Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

An Expensive Education

by Nick McDonell

An Expensive Education blends a terse story of international intrigue with a biting satire of Harvard . . . Smart and sexy and could be the beginning of a franchise more lucrative than literary fiction.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date May 04, 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4481-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date August 11, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1893-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $24.00

About The Book

Nick McDonell’s remarkable third novel, An Expensive Education, received rave reviews across the country, drawing comparisons to the works of Graham Greene and John le Carré and earning praise for its careful plotting and authentic depiction of life at Harvard. 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-end hotels, it is a story of corruption and love, betrayal and sudden death.

Mike Teak has a classic Harvard profile. But only on the surface. He’s a twenty-five-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 by a missile assault, and although Mike escapes, his life is changed forever.

Echoing across continents, the assault disrupts professor Susan Lowell’s orderly existence. Beautiful, happily married, and the mother of two, she has just won a Pulitzer Prize for her book celebrating Hatashil. Also shaken is Lowell’s student, David Ayan, who was born in the targeted village a world away from Harvard’s most exclusive final club, the Porcellian, which is courting him and Jane, the smart, risk-taking daughter of East Coast money who’s sleeping with him. David Ayan struggles with his identity and Susan Lowell struggles against rumors about her relationship with Hatashil, who has been accused of ordering the village massacre. But it is Mike Teak who faces a deadly struggle—because when he discovers a horrific conspiracy he immediately realizes that he has become expendable, with nowhere to run and no one to trust. Until the very last minute.


“McDonell’s third novel . . . introduces a spy who could have easily walked off the pages of le Carré’s better works . . . Teak is the most attractive fictional spy in quite some time . . . one hopes this isn’t [his] only appearance.” —Publishers Weekly

“Part college novel and part spy thriller in the tradition of Green and le Carré, An Expensive Education encompasses global, national, and campus politics, showing the way the biggest agendas are sometimes set on the smallest stages. McDonell writes about hot topics with a cool head, and his riveting novel should fuel an emotional response from readers.” —Booklist (starred review)

“McDonell’s dark, relentlessly readable latest swings back and forth between Harvard and Africa, and in both cases the education is indeed expensive . . . The 20-something author keeps his smart, ambitious, self-absorbed characters at arm’s-length, doling out understanding and compassion to them while withholding real affection. A novel for the head more than the heart, but so very intelligent that for a certain kind of reader it will be catnip.” —Kirkus Review (starred review)

“McDonell continues his streak with a suspenseful, Graham Greene—inspired third effort . . . it’s clear this young writer has only begun to show where his prodigious storytelling will take us.” —People

An Expensive Education blends a terse story of international intrigue with a biting satire of Harvard . . . Smart and sexy and could be the beginning of a franchise more lucrative than literary fiction.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“For decades, the intersection of the Ivy League and the CIA has made for good storytelling. But most of these are august tales of the Cold War, told from the wise, occasionally stuffy viewpoint of an old master. Now the 25-year-old McDonell—who burst onto the literary scene at 17 with his novel Twelve—has enlivened the genre with An Expensive Education . . . Tempered by some hilarious insider glimpses of Harvard life, An Expensive Education is terrific, a thriller noir that’s difficult to put down or forget.” —Entertainment Weekly (A-)

“At twenty-five, McDonell is delivering on his literary promise. An Expensive Education is an adult novel, albeit not too grown-up. There are nods to Graham Greene, but the book struck me as more like what an early Bret Easton Ellis novel might be like if Ellis believed in plots. . . . McDonell has mastered the mechanics of genre without losing his literary hipness.” —The Oregonian

“Unerringly entertaining . . . McDonell skips from Washington to Nairobi as easily as he crosses the river between Cambridge and Boston, usually by means of short chapters and skillful cuts. . . . [His protagonist Teak] is more Holden Caulfield than James Bond: the spy in quarter-life crisis. And it’s the juxtaposition of his cold-blooded training and soulful moping that gives the book its charm.” —The New York Times Book Review


David pulled an envelope out of his backpack. “This came under my door last night.”

“The Porcellian punched you,” said Jane as soon as she saw the broken seal. She grabbed the card. A pig face was embossed on it in gold. Handwritten: The President and Members of the Porcellian Club request your presence for cocktails at . . . the invitation continued with the address of a building just off campus. Eight o’clock, next Tuesday.

“Hilarious,” said Jane, slapping the heavy invitation on the bar.

“Here, be careful,” said David, reaching for it.

“You’re actually thinking about doing this?” Jane held the card away from him.

“Try it all once,” he said. She had said that to him many times.

“Yeah, but not this. This is the worst, paternalist, classist, homophobic, old-boy bullshit. They’re just glorified frats. You don’t need this bullshit. You’ve got enough steam on your own. Don’t they have any idea where you’re from? Most of the boardroom assholes who engineered your country onto page twenty-six of The Economist probably were in the Porc, the most secret-secret bluebloody weirdness. Make you jack off into Geronimo’s skull like Skull and Bones. Or you could join the Fly and blow coke like you have to swim to Gatsby’s green light. Or you could pop your collar with the A.D. and play lacrosse and funnel beer till you vomit all over the working class. Or the Phoenix. They have some black people, princess of Nigeria and like that. Maybe the Spee? They even have a Jew or two.”