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An Expensive Education

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Professor Susan Lowell has it made. A happily married mother of two in a tenure-track job at Harvard, she has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her book lionizing Hatashil, an East African freedom fighter. David Ayan is her singular Somali-born student. He is trying to become a member of one of Harvard's elite finals clubs. He is trying to understand Jane, his girlfriend from Professor Susan Lowell has it made. A happily married mother of two in a tenure-track job at Harvard, she has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her book lionizing Hatashil, an East African freedom fighter. David Ayan is her singular Somali-born student. He is trying to become a member of one of Harvard's elite finals clubs. He is trying to understand Jane, his girlfriend from a privileged background. He is trying, sometimes, just to get by in a foreign place. Michael Teak is a twenty-five-year-old recent Harvard grad working as an American intelligence operative who meets Hatashil in David's village minutes before the massacre that will upend all their lives. Nick McDonell's third novel takes his readers into Harvard—through its dormitories and dining halls, into its elite finals clubs and lecture halls, and within the offices of its ambitious professors—giving us an incredibly authentic insider's view of this illustrious university. A powerful portrait of personalities all ensnared in the African conflict and of the Harvard campus on which the debate takes place, An Expensive Education is a smart, relentless novel set at the troubled intersection of ivory academia and realpolitik.


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Professor Susan Lowell has it made. A happily married mother of two in a tenure-track job at Harvard, she has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her book lionizing Hatashil, an East African freedom fighter. David Ayan is her singular Somali-born student. He is trying to become a member of one of Harvard's elite finals clubs. He is trying to understand Jane, his girlfriend from Professor Susan Lowell has it made. A happily married mother of two in a tenure-track job at Harvard, she has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her book lionizing Hatashil, an East African freedom fighter. David Ayan is her singular Somali-born student. He is trying to become a member of one of Harvard's elite finals clubs. He is trying to understand Jane, his girlfriend from a privileged background. He is trying, sometimes, just to get by in a foreign place. Michael Teak is a twenty-five-year-old recent Harvard grad working as an American intelligence operative who meets Hatashil in David's village minutes before the massacre that will upend all their lives. Nick McDonell's third novel takes his readers into Harvard—through its dormitories and dining halls, into its elite finals clubs and lecture halls, and within the offices of its ambitious professors—giving us an incredibly authentic insider's view of this illustrious university. A powerful portrait of personalities all ensnared in the African conflict and of the Harvard campus on which the debate takes place, An Expensive Education is a smart, relentless novel set at the troubled intersection of ivory academia and realpolitik.

30 review for An Expensive Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Somewhere in the world, and probably in a dozen countries or more throughout the Global South, American Special Forces operators are engaged in action. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other, less-well-known units, operating in small groups on top-secret missions, are involved in what has been called—romantically, ungrammatically, and probably misleadingly—the “War on Terror.” What are are these troops doing? Where? And why? The answers to these questions are known only within the uppermost reaches Somewhere in the world, and probably in a dozen countries or more throughout the Global South, American Special Forces operators are engaged in action. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other, less-well-known units, operating in small groups on top-secret missions, are involved in what has been called—romantically, ungrammatically, and probably misleadingly—the “War on Terror.” What are are these troops doing? Where? And why? The answers to these questions are known only within the uppermost reaches of the Pentagon, the intelligence establishment, and the White House. But it’s safe to say that most Americans would be uncomfortable knowing what they’re up to. And in Nick McDonell’s well-received novel of a decade ago, An Expensive Education, what Special Forces operators and the CIA are up to is no good. The action in An Expensive Education shifts back and forth from the border of Somalia and Kenya, where Somali bandits and terrorists are active, to the campus of Harvard University. ** At Harvard, Professor Susan Lowell has just won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction for her account of the insurgent campaign directed by a mysterious Somali warlord. Hatashil, who is “sort of like a Robin Hood figure.” He is attempting to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the National Security Front, the corrupt force that masquerades as the country’s government. ** Meanwhile, on the ground on the Somali-Kenya border, a brilliant Harvard-educated CIA officer named Michael Teak witnesses the massacre of a Somali village by troops he believes to be American Special Forces operators. McDonell follows the trajectory of these two intriguing characters as the United States government moves to cover up its involvement in the massacre. It’s an ugly story, and it does not reflect well on the CIA, the Special Forces, or the White House, which has surely directed the action from the outset. How many SEALs and Rangers are there, really? By the way, the only estimate I can find about the number of American Special Forces operators comes from a six-year-old article in Mother Jones, originally published on TomDispatch. The article projects the total as of 2014 at 72,000. By comparison, the total number of active duty personnel in the United States military was 1.3 million as of 2018. These are, indeed, elite troops.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Trixie Fontaine

