It comes as a surprise to learn that Peter Drucker, the guru of business management, grew up among the intelligentsia of 1920s Vienna, where Freud's doings were discussed at the dinner table, social responsibility was de rigueur, and business was beneath notice. But Drucker decided early, he relates, to march to no common beat: on his fourteenth birthday he handed over the Young Socialist flag—that it was such an honor to carry—and headed home, "lonely" but "light-hearted." Still, one may conclude, reading about the memorable persons he came to know, that he was not so much a nonconformist as a natural-born observer, sizer-upper, and stasher-away. One, moreover, with a purpose: "to learn from success." So his arch, affectionate tribute to Miss Elsa and Miss Sophie, the fourth-grade mentors who "failed to teach me what both they and I knew I needed to learn" (how to write a clear hand and how to use simple tools) turns into an appreciation of Miss Elsa's Draconian workbooks and stepped goals, and Miss Sophie's veneration for craftsmanship. The two sisters—and the young, undoctrinaire Artur Schnabel (play what you hear)—also turned him into a lifelong "teacher-watcher," on the lookout for what worked. Some of his models held views antithetical to his, like the five Polanyis, all committed to finding a society that could provide "economic growth and stability, freedom and equality"; and one of these utopian socialists, Karl Polanyi, served as the sounding board, in 1940, for Drucker's theory of a coming "society of organizations," the basis of his interest in institutional management. Other stellar vignettes—of Fritz Kraemer, "the Man Who Invented Kissinger"; of English arch-dissenter Noel Brailsford—confirm Drucker's attraction to the true-believer, the throwback, the eccentric; and if his American exemplars are less flamboyant or bizarre (especially in their sexual pursuits), they still include such oddball achievers as Henry Luce and John L. Lewis, Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan. Drucker also gets off some unorthodox comments on American social institutions (he's big, for instance, on the small college) without letting his conservative bias make him less than stimulating and entertaining.
Read full book review >