentence, "am the Holy Terror, and the only thing for you boys to do is try and look pleased about it."

The Saint vs. Scotland Yard, by Leslie Charteris
You totally should! They're grand old fun, and the Saint is pretty awesome (as are his various sidekicks).
The one thing I don't like about The Peter Principle is that it speaks dismissively of going into space, which is still in beta-testing, when we could be traveling around on earth, which we're good at.

MISSED POINT LIEK WHOA YEAH.

And oh ye gods I love the Saint. Seriously. (Also, I still think Charteris was at least as much of an influence on Lupin III -- at least, the anime version of same -- as Maurice Leblanc was.)

Which five were in your omnibus, by the way?
Hm. I don't remember the bit about staying on earth vs. venturing into space, but I read the book quickly. And ignoring that (I suppose it was as an example?), the principle seems sound.


I just discovered that there was a TV series of The Saint. Seems like it might be worth checking out.

The omnibus contains The Man Who was Clever, The Lawless Lady, The Saint Closes the Case, The Avenging Saint, and The Saint vs. Scotland Yard. But I wasn't able to bring myself to read the third one--I made the mistake of flipping to the end first, and after that I had to skip to the next story. I loved the other four novels, though. And the few short stories I've come across in various mystery anthologies.