On the Psychology of Military Incompetence


By Norman F. Dixon

Read by James Langton

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 7, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A classic study of military leadership uncovering why generals fail

The Crimea, the Boer War, the Somme, Tobruk, Pearl Harbor, the Bay of Pigs: these are just some of the milestones in a century of military incompetence, of costly mishaps and tragic blunders. Are these simple accidents—as the "bloody fool" theory has it—or are they inevitable?

The psychologist Norman F. Dixon argues that there is a pattern to inept generalship, and he locates this pattern within the very act of creating armies in the first place, which in his view produces a levelling down of human capability that encourages the mediocre and limits the gifted. In this light, successful generals achieve what they do despite the stultifying features of the organization to which they belong.

On the Psychology of Military Incompetence is at once an original exploration of the battles that have defined the last two centuries of human civilization and an essential guide for the next generation of military leaders.

  • “One does not have to share all, or even most, of Dixon's often rebarbative views to agree that this penetrating, self-knowing, often hilarious, and sometimes alarming book is a must-read. It is a classic of military history awaiting rediscovery today.”
    —Brendan Simms, author of Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy

    “An original, scientifically impressive and fascinating book . . . a minor classic.”

    “An absorbing, perceptive and often very funny study in human frailty.”

    “It should be compulsory reading wherever future officers are selected or trained, and deserves a very wide readership among psychologists and laymen.”
    New Society

    “An intelligent man's guide to the defects of the military mind... Its conclusions are incontrovertible.”
    Books and Bookmen

On Sale
Nov 7, 2023
Hachette Audio

Norman F. Dixon

About the Author

Dr. Norman F. Dixon, M.B.E., Fellow of the British Psychological Society, was Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University College London. After ten years' commission in the Royal Engineers, during which time he was wounded ("largely through my own incompetence"), Dixon left the Army in 1950 and entered university where he obtained a first-class degree in Psychology. He received the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy in 1956 and Doctor of Science in 1972, and in 1974 was awarded the University of London Carpenter Medal "for work of exceptional distinction in Experimental Psychology".

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