WHAT THEY TEACH YOU AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
By Philip Delves Broughton
GRADUATES of the Harvard MBA programme run the World Bank, the American Treasury, General Electric, Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble. According to Philip Delves Broughton, they control “the hours we work, the vacations we get, the culture we consume, the health care we receive.”
Which is why this insider’s account of the course is of interest – so much so that it swiftly became a New York Times bestseller. This version includes an updated analysis of the financial crisis – after all, many of the risk-takers running the FTSE 500 companies that “got us into so much trouble” are graduates.
But in the main, this is a personal, anecdote-led account of two very odd, intense and American years in the “cauldron of capitalism.” Delves Broughton was in pole position to play the observer, being both a former journalist (Paris bureau head for the Daily Telegraph) and a cynical Brit. Naturally, he balks at such oddities as the What to Bring section in his student guide: “Don’t bring that guitar… Don’t bring any books from literature or history classes… Don’t bring your cynicism. Do bring all the diverse rest of you.” For all its rigour, HBS is drenched in the cringe-worthy language of self-development. It is his wife, an American, who declares the crystal truth: “These people are freaks.”
But motoring the narrative is the author’s very genuine interest in business and how finance works – this is not just a sarky look at an American institution. He’s now head of a cutting-edge podcast business, so clearly they do teach you something at HBS.
By Hilary Mantel
FOURTH ESTATE, £18.99
Mantel, a first-rate novelist, has surpassed her previously fantastic work with a book of pure brilliance. This retelling of Henry VIII’s break from Catholicism, with all the familiar players (Anne Boleyn, Thomas More), is so fresh and imaginative that even those who are sick to death of the accounts of the period will revel in this one.
Mantel’s trump card, wielded expertly and subtly throughout, is to retell the years between 1527 and 1535 through the normally unattractive eyes of Thomas Cromwell. We see a new man, whose life was shaped by hardship and humble beginnings but who has a soft or at least a human core beneath the tough skin. He may be physically ugly, but any other ugliness melts as Mantel gives us his various personas: the abused child of a violent father in Putney; the runaway urchin hoping for kitchen scraps round Lambeth Palace; the counting house apprentice. His marriage is not romantic, but it is loving – his grief when his wife dies suddenly is deep but quiet: “Liz, didn’t you fight?”
Readers au fait with the period will be shocked at Mantel’s demonisation of More – though her elevation of Cromwell requires it. In Wolf Hall, More is nasty, snide, greedy, self-regarding and very quick to burn heretics.
Mantel’s Anne Boleyn is also a gripping character – flat-chested, terrifyingly ambitious and in possession of a phony French accent.
This is a brilliantly written, intelligent retelling of a commonly taught, commonly retold period. Historians and first-timers to Tudor history alike will be delighted and provoked.
“Bateman” is a northern Irish hack turned writer who is – despite his pop queen-style name – pretty good at writing crime fiction. There’s nothing of the airport novel about his books, all of which come with an ironic tagline such as, in this case, “murder, mayhem and damn sexy trousers.” His first novel Divorcing Jack (in a different series) won the prestigious Betty Trask Prize.
Mystery Man centres on a nameless narrator (known in Bateman circles as The Man Who Has No Name), who owns a bookshop in Belfast called No Alibis. It just so happens to be next to a private detective agency that goes bust. When clients turn up to the building to see what’s going on they end up moving their enquiries to No Alibis. It starts innocently enough – a man buying an Agatha Christie novel who wants the case of his wife’s missing leather trousers investigated.
Soon, though, No Name and a team that involves his assistant Jeff and Alison, a beautiful woman that runs the jewellery shop across the road, get in deeper than they thought possible. They find the missing detective’s bloated corpse hung with air fresheners and soon embark on a murder trail that leads them to Nazi war criminals and serial killers.
Written in a clipped, breezy style, this is a well-turned and amusing instalment in the series, and should grip anyone who finds the combination of Belfast grit, gore and mystery piquant.