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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Digging into a wet Waldo...

An number of tasks and meetings put a temporary halt to my little project of posting comments on books damaged by the May flooding of my home (basement) office, so it is now time to get back on track. This time with another "classic" that I really cannot afford to be without.

Dwight Waldo's The Administrative State is, for most folks in "mainstream" Public Administration, the must read for all graduate students and anyone with a pretense to studying or teaching PA. I have no argument with its importance -- although I might put a couple of other works (here and here) in that Pantheon. Originally published in 1947, it was released again -- intact and unedited, but with a brilliant reflective introductory essay by Waldo -- in 1983. It was that 1983 paperback edition that sits all wrinkled and stiffened on my desk. While not impacted by mold (the dehumidifying worked well!) it is a chore to hold open and some of my marginal markings are blurred beyond recognition (not much of a loss there...).

This one is worth replacing, and while you cannot find the 1983 version available from Amazon, with a bit of hunting you can find the publisher (Holmes & Meier) and order directly from them. Be a little patient and you can get the Transaction Books edition (with introduction by Hugh Miller) that is due out in December.... (I've opted for the TA book and have already submitted a pre-order.)

I have reason to turn the crinkled pages of Waldo's book these days, because I have been reading an edited volume (Revisiting Waldo's Administrative State) that features articles reflecting on the its relevance today. I will be posting on individual chapters in that edited volume over the coming week or so, but in starting my own revisit of Waldo's 1983 edition, I have to say that no one can match the value of his own reflections of the original book.

Although I was not a student of Waldo's, I did meet him several times and the impression one came away with was that of a modest and gentle person -- a style reflected in his writing, at least on the surface. Dig a bit deeper into the endnotes, however, and you find a more critical Dwight Waldo. In his autobiographical comments (many found in the endnotes) in the new Introduction to Administrative State, he admits that his publisher suggested changes to some of the prose in the submitted dissertation version of the manuscript for the sake of maintaining his job prospects. Waldo also admits to a very negative attitude toward his subject matter that posed some problems with fellow attendees at meetings of the American Society for Public Administration. (In another example of how important it is to read Waldo's endnotes and footnotes, his famous and long standing "debate" with Herbert Simon was triggered by seemingly innocuous comments by Waldo in footnote to a 1953 American Political Science Review article that Simon took exception to in a response published in the next issue....)

More to come....
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