    Got this off the library's highly-recommended shelf without knowing anything else about it (highly rec'd plus info on jacket). Probably would have steered clear of it if I'd read the reviews & author bio here first, but glad I didn't. Not saying it will become a fave of mine, but a lot of the resentment towards the author and the book seems out of hand. Living on the west coast and not giving two shits about Ivy League rivalries and unfair advantages given to well-connected New Yorkers (WHAT'S N Got this off the library's highly-recommended shelf without knowing anything else about it (highly rec'd plus info on jacket). Probably would have steered clear of it if I'd read the reviews & author bio here first, but glad I didn't. Not saying it will become a fave of mine, but a lot of the resentment towards the author and the book seems out of hand. Living on the west coast and not giving two shits about Ivy League rivalries and unfair advantages given to well-connected New Yorkers (WHAT'S NEW?) except as fun soap opera stories, I read this purely for entertainment; the book delivered it. Like Gossip Girl meets international intrigue spy . . . whatever (I haven't read much in that genre), the pacing / unfolding of characters and plot was great. Not Hollywood Wives perfect (hahaha for reals), but great. The shorter length of chapters made it extra readable. I disagree with reviewers saying the author writes unreal women that are just men's fantasies. I actually thought the portrayals of women were great, especially for this kind of story. The way alcohol abuse was represented and woven all through the book also seemed spot on. This book gave me all of the things I want bestseller type of books to give, but don't. Not super-snob literary, but definitely not a throw-away. There was a lot to this book about class and race and gender and globalism and romance and bad rich guys fixing shit without the enjoyability and accessibility of the stories being ruined. I was surprised at the typos and words left out in the book, though, given how rich and fancy and special this guy supposedly is. Goodreads reviewers are telling me to hate it, but I really didn't.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Fast, dirty, and unmoving - which is not to say that An Expensive Education is bad. In fact, I rather liked it, despite it's flaws - in McDonnell's world, even the women are macho, and anyone who feels feelings is doomed - and the fact that a good 50% of it would be possibly unintelligible and definitely insufferable if you're unfamiliar with Cambridge (ah, the days of settling matters of geo-political import at Shay's and Daedalus!) But if you've spent any time in an ivy-festooned hall of highe Fast, dirty, and unmoving - which is not to say that An Expensive Education is bad. In fact, I rather liked it, despite it's flaws - in McDonnell's world, even the women are macho, and anyone who feels feelings is doomed - and the fact that a good 50% of it would be possibly unintelligible and definitely insufferable if you're unfamiliar with Cambridge (ah, the days of settling matters of geo-political import at Shay's and Daedalus!) But if you've spent any time in an ivy-festooned hall of higher education, you'll be on familiar enough ground here: An Expensive Education is just OK as a prodigal son of le Carre but great as a Very Special Episode of Gossip Girl, supremely in-the-know about special pathology of the socio-economic class precocious in matters of money, vice, and criticism but very much in need of some Remedial Conscience 101.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This was a strange book for me. It seemed a little disjointed with the various characters and locales. On one hand it had the makings of a very good betrayed spy story, a-la LeCarre', with it's lead character Michael Teak and his connection with a rebel leader in the African Horn area around Somalia. But then it has a contrived and artificial feeling as it tries to tie-in connections with various characters at Harvard University (where Teak had gone to school), from an african student trying to This was a strange book for me. It seemed a little disjointed with the various characters and locales. On one hand it had the makings of a very good betrayed spy story, a-la LeCarre', with it's lead character Michael Teak and his connection with a rebel leader in the African Horn area around Somalia. But then it has a contrived and artificial feeling as it tries to tie-in connections with various characters at Harvard University (where Teak had gone to school), from an african student trying to get into one of its prestigious clubs (which has alumni ties to foreign intelligence agencies) and his professor on African studies who has written a Pulitzer prize winning book on the same rebel leader. The connections just don't feel true or well developed. The descriptions of the Harvard campus life and its students also left me wondering why anyone would want to go there.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    Nick McDonnell writes a cliched plot of Third World/CIA intrigue that recycles all of the stereotypes of an international potboiler without any of the fun or intrigue. Each character is a one-dimensional archetype: the rude, racist preppy; the spoiled bohemian; the studly African; the man-eating female professor; the scholarship student reduced to cleaning bathrooms; and so on and so forth. None of the characters possess truly redeeming qualities and seem angry, depressed, or selfish. This was n Nick McDonnell writes a cliched plot of Third World/CIA intrigue that recycles all of the stereotypes of an international potboiler without any of the fun or intrigue. Each character is a one-dimensional archetype: the rude, racist preppy; the spoiled bohemian; the studly African; the man-eating female professor; the scholarship student reduced to cleaning bathrooms; and so on and so forth. None of the characters possess truly redeeming qualities and seem angry, depressed, or selfish. This was not my experience when I attended Harvard over 10 years ago. (Also, Harvard's Porcellian does not equal Yale's Skull and Bones, as Yale's connection with foreign policy and international entanglements has been much better documented.) McDonnell's youthful age and inexperience show through in his writing, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the future.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    I wanted to know what it felt like to operate as a student on the Harvard campus and among the families of the elite, and the author's real-life experience in that environment comes through. I expected to contrast the indulgence of today's student with the public spirit shown by Theodore Roosevelt's family and their peers, but I saw those, even today, who look beyond themselves. Also gained some insight into the international student experience and how to pray for and connect with them om on the I wanted to know what it felt like to operate as a student on the Harvard campus and among the families of the elite, and the author's real-life experience in that environment comes through. I expected to contrast the indulgence of today's student with the public spirit shown by Theodore Roosevelt's family and their peers, but I saw those, even today, who look beyond themselves. Also gained some insight into the international student experience and how to pray for and connect with them om on the campus where I worked. Grieved by the casual attitude toward drugs and toward sex out of marriage that I'm finding in nearly every contemporary novel that is not overtly, and often unrealistically, Christian.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jody

