Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Cheaper by the Dozen

One summer I was hanging around my high school with my friend Ben waiting for my mom to pick me up from football practice. Near the offices we found stacks and stacks of boxes filled with books. One of our old teachers saw us poking around and told us that everything in the boxes was being discarded, so we could have anything we wanted. We each availed ourselves of a 1988 edition of the Merriam–Webster Dictionary. I also picked out a copy of The Virginian and a copy of this book. That was around 1995, so it's been over fifteen years since this book came into my possession and I only just now got around to reading it.[1]

My verdict: I had no idea this was biographical. Ostensibly it's the autobiography of the whole Gilbreth family, but in execution it's a partial biography of the father.[2] He occupies the narrative for many of the chapters. Even chapters that are about other members of the family or even about times spent without him are indelibly stamped with his personality. A major part of his personality is his pioneering of a management technique he called motion studies.[3] These days we would call such a person an efficiency expert. Gilbreth, Sr. is a fascinating character. The way the narrative plays out, it sounds like it might be fun to be in such a quirky family. But who could ever know except the Gilbreth children themselves? They certainly seemed to experience all the angst of other children, plus possibly some unique sources of frustration and discouragement due to their father's unique charisma. Gilbreth, Sr. innovated several things, including therbligs [4] and the practice of having a nurse (or assistant) stand by and hand a doctor (or dentist) the tools they need so they don't break eye contact with what they're doing. The prose is easy to follow and keeps the stories interesting, though they overuse the word roar to indicate that their father (and his sister, their aunt) spoke loudly. The novel ends exactly where it should.


[1] This is no surprise since I own hundreds of books that I haven't read, yet.

[2] See Bunker Gilbreth.

[3] See and motion studies.

[4] I'll post more about therbligs in the future. For now, check out

Image attributions:

Frank Gilbreth, Sr., is by Walter Hines Page and Arthur Wilson Page and currently exists in the public domain. It can be found at Bunker Gilbreth ca1916.jpg.

No comments:

Post a Comment