Some blurbs are true. Mike Bottery, says his publisher, provides a "telling picture of contemporary society". And this is just what he's done. Bottery explores the several worlds of health and education - trust and private hospitals, LEA, grant-maintained and independent schools - in a coherent, troubling account of the concerns and changing values of teachers, nurses, doctors and administrators.
Bottery's context is the rise of "new public management". As politicians keep a tight rein on the public sector via market forces and central regulation they win greater control of professional practice and costs. Professionals are reduced to functionaries. Ideas of serving the public good are replaced by criteria relating to success in the marketplace.
This is a familiar story in education, of course. The value of Bottery's book is that we see it unfolding across other sectors as well.
Bottery argues there is a shift to a new and questionable system of values: individuals are finally internalising ideas which once they rejected. A "colder, more structured era is being entered".
The breadth of his research is itself an antidote to what he fears is the besetting vice of professionals - their narrowness of vision. They are living the change towards greater competition, greater regulation. Yet even while they live the market they are, in an intellectual sense, cloistered from it. Teachers, Bottery argues, still possess altruistic values and see education as a common good. What they lack is an appreciation of the forces that are putting this commitment under pressure and a sense that there are alternative ways of conducting public life.
It is around this idea of an alternative that Bottery organises the final part of his book. Like many writers now, he believes that the lion of economic efficiency and the lamb of social equity can be persuaded to lie down together. There are different views about the credibility of such a project, but Bottery argues a decent case. He believes a renewed professionalism - willing to debate how institutional practice can relate to the common good - is essential to creating a "strong democracy".
The marketisation of the public sector is unlikely to subside. But successful economies need social cohesion and active citizens to thrive, and a remodelled professionalism is much better placed to provide these qualities than the regulated, atomistic and competitive institutions in which so many service providers now work.
Ken Jones * The writer lectures in the education department at Keele University november 12J1999 The books page is edited by Professor Kate Myers, director of professional development unit at Keele University