    I found this book by a young author hard to follow. I was well into it before I figured out how all the characters related to each other but maybe I'm just slow. Who was behind the the attack on a small African village? Why are they covering up the truth? I found this book by a young author hard to follow. I was well into it before I figured out how all the characters related to each other but maybe I'm just slow. Who was behind the the attack on a small African village? Why are they covering up the truth?

  8. 4 out of 5

    LuckyBao

    An average novel that made for a solid afternoon read. While the plot is decent enough, nothing breaks out and really captivates you. I'm definitely interested in seeing what else McDonell can do though. His writing is what made me stick around. 5/10 An average novel that made for a solid afternoon read. While the plot is decent enough, nothing breaks out and really captivates you. I'm definitely interested in seeing what else McDonell can do though. His writing is what made me stick around. 5/10

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    Write what you know. For most of us that means writing about life in suburbia; enduring the tedium of daily life: commuting, bitching, school or work, petty social dynamics, and household humdrum. For Nick McDonell, son of famous editor Terry McDonell and godson to the late Hunter Thompson, it means writing about life on the Gold Coast of Harvard interspersed with adventures in far-flung countries where tenuous relationships are forged in the spirit of 'keeping things interesting'. I had my doubt Write what you know. For most of us that means writing about life in suburbia; enduring the tedium of daily life: commuting, bitching, school or work, petty social dynamics, and household humdrum. For Nick McDonell, son of famous editor Terry McDonell and godson to the late Hunter Thompson, it means writing about life on the Gold Coast of Harvard interspersed with adventures in far-flung countries where tenuous relationships are forged in the spirit of 'keeping things interesting'. I had my doubts about this book. Mostly that McDonell, 25, didn't have enough experience (in life and otherwise) to write anything worth reading. McDonell quickly overturned my concerns. Though it would seem he's hopeful about most people, he's also keenly interested and aware of the less attractive traits in them. And, what's of particular interest here is the wielding of even the most regal of institutions (namely the US government and its field office, Harvard) to these twisted biddings. Since weighty substance is hard to convey, often readers forgive minor abuses of language when the heart of the matter is true. But this tradeoff needn't be made here. Unlike the writing of many of his so-called 'peers', McDonell writes with force and purpose; quick to his point, we're spared the endless drivel to be expected by the likes of a Franzen.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Critics praised McDonell's third foray into fiction as an engaging mixture of political thriller and campus novel. Even those who found minor faults with its lack of depth and lack of moral ambiguity commended McDonell's vibrant writing and feverish, page-turning pace. Though the plot isn't terribly innovative and the central mystery is quickly solved, Teak's disarming idealism and sulky soul searching -- "more Holden Caulfield than James Bond" (New York Times Book Review) -- propel the story fo Critics praised McDonell's third foray into fiction as an engaging mixture of political thriller and campus novel. Even those who found minor faults with its lack of depth and lack of moral ambiguity commended McDonell's vibrant writing and feverish, page-turning pace. Though the plot isn't terribly innovative and the central mystery is quickly solved, Teak's disarming idealism and sulky soul searching -- "more Holden Caulfield than James Bond" (New York Times Book Review) -- propel the story forward and give it charm. Critics also appreciated McDonell's caustic behind-the-scenes tour of his alma mater and his biting descriptions of its privileged elite. Compared to Graham Greene and John le Carre for his storytelling skills, McDonell has proved that the third time is the charm. This is an excerpt of a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Asho

