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March 23, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

Back to Basics Management: The Lost Craft of Leadership, Matthew J. Culligan, C. Suzanne Deakins, Arthur H. Young (Facts On File: $8.95); The Practice of Management, Peter F. Drucker (Harper & Row: $8.95). America was ready for Peter Drucker when "The Practice of Management" first appeared in 1954. Our nation was thriving, but the common sense of the corner-store owner just didn't seem up to the task of running behemoth bureaucracies in the corporate age. Drucker's new vision, in which "people-oriented" management became "process-oriented," remains influential today; even bosses who once hired a helping hand on a hunch now talk about managing their "resources of production" through "relations analysis."

Not everyone supports Drucker's social scientific approach to management, however. The new techniques might have looked promising in the 1950s, write the authors of "Back to Basics Management," but they failed to fight the liquidity crisis in the early 1970s and the recession in the early 1980s. The formula for success in "Back to Basics," a helpful, creative book first published in 1983, is thus more general and philosophical than Drucker's, emphasizing the importance of thinking, feedback, commitment and discipline.

Blood Music, Greg Bear (Ace: $2.95). The signs were subtle at first. Vergil lost his urge for "garbage pizza," he hadn't sneezed in nearly two weeks, "in the middle of a championship allergy season." Then one night, on the edge of sleep, Vergil's back began to crawl and "the spaces between his toes seemed alive with invisible ants." Readers of "Blood Music" might cringe at the experience, but Vergil, a genetic engineer, is unfazed: The signs, after all, meant that he had succeeded in saving restructured, "intelligent" cells by injecting them into his bloodstream. A physician friend wants to starve or radiate the cells to death, but Vergil says, "hurt them, hurt me." And so the cells grow, first in Vergil's body, then throughout the United States, turning our terrain into forests of spires, spikes, needles and "polyhedrons with insectlike legs" that hover in the air. Bizarre images aside, this 1985 book is highly intelligent and imaginative, forwarding the author's many ideas through a dramatic narrative and consistently effective sense of humor.

Radical Departures: Desperate Detours to Growing Up, Saul Levine (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: $4.95). What prompts teen-agers to leave pleasant suburbs, encouraging parents and top colleges for the Rajneesh, the Moonies and the "Healthy Happy Holy Organization"? Saul Levine, a Toronto psychiatrist who began studying members of religious cults, political fringe groups and therapeutic communes in the late 1960s, suggests that kids join to resolve a "terrible conflict . . . . These children wish to be back home, safe from the frightening freedoms of travel, but then how can they be separate? Separate, they feel empty--a word used frequently by radical departers--as though there is not enough self to fill them."

Joining a radical group, then, is more of a practical decision than those of us familiar with the People's Temple or the Manson Family might have guessed. Indeed, being a member, Levine writes, almost never leads to "suicide, starvation, murder or brainwashing." So, rather than riling against the influence of cults, Levine thinks we should offer teen-agers alternatives, such as the California Conservation Corps, a government program that tries to give students a sense of community and purpose by involving them in public works projects. Levine marshals abundant evidence to underscore the need for such programs, but it's still unclear whether the opportunity to plant trees or clear away mud slides will be enough to satisfy members of the younger generation convinced that society has grown cynical and fragmented.

Julie Christie, Michael Feeney Callan (St. Martin's: $3.50). Not surprisingly, there's nary a word here about the actress' political or philosophical views (she was an ardent peace activist, for instance), and there's no end to the gossip: Julie, the author writes, was surrounded by "boys, charming, randy, persuasive French boys, knowledgeable about art and loving, eager to teach." But the writing in this 1984 biography is better than average, engaging the reader without becoming stinging or syrupy.

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