Honda: An American Success Story by Robert Shook

Brian Gongol

One-paragraph review: Manufacturing anything of even moderate size or complexity is a pretty daunting task. Ask most people just to assemble a piece of furniture from Ikea and many will end up frustrated and angry (or curled up in a ball, weeping in a corner). So imagine learning how to go from being a simple manufacturer of piston rings to building the world's best racing motorcycles and highest-rated mass-market cars, all within a generation. Imagine doing that against post-war shortages of materials, a hostile regulatory environment, and the language barrier that separates Japan from the United States. Honda did it, and even though this book is now more than a quarter-century out of date, the company is as strong as ever. Honda's advantage is that the organization appears to treat its people better than almost any other employer does, and has learning and continuous improvement embedded in its corporate DNA. The story is engrossing (and also well-told in the much more recent "Driving Honda") and is by no means exclusive to manufacturing -- "Honda: An American Success Story" ought to be used as a textbook in college management classes, no matter where the managers end up.

Verdict: Toss out the hideously outdated dustjacket, and you have one of the very best books on management to be found anywhere.