    This was such a "boy" book, full of spy games and female characters that seemed to step right out of the fantasy of an 18-year-old boy with no actual experience with women. There were quite a few times when I rolled my eyes reading this, thinking, "Every man wants a woman to behave like this but they don't." I'm not sure how this book ended up on my "to-read" list in the first place. I think maybe I read a review somewhere and was intrigued by the idea of a Harvard satire, but "Harvard satire" e This was such a "boy" book, full of spy games and female characters that seemed to step right out of the fantasy of an 18-year-old boy with no actual experience with women. There were quite a few times when I rolled my eyes reading this, thinking, "Every man wants a woman to behave like this but they don't." I'm not sure how this book ended up on my "to-read" list in the first place. I think maybe I read a review somewhere and was intrigued by the idea of a Harvard satire, but "Harvard satire" ended up being more like "Harvard cliche" (and Tom Wolfe does the Ivy League cliche genre better, anyway). I also hadn't realized how much of this was going to be about conflict in Africa. I had never read anything like this before so I tried to appreciate the experience. And I can't say that I disliked the book, exactly, it just wasn't what I was expecting. This basically read like a guy's version of chick lit.It just wasn't my style.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    "Mike Teak has a classic Harvard profile. But only on the surface. He's a 25 year old scholar/athlete from an upper-class family who was recruited by his godfather to work for a U.S. intelligence agency. On a covert mission in a Somali village, he delivers cash and cell phones to Hatashil, a legendary orphan warrior turned rebel leader. It's a routine assignment until, minutes after they meet, the village is decimated y a missile assail, and although Mike escapes, his life is changed forever. Ta "Mike Teak has a classic Harvard profile. But only on the surface. He's a 25 year old scholar/athlete from an upper-class family who was recruited by his godfather to work for a U.S. intelligence agency. On a covert mission in a Somali village, he delivers cash and cell phones to Hatashil, a legendary orphan warrior turned rebel leader. It's a routine assignment until, minutes after they meet, the village is decimated y a missile assail, and although Mike escapes, his life is changed forever. Taking off at the troubled intersection of academia and realpolitik and shifting from the elite finals clubs of Harvard College and the manicured lawns of Harvard Yard to Somalia's dusty tracks and East Africa's high-ended hotels, An Expensive Education is a story of corruption and love, betrayal and sudden death." He has two previous books that I am interested in reading. Checked a used book store yesterday - they do not have them. May check the library.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    The first hundred or so pages of this book are nothing but Ivy League name dropping. To be fair, though, I'm not sure that McDonell could've written a book largely set on Harvard's campus without it, though. The characters were very cardboard (the WASP-y undergrad, the WASP-y CIA recent alumnus, the drunken Iranian journalist, the naif African college student, etc., etc.) but the author still manages to tell an entertaining spy story. It jumps very quickly between different characters' points of The first hundred or so pages of this book are nothing but Ivy League name dropping. To be fair, though, I'm not sure that McDonell could've written a book largely set on Harvard's campus without it, though. The characters were very cardboard (the WASP-y undergrad, the WASP-y CIA recent alumnus, the drunken Iranian journalist, the naif African college student, etc., etc.) but the author still manages to tell an entertaining spy story. It jumps very quickly between different characters' points of view, and while I don't have a problem with stories told from different angles, this one switches so often that I had a hard time really getting involved with any of them. I'd put this book in the category of good beach reading -- especially for those Harvard grads who want a trip down Memory Lane -- but don't expect great literature, even by the standards of spy fiction.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Corny

