My Books

-- A biography of Jane Jacobs, due out in 2016 from Knopf.
-- Love and language, happiness and sorrow, on the Great Blasket Island.
-- A much-loved natural material and its man-made imitators.
-- A popular history of tourism through the lens of Nice, France
-- The man who taught us not to stop and smell the roses
-- Masters and apprentices among elite scientists

THE ONE BEST WAY: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency

"In the past man has been first. In the future the System will be first," predicted Frederick Winslow Taylor, the first efficiency expert and model for all the stopwatch-clicking engineers who stalk the factories and offices of the industrial world. Taylor influenced Ford's assembly line and Lenin's Soviet Russia. Management guru Peter Drucker ranked him with Freud and Darwin as a maker of the modern world. His ceaseless quest for "the one best way" changed the very texture of twentieth-century life.

In 1874, eighteen-year-old Taylor abandoned his wealthy family's plans for him to attend Harvard, and instead went to work as a lowly apprentice in a Philadelphia machine shop, shuttling between the manicured hedges of his family's home and the hot, cussing, dirty world of the shop floor. As he rose through the ranks of management, he began the time-and-motion studies for which he would become famous, and forged his industrial philosophy, Scientific Management.

To organized labor, Taylor was a slave-driver. To the bosses, he was an eccentric who raised wages while ruling the factory floor with a stopwatch. To himself, he was a misunderstood visionary who, under the banner of Science, would confer prosperity on all and abolish the old class hatreds.

To millions today who feel they give up too much to their jobs, Taylor is the source of that fierce, unholy obsession with "efficiency" that marks modern life. The assembly line; the layout of our kitchens; the ways our libraries, fast-food restaurants, and even our churches are organized all owe much to this driven man, who broke every job into its parts, slice and trimmed and timed them, and remolded what was left into the work of the twentieth century.

Evoking a time when the industrial world was young, new, and exciting, when the sun streamed through great factory windows and filtered through the smoke of the shop floor, Robert Kanigel's epochal biography recounts the life of the man who taught us not to stop and smell the roses, and whose compulsions eerily foreshadowed how we live and work today.

-- From the dustjacket of the Viking hardcover edition, 1997

Publishing History


Viking hardcover, 1997
U.K. hardcover, Little, Brown 1997
Penguin paperback, 1999
U.K. paperback, Abacus, 2000
MIT Press paperback, 2005

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Technology Book Series, 1997
Business Week, Best Business Books of 1997
Library Journal, Best Business Books, 1997
Amazon.com, Top 10 Biographies of 1997
New York Times Book Review, Notable Books of the Year, 1997
Global Business Book Awards (Financial Times/​Booz-Allen & Hamilton), finalist, biography, 1998

Selected reviews: New York Times Book Review [front page], New York Times [daily], New Leader, Civilization, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Journal of Economic History, The American Enterprise, Commentary, New York Review of Books, Nature, Reason, New Republic, Times Higher Education Supplement [U.K.], New Scientist [U.K.], Journal of American History, Technology and Culture, Labor History, Isis, Science

Original Penguin paperback edition, 1999

"I'm fascinated with Robert Kanigel's new book. It's a biography and much more, an impressive and beautiful work of history, economics, science, culture, psychology. Now I see Frederick Taylor's influence on practically every moment of our waking lives." -- Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and American Steel

"This steampowered trip through the Iron Age of America, where an idealistic craftsman becomes a huckster for efficiency, is a delightful read. The writing sings with a love for yesterday's technology, teaching lessons yet to be learned by today's software developers." -- Clifford Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg and Silicon Snake Oil

"Biographer Robert Kanigel once again opens up an extraordinary life in phenomenal depth and detail as he explores the efficient world of Frederick Winslow Taylor and his lasting impact on our era." -- Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

"What is so extraordinary about Robert Kanigel's The One Best Way is that it's fair to Frederick Taylor, fair to those he Taylorized in his own lifetime, and fair to the millions (me included) who've chafed against Taylorism for over a century now." -- Barbara Garson, author of All the Livelong Day and The Electronic Sweatshop

"Robert Kanigel has produced the definitive work on one of the most important but least heralded figures of the twentieth century. Frederick Taylor's zealous determination to make efficiency the prime temporal value of our century has had untold consequences for civilization. Kanigel's intimate account of Taylor's personal odyssey and mission holds up a revealing mirror to our life and times." Jeremy Rifkin, author of The End of Work and Time Wars

-- From the dustjacket of the Viking hardcover edition, 1997
MIT Press paperback edition, 2005

Review Excerpts


"That Taylor should be remembered through Cheaper By the Dozen is as if Christ were to be remembered for having inspired Monty Python's Life of Brian. Taylor's influence is omnipresent: It's his ideas that determine how many burgers McDonald's expects its flippers to flip or how many callers the phone company expects its operators to assist. So who was he? And what exactly was his -ism? That answers can be found in Robert Kanigel's authoritative, elegantly written biography." -- Fortune

"A superb biography...Kanigel, award-winning author of The Man Who Knew Infinity, a biography of India's turn-of-the-century math wizard Srinivasa Ramanujan, has given us another unlikely page-turner." -- Chicago Tribune Sunday books front-page review

"Mr. Kanigel's richly detailed biography...shows how much drama there was in the mundane when Taylor was making it the stuff of a new 'science' of efficiency." -- New York Times Book Review front-page review by George Will

"Intriguing...Mr. Kanigel [tells] an absorbing story...He has taken one man's colorful life and made it ring with a resonance that arouses and disturbs." -- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

A "marvelously done biography." The author tells "the clanging, hissing tale of the founder of one of the century's great 'ism's.' I was sorry when it ended." -- Business Week

"Superb...This portrayal of Taylor is a full one, balanced, critical, adroitly placing events and individuals in the story in a wider context. The writing is lively and evokes the past skillfully. The One Best Way is a first-rate biography done in a thoroughly professional manner, and it stands near the top of the enormous literature on Taylor and his followers." -- Science

Little, Brown hardcover edition (U.K.), 1997

Review Excerpts, U.K. Edition


An "elegantly crafted, highly readable and instructive synthesis of existing material on Taylor." -- Times Higher Education Supplement

"The One Best Way, Robert Kanigel's balanced and assiduous biography of a persistently controversial figure, is a valuable reappraisal of the man and his arguments." -- New Scientist

"Kanigel's massive book, richly detailed and researched, will force many a re-think about this remarkable man...This ia a big, rewarding read." -- Director