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March 03, 2004
The singular education of Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker is undoubtedly the most famous ever writer about "management". Here is a description of his childhood from chapter 1, "A Singular Education", of The World According to Drucker by Jack Beatty.
The war haunted Peter Drucker's childhood, though, as we will see, it also expedited his career as a writer. He and his friends taught themselves to read "by scanning the casualty lists and the obituaries with the big black borders, looking for names we knew, names of people we loved and missed." To them war was a permanent condition of the world. "None of us could imagine that the war would ever end," Drucker recalls. "Indeed every boy my age knew that 'When I grow up' meant 'When I get drafted and sent to the front.' "

A few years later, when Drucker was a senior in high school, his class was assigned to review the first crop of books to appear on the war. "When we then discussed these ... in class, one of my fellow students said, 'Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of total military incompetence. Why was it?' Our teacher did not hesitate a second but shot right back, 'Because not enough generals were killed; they stayed way behind the lines and let others do the fighting and dying.'" In this the members of Drucker's generation shared something in common with the generals. They were spared. Drucker is conscious of his luck in being too young to be used as cannon fodder by those murderously incompetent generals. "Those of us who have been spared the horrors in which our age specializes," he wrote in Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959), "who have never suffered total war, slave-labor camp or police terror, not only owe thanks; we owe charity and compassion."

If the war brought fear, the peace brought hunger. The winter of 1919-1920 was grim. "Like practically every child in Vienna," Drucker writes in his sparkling autobiography, Adventures of a Bystander (1979), "I was saved by Herbert Hoover whose feeding organization provided school lunches. They left me with a lasting aversion to porridge and cocoa but definitely saved my life and that of millions of children throughout ontinental Europe." An "organization" did all that good. One sees the biographical roots of Drucker's concept of organization as an instrument of human creativity.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:30 PM
Category: Famous educations

"Adventures of a Bystander' is a wonderful book, and something quite different from the normal autobiography.

Comment by: David Foster on March 5, 2004 04:23 AM
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