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I enjoyed reading this cynical account of life in the CIA and at Harvard in the current decade but I can't say that it evoked any particular emotional response. It is not a new theme that there are a bunch of venal manipulators safeguarding our security nor that they do things beyond all ethics in the name of "the greater good". Being reminded of this is not comforting despite its probable truth and so I had a negative reaction to the subject. However, the plot is complex and believable and the c I enjoyed reading this cynical account of life in the CIA and at Harvard in the current decade but I can't say that it evoked any particular emotional response. It is not a new theme that there are a bunch of venal manipulators safeguarding our security nor that they do things beyond all ethics in the name of "the greater good". Being reminded of this is not comforting despite its probable truth and so I had a negative reaction to the subject. However, the plot is complex and believable and the characters are well drawn and interesting. Good does not triumph in the end but expediency does. This is neither a novel of university poitics nor a thriller but it contains elements of both. I praise it for its uniqueness and its unwillingness to sugar coat the story. McDonell is a talented writer. I just do not care much for his overarching nihilism.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    This book is a bit tricky to sum up. Basically, it's about a group of Harvard people and how they are involved in and affected by a massacre in an African village. Some of the people are journalists, some students, some professors and some are secret agents working for the government. For a while, no one knows the truth behind the massacre, and the people involved don't know where they stand and where their loyalties lie anymore. It's part political thriller and part portrait of Very Privileged This book is a bit tricky to sum up. Basically, it's about a group of Harvard people and how they are involved in and affected by a massacre in an African village. Some of the people are journalists, some students, some professors and some are secret agents working for the government. For a while, no one knows the truth behind the massacre, and the people involved don't know where they stand and where their loyalties lie anymore. It's part political thriller and part portrait of Very Privileged People (and some who aren't that privileged). It's an intriguing enough read, but it felt a bit uneven at times - and in the end a lot was tied up a little too neatly, which somehow didn't seem to fit with the rest of the novel. The characters are, for the most part, not very likeable, but they did feel like real people. Overall, a good and worthwhile read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vonetta

    I thought Twelve was interesting because the author and I are about the same age, I was 17 and a freshman at an elite university, and it gave me some kicks during my "free time." An Expensive Education did nothing for me at all, mostly because I did not believe a word of it. I know it is fiction, but as a fiction writer, I know that good craft exudes emotional truth, ringing true on an abstract level. Nothing doing here. The characters, especially his female characters, were completely one-dimen I thought Twelve was interesting because the author and I are about the same age, I was 17 and a freshman at an elite university, and it gave me some kicks during my "free time." An Expensive Education did nothing for me at all, mostly because I did not believe a word of it. I know it is fiction, but as a fiction writer, I know that good craft exudes emotional truth, ringing true on an abstract level. Nothing doing here. The characters, especially his female characters, were completely one-dimensional (I haven't met every woman in the world, but I found myself saying, "Women like this don't exist.") and, quite frankly, annoying. His prose style is straightforward and journalistic, which is fine, but did not do any of his characters justice.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hiser

    I have mixed feelings about this book. First, I was impressed because it is the third book by someone who is only in his early-20's. In fact, he ws 17 when his first novel was published. Secondly, I am a bit disappointed. The reviews were glowing but I found the plot to be somewhat disjointed and thought the author might be trying to cover too many themes and ideas in too short a novel. On one hand, the book is a politcal spy thriller. On the other it is a satire of Harvard and schools like it. T I have mixed feelings about this book. First, I was impressed because it is the third book by someone who is only in his early-20's. In fact, he ws 17 when his first novel was published. Secondly, I am a bit disappointed. The reviews were glowing but I found the plot to be somewhat disjointed and thought the author might be trying to cover too many themes and ideas in too short a novel. On one hand, the book is a politcal spy thriller. On the other it is a satire of Harvard and schools like it. Thirdly, I was surprised how many typos and grammatical errors I found in the novel. Some sentences made little, if no, sense because of the editor's oversights. In the end, I can say this was an "OK" book to read on a summer's day.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Salsabrarian

