The jacket calls this 'a dazzling intellectual biography of one of the greatest management theorists and social thinkers of our time'. If one leaves out the first adjective, this is a fair description of its contents. It is an intellectual biography in the sense that it gives a chronological account of Drucker's education, of the influence of early teachers and of the changes in his ideas represented in his voluminous writings.
Drucker has written very helpful books about management and, in 1976, an attractive autobiography, Adventures of a Bystander. So what can HSJ readers gain from reading Beatty's biography rather than the autobiography or reading or re-reading The Practice of Management, or The Effective Executive?
Obviously the answer depends on the reason for reading: if it is to learn more about management, or to improve how you manage, then the biography will not be useful. If it is to understand the books on management that he has written, the answer again is no, as they need no such interpretation. If the reason is an interest in biography, the reader will be disappointed as the book is in no sense a 'comprehensive portrait of Drucker's life and work', as claimed on the cover, nor does it have the analytical, perceptive perspective that a biography requires.
If the reader wants to sample the range of Drucker's interests and be given a chronological summary and commentary on the different books he has written - embracing politics, economics and futurology as well as management - and the philosophy from which he has written them, then Beatty's book will be of interest.
It shows that Drucker has had a far wider range of interests in society than other writers on management over this period. He also writes books that are read and appreciated in many countries.
This book is written by a senior editor of Atlantic Monthly, an old and respected US journal. It makes no attempt to relate Drucker's writings to those of others. This omission is most marked in the discussion of his contribution to the knowledge of management: 'On or about November 6 1954, Peter Drucker invented management.' Fayol, Chester Barnard and Mary Parker Follett, to mention only a few seminal earlier writers on management, are ignored. The title The World According to Drucker is thus apposite. What can truly be said is that Drucker invented popular - that is, easily readable - writing about management.
The first two chapters are, at least to this reader, the most interesting. The first, 'A singular education', describes Drucker's early life in a cultured, well-to-do, professional Viennese family who 'raised an intellectual, not an academic'. Drucker reflects the intellectual and cultural Austrian background in which he was raised, despite spending over 60 years in the US. His terrific capacity for work started early: instead of going to university he left Vienna and went to Hamburg to work as a trainee clerk and later as a trainee securities analyst in Frankfurt. He studied so successfully on his own in the evenings that he gained a doctorate in public law and international relations. He moved to London in 1934 and, with his Austrian bride, to the US in 1937, launching his career there as a political scientist.
The second chapter is called 'I write', because Drucker described writing as the 'foundation of everything I have been doing, such as teaching and consulting'. He has written 29 books, and many articles. Beatty is alert to the felicities and the weaknesses of Drucker's writing.
He praises the dash of Drucker's first sentences, the irony and the poetry. His praise far outweighs his criticism. Beatty concludes that at his best Drucker is a moralist, remarkable for his social imagination.
Director, Oxford Health Care Management Institute, and emeritus fellow, Templeton College, Oxford University.