129 of 138 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
First, some disclosure: Philip and I were classmates at HBS, did a project together (which he doesn't directly mention in the book), I've had dinner at his house, and I consider him a friend. If you choose to ignore my perspective because of the above bias, I wouldn't blame you, but I want to make sure that myths (generated by some press coverage) of what this book is about are dispelled: by no means is Ahead of the Curve a tell-all insider-guide bashing of the HBS experience. In fact, I suspect that some of the negative reviews are written by folks who either didn't read the book or didn't read it all the way through.
What the book is instead is a rather touching introspective memoir on Philip's personal experience at HBS as an outsider - someone who, because of his age, career background, nationality, but most of all personality did not fit into the traditional HBS mold. Despite that, the reader comes away clear on the fact that Philip learned a great deal from HBS, respects its educational method tremendously, made some very good friends, and overall came away a bigger person after it. I want to elaborate on that last point - Philip was already a fully formed individual before coming to HBS: a father, a husband, a successful journalist, a well-traveled man. To feel growth after HBS, where the average age is ~5 years younger and the average experience is much more junior is a BIG DEAL.
The book really has two elements to it. One is a witty description of the HBS stereotypes, fun stories about interactions, and, ultimately, a fascinating tale of what it's like to be immersed into the HBS experience. The second (one that I didn't find as exciting having gone there) is a reasonably in-depth description of the cases and educational method. The first element is a joy to read and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Moreover, it's quite an experience to observe Philip's thought process and see how life touches him. Highlights include getting stuck in a white wedding limo in the parking lot at the Google headquarters and frantically taking notes on a loose-leaf sheet of paper during a McKinsey interview. The second element is geared to the book's main target audience: potential b-school applicants. To be honest, I was shocked by how well Philip recollects the cases and formulae from HBS. I certainly got quite a refresher!
In the end, Philip chooses to opt out of the post-HBS grind, having fully opted into the experience while there. Funnily enough, too many people do the opposite. They float through HBS, barely read cases, sign up for courses on Tue-Thu so they can travel all second year, and then opt into a grueling i-banking or hedge fund job. Personally, I think Philip has come out a better person having learned much from what HBS has to offer and still chosen to pursue life in his own manner. He's the type of graduate HBS should be proud of - I certainly am proud to have gotten to know him while there!
Despite everything I wrote above, I must point out that PDB is a writer and as such, he left plenty out that didn't fit his theses. For example, I was a part of a team of three with him on a first-semester project in our second year. Of the three of us, exactly zero has jobs we accepted after graduation. Of course, all of us has unusual ambitions, but comparisons are driven by one's choice of peer groups. Philip stands out dramatically when compared to i-banker types, but he may not be so unusual amongst others, albeit smaller, HBS groups. One of his section-mates, for example, joined a record label in a creative role after school for a salary of at most 1/4 of what he would have gotten had he gone back to his investment banking career.
Overall, Philip gives a balanced perspective on HBS. He gives an even more balanced perspective on himself and it was a joy to follow his personal travails. Yes, he does omit descriptions of some of the more "out there" folks from HBS, but no, he doesn't break any sacred bonds of the HBS classrooms. If you went to HBS and are fuming based on the press coverage of this book, please read it first before forming an opinion. And if you think about going there, PLEASE READ IT!