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ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Home > McGill News > 2001 > Summer 2001 > Reviews

Charles Taylor, Princeton University Press, 2001, $26.50, by Ruth Abbey, MA'89, PhD'95.

McGill graduate and emeritus professor Charles Taylor, BA'52, is one of the most influential and prolific of contemporary philosophers, whose interests and writings range from multiculturalism to artificial intelligence, from politics to life in the secular age. Ruth Abbey is the first author to dedicate a book-length study to Taylor's oeuvre, and her book will serve as a solid introduction to his work. Dividing his work into chapters on morality, selfhood, politics, knowledge and secularity, Abbey covers most of Taylor's disparate interests (published in the U.S., it touches only lightly on the specific issues of Canadian politics and society that inform some of his writing). A good companion to Taylor's own writings.

Why I Hate Flying, Texere, 2001, $24.95, by Henry Mintzberg, BEng'61.

McGill management guru Henry Mintzberg has written a caustic, funny and eccentric little book on everyone's least favourite form of travel. Because Mintzberg is also a management guru at INSEAD in France, he spends a lot of time aloft and laments the commercialism that has transformed airlines -- and airports -- and made flying so unpleasant.

Describing airlines as "masters at turning cattle into sardines," Mintzberg takes us through the entire experience, from the "check-in shuffle" to squeezing into your seat "after performing several feats that could land you a job in the circus." Once installed, passengers are subjected to a series of announcements to remind us "that we are getting Customer Service." Instead of being able to read or doze in peace, we hear constantly (over "the LOUDspeaker") from the flight attendants or from the captain to let us know, for instance, that "we're flying over Spearfish, South Dakota."

Airlines have strayed far from their mission of getting people from one place to another in reasonable comfort. Passengers now can't reach an airline by phone, can't be sure that they're not paying twice what the person in the next seat paid -- in fact, can't be certain they will get on the plane at all, since airlines permit overbooking. Mintzberg confesses that he makes multiple reservations for fear of being bumped, and says airlines ought to operate like hotels, where people pay whether they turn up or not. Companies wouldn't have to worry about seats going unsold and wouldn't have flights where "479 seats may well be going at 479 different prices."

He dismisses air miles programs as "payola," deplores the fact that airports are becoming glitzy shopping malls, and challenges claims that the industry is fiercely competitive while companies form alliances to "keep the globe safe for the big guys." He tells of "Air Kanuk" swallowing another airline and then running ads where its CEO promises any problems will be solved in 180 days. "It's all the rage for heroic chief executives to clamber aboard the tube and tell us how they are fixing things," says Mintzberg. "Maybe they should sit quietly in the background and stop breaking things."

And maybe they should follow another good suggestion: serve airline food in the company dining rooms.

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