    Several different storylines overlap and alternate: Harvard professor Lowell, the Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote a book about an African rebel leader; David, her African student; Jane, David's progressive white American girlfriend; Teak, who's some sort of secret agent on assignment in Africa; the African rebel leader Hatashil, who is at the center of everyone's story; and other key characters. It's somewhat challenging to figure out how everything braids together. But by the last third, you pr Several different storylines overlap and alternate: Harvard professor Lowell, the Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote a book about an African rebel leader; David, her African student; Jane, David's progressive white American girlfriend; Teak, who's some sort of secret agent on assignment in Africa; the African rebel leader Hatashil, who is at the center of everyone's story; and other key characters. It's somewhat challenging to figure out how everything braids together. But by the last third, you pretty much get the jist. There is a bit of suspense and subterfuge; I could imagine this becoming a movie. And the chapters are short, great for a summer page-turner when you just want to be entertained and not think too much.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Greg Jones

    I enjoyed the book but had to shift my expectations in order to do so. I'd thought the book was going to be smarter, deeper, and more involved. As it turned out, it was little better than Dan Brown. I still enjoyed it. And while it is a boy book as another reviewer has pointed out -- there's nothing wrong with that. Boys need books too, and especially these days when so many men are leaving fiction. That said, I give the book high marks for fun, incredibly high marks for being written by a guy i I enjoyed the book but had to shift my expectations in order to do so. I'd thought the book was going to be smarter, deeper, and more involved. As it turned out, it was little better than Dan Brown. I still enjoyed it. And while it is a boy book as another reviewer has pointed out -- there's nothing wrong with that. Boys need books too, and especially these days when so many men are leaving fiction. That said, I give the book high marks for fun, incredibly high marks for being written by a guy in his early 20s, and high marks for making accurate fun of Harvard. I'd recommend the book to any (guy) looking for a mildly clever and entertaining read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Going back and forth between sites at Harvard University/Cambridge and that of eastern Africa, this book explores a plot that pursues the modern adaptation of spy recruitment from amongst the elite of the ivy league. The main survellience officer (Teak) is an approachable and likable character, resembling "that guy" you wish you were friends with on campus. Other protagonists such as David are similarly multifaceted though the character of Jane is annoying and stereotypical. An intriging read. Going back and forth between sites at Harvard University/Cambridge and that of eastern Africa, this book explores a plot that pursues the modern adaptation of spy recruitment from amongst the elite of the ivy league. The main survellience officer (Teak) is an approachable and likable character, resembling "that guy" you wish you were friends with on campus. Other protagonists such as David are similarly multifaceted though the character of Jane is annoying and stereotypical. An intriging read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    The New York Times had a favorable review and it held up to its promises. Very strong novel that alternates between war-ravaged Somalia and Harvard College. He delivers a thriller that avoids over-the-top characters and situations, which serves to increase the impact of the events that unfold. Perhaps it helped that I lived near Harvard for a summer and frequented its streets and cafes on the weekend. Recognizing his descriptions, it increased my trust of his tale. It wouldn't surprise me a bit The New York Times had a favorable review and it held up to its promises. Very strong novel that alternates between war-ravaged Somalia and Harvard College. He delivers a thriller that avoids over-the-top characters and situations, which serves to increase the impact of the events that unfold. Perhaps it helped that I lived near Harvard for a summer and frequented its streets and cafes on the weekend. Recognizing his descriptions, it increased my trust of his tale. It wouldn't surprise me a bit that the CIA recruits agents from Harvard clubs.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book did what I hoped it would. Moved fast and kept me guessing. Unfortunately what I was often guessing about is who the characters were. By the end they piled up, and having been only briefly introduced it was hard to remember their significance. Probably just my deficiency as a reader. I liked the irony of the African Harvard student being used for US ends while the US spy learned the truth and left the service. Good enough book. Stylish, good observations. Why am I writing when I need t This book did what I hoped it would. Moved fast and kept me guessing. Unfortunately what I was often guessing about is who the characters were. By the end they piled up, and having been only briefly introduced it was hard to remember their significance. Probably just my deficiency as a reader. I liked the irony of the African Harvard student being used for US ends while the US spy learned the truth and left the service. Good enough book. Stylish, good observations. Why am I writing when I need to get ready for work? The end.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This one was very different than the type of novel I usually read. It was a cross between a spy novel and a college story. I could never really get a bead on the characters, which changed every chapter, but I liked it that way. It had a really good surprise also that I won't spoil here. The author is younger than me, too so I'm jealous. And, this is his THIRD book! Some people have all the luck. This one was very different than the type of novel I usually read. It was a cross between a spy novel and a college story. I could never really get a bead on the characters, which changed every chapter, but I liked it that way. It had a really good surprise also that I won't spoil here. The author is younger than me, too so I'm jealous. And, this is his THIRD book! Some people have all the luck.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Scott

