Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 – the greatest of all business books

Catch-22’s most obvious business character is MiloMinderbinder, who moves from supervising the mess hall to running a worldwide trade operation, flying Lebanese cedars to Oslo sawmills, where they are turned into shingles for Cape Cod builders. Because it makes business sense — the Germans paid him to — he arranges the bombing of his own base.

But more acute is Heller’s grasp of quotidian organisational idiocies. He writes about the instructions from the top, passed on by those in the middle, even though everyone can see they make no sense. When they are ordered to bomb an Italian village so that the rubble falls on the road below to block German military traffic, the airmen object. Innocents will die — especially children who come out to see what they think are friendly planes. Surely it would be more logical to bomb the road itself? “I don’t know,” says the hapless major briefing them. “Look, fellows, we have to have some confidence in the people above us.”

There is Colonel Korn,struggling with Yossarian’s failure to drop his bombs the first time he flies over a bridge, necessitating a dangerous second run. What to do about this lapse? Korn decides to give Yossarian a medal, saying: “Act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.”

But, as a Financial Times reader once pointed out, the novel’s truly emblematic management character is Colonel Cathcart, who is intent on impressing his superiors via the soul-breaking efforts of his subordinates. He increases the number of missions his airmen fly. He affects great insight into the organisation but the truth was that “he was someone in the know who was always striving pathetically to find out what was going on”.

via Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is the greatest of all business books


About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
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