Reaction to Ahead of the Curve – Two Years at Harvard Business School

I’ve waited a while to write this, to see how my book went down. I didn’t expect universal acclaim – and sure enough…

The response from reviewers, though, has been generally good.The best American reviews came from The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and Bloomberg. It was a thrill to be reviewed favorably by the great Bryan Burrough, author of Barbarians at the Gate, in The Washington Post.

The Economist also had some nice things to say as did Business Week. USA Today and The New York Times wrote good-sized pieces summarizing the book. In the UK, we had terrific reviews in The Sunday Times, The Times, The Evening Standard and, of all places, The Literary Review.

A couple of reviews – in The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Observer – said the book couldn’t make its mind up about what it wanted to be, a funny account of HBS, a business book, a critique.

The most aggressive attacks came from HBS itself, from its student newspaper the Harbus. They published a “special issue” about the book which contained no less than 5 articles – one a response from the administration, one a humorous response to the book’s most publicized observations, one a summary of student responses to the book, and two brutal reviews from a current student and a recent alumnus. I’ll get to this in a separate post.

I’ve also had a terrific response from readers of all kinds. Naturally, many are wondering whether to get an MBA. Some already have one and said their experience jived with mine. Others were simply curious about business and told me they enjoyed the book as a journey into a foreign world.

Some of the interviews I’ve most enjoyed doing have been with radio journalists from around the world. They tend to be less interested in the pros and cons of Harvard, and more in the idea of being an entrepreneur with one’s life, figuring out how to do what you want and not go broke in the process. What grabs them, I think, is the idea of someone from a place like HBS weighing up risk and trying to build a life in a way lots of people who never go to business school do.

More movingly, some wrote and thanked me for discussing something not often discussed – the emotional roller-coaster experienced by people in business who wonder if it’s right for them. This doesn’t make them communists or anti-capitalists. It’s just a question of how oppressive and maddening the culture of many businesses can be. How they trim and repress people’s identities. They want to find a way to succeed personally and financially on their own terms. And my own attempt to try to do that is what much of the book is about.

Another interesting reader group turns out to be the spouses of people pursuing high-flying business careers. Especially if they’re not in business themselves. I’ve heard from a number of them who say that the book has allowed them to better understand the way their spouse thinks about work and life and how to balance them. I didn’t expect this, but it’s something that I think about a lot in the context of my own family life. It’s great that others found the book useful in this way.

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