    The good story in this book gets subsumed by a pretty mediocre story, as if the author didn't have enough of the good story to make a novel worth and added filler and characters. I like the story set in Africa, and even the characters' ties to Africa, but the ties back to Harvard are too forced to work naturally, and this negatively affects the entire book. Not a bad read, but not as good as I had hoped it would be. The good story in this book gets subsumed by a pretty mediocre story, as if the author didn't have enough of the good story to make a novel worth and added filler and characters. I like the story set in Africa, and even the characters' ties to Africa, but the ties back to Harvard are too forced to work naturally, and this negatively affects the entire book. Not a bad read, but not as good as I had hoped it would be.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eve Herzog

    I'm liking this (reading it in tiny 5 minute stretches at 3am), but not sure whether it only appeals to me because the undergraduate Harvard setting is so familiar that I can fill in the blanks that McDonell leaves. It's a bit like seeing a movie adaptation of a book you've already read--you can't always tell whether the adaptation fleshed out enough of the back story or whether you are helping it along. I'm liking this (reading it in tiny 5 minute stretches at 3am), but not sure whether it only appeals to me because the undergraduate Harvard setting is so familiar that I can fill in the blanks that McDonell leaves. It's a bit like seeing a movie adaptation of a book you've already read--you can't always tell whether the adaptation fleshed out enough of the back story or whether you are helping it along.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kammie

    Fantastic book! I think this may be the best book I've read this summer. I always enjoy McDonell's novels, but this may be his best. I usually wish his books were a little longer, but they do have a very direct to the point style that works well with the story. I was hoping for a more neatly tied up ending, but guess this allows an opportunity for the great Teak character to maybe make a reappearance in other novels? Fantastic book! I think this may be the best book I've read this summer. I always enjoy McDonell's novels, but this may be his best. I usually wish his books were a little longer, but they do have a very direct to the point style that works well with the story. I was hoping for a more neatly tied up ending, but guess this allows an opportunity for the great Teak character to maybe make a reappearance in other novels?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Well, I did it...It was not easy, but I finished it. I really think McDonell had a story to tell, but it never came across. It definately reminded me of someone who is tongue-tied, has so much to say/tell, but never quite gets it all out. The book was very cliche and seems to be written by someone who has never gotten their hands dirty....Good Luck if you pick this one up! Rating it 2 stars due to the plot.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    It has all of the ingredients of a good tale: international spies and special forces, the inside world of the academic elite, etc. . . but falls far short of the mark. The plot turns out to be dull and slow, and the academic barbs and portraits are trite. The characters are uninteresting, possibly for lack of detail but possibly from just being uninteresting at the core. I recommend skipping this one.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sysiak

    Only 4 stars for this as I wasn't really sure about it all after I finished it. I love the way he writes, it's remarkably laid back and I'd often surprise myself by how much I'd read at each sitting. Having said that this didn't have the impact that Twelve did but I still really enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone who has read any of his others. I Only 4 stars for this as I wasn't really sure about it all after I finished it. I love the way he writes, it's remarkably laid back and I'd often surprise myself by how much I'd read at each sitting. Having said that this didn't have the impact that Twelve did but I still really enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone who has read any of his others. I

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne LaVenture

    This was a pretty bleak book, but I will admit it provides an insightful look into the politics of Africa and of Ivy League institutions. It's an interesting juxtaposition. Unfortunately I didn't like any of the characters, even though I'm normally attracted to smart people. It is incredibly depressing to think this is how power works. The author does a convincing job of demonstrating that it does. This was a pretty bleak book, but I will admit it provides an insightful look into the politics of Africa and of Ivy League institutions. It's an interesting juxtaposition. Unfortunately I didn't like any of the characters, even though I'm normally attracted to smart people. It is incredibly depressing to think this is how power works. The author does a convincing job of demonstrating that it does.

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