Winner of Book Review 2017

Managing Oneself – Peter F. Drucker

At first sight, Peter F. Drucker’s book “Managing oneself” seems to be another exemplar of the numerous business guidebooks of a self-proclaimed expert. If you have a look at his biography and achievements, however, this impression will change quickly. As a successful consultant, teacher and writer, whose books were translated in over seventy languages and who is nowadays called the “creator and inventor of modern management”, there might be some truth in his words.

This impression was confirmed when I read the first few pages of “Managing oneself”. In general, it is a guide how to find out more about your personality and abilities and how to use them in the most efficient way. It goes beyond the typical recommendations of bad examples of the genre of self-help books, which advise you to stop being so shy if you want to improve your self-confidence or to work hard if you want to be successful. Drucker has a refreshing and instructive way to explain why you should do something and in which way.

A lot of his own experiences, ranging from failed attempts of companies to put a highly competent person in the wrong position to examples from history and economy, make it an entertaining and easily understandable book. Besides, he includes numerous insights in the changes of the work environment in the course of time and why we have to adjust to the altered workplaces and demands in business.

Drucker starts with a quite disillusioning statement: great achievers like Napoléon or Mozart, who were able to manage themselves without any effort, are rare. But the good news is: according to him, everyone can learn that and this guidebook provides you with the necessary tools.

In the first part of this booklet, he concentrates on a simple, but, at the same time, really effective method of figuring out where your strengths and weaknesses lie: the feedback analysis. Before you make any major decision you should write down your expectations and compare this with the outcome after nine or twelve months. It will show you where your competences are and in which fields you have failed. Afterwards, you should concentrate on further enhancing your strengths rather than trying to work on your weaknesses. That is the way mediocre people become excellent people.

What follows is a comprehensive examination of different types of performance and learning. At this point at the latest one recognizes the importance of being aware of one’s own best practice. Drucker explains impressively why it costed politicians their US presidency if they did not know whether they were a reader or a listener, decision maker or adviser. Unfortunately, this is the part where you are left out in the rain. While he explains in detail the purpose of knowing your own learning and performance method, Drucker gives no hint how to figure them out.

He then deals with the significance of our values and how to stick with them. A method, which is mentioned in this context and is worth thinking about, is the mirror test. It asks what kind of person you want to see when you look in the mirror. This might sound somewhat philosophical, but it means, in essence, that your values should be compatible with the company’s values you are working for. This will protect you from frustration and nonperformance.

As if it were not difficult enough to evaluate yourself in all these aspects, Drucker stresses the necessity of understanding all your teammates in regard to their characteristics, ways of working and values. If one does not adapt correspondingly, even the smartest and most hard working employee might be perceived as being stupid or lazy.

The last chapter, probably not really applicable to students but no less interesting, is about the second half of your life. Drucker elucidates the struggle people in their mid-40s experience and the possibilities to overcome this period. Here again, he underpins his statements with examples, such as the engineer who becomes a church treasurer or the lawyer who runs model schools.

It is definitely one of the more helpful versions of self-help books and gives you some more or less concrete guidelines how to ascertain and manage your competences and how to deal with failings. You can read it on the bus on your way to university or during a free period between your lectures. It is just fifty-five pages long and written in a large font, which one knows otherwise only from children’s books. Nevertheless, Drucker gives some useful advice, enriched with vivid anecdotes. It is, in addition, not only a book for top managers or people who want to become one. It might also help people who are seeking to improve their team work skills or learning strategies.

Whatever you are searching for; the first step to discover your own competencies in order to become a better student or employee or if you just do not know what to do during a break, you cannot do anything wrong with this book.

By-line Friederike Bartling

Winner of Book Review Competition

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

With an incredulous feeling I turn the last page of Anthony Doerr´s All the Light We Cannot See and find myself confronted with the fact that things have not happened as I had hoped they would. Where is the good old happy ending that leaves you without worries back in reality?

All the Light We Cannot See is a lovingly written, well-researched novel that takes you back to the dark times of Nazi Germany. It tells the story of blind Marie-Laure, who is forced by the war to leave her hometown Paris, and Werner, a boy with an extraordinary engineering talent who quickly becomes an important man in the “ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that is Germany” (69). Even though both lives could not be more different, their paths are, curiously enough, meant to cross.

In his vivid, detail-oriented way of writing, Doerr lets his readers accompany Marie-Laure in her every day struggle and lets them feel with her when fate keeps testing her. He gives insights into Werner´s life in the Hitler Youth and how he slowly becomes a victim of the Nazi ideology. I was especially surprised by the many German terms used in the book, sometimes even without further explanation. They give the story a very original, authentic touch and made it, for me as a German, even more pleasant to read.

It is an interest in the fate of those two strong characters and the well-known imminent circumstances of the Second World War that make your eyes jump to the end of the next page in the hope of finding a name or a hint telling you if Marie-Laure´s father is finally coming back, if Werner and his comrade manage to survive another day without food, or if the risk of spreading secret codes is really worth it …

Even though I am not a big advocate of time warps, they and the short chapters give the story a lifelike and dramatic touch that makes it quite thrilling to follow. It is like a puzzle – you are trying to put the pieces together, to find connections, to understand incidents.

It has been a long time since I have read a novel that treats a serious topic in such a sensitive, but realistic way and that makes you hope, hope until the end. I realize that the story, which is the reflection of brutal and merciless oppression and terror, has found its own adequate end. According to the circumstances, it may somehow also be considered a happy one. It is unexpected, but reasonable.

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