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That Book about Harvard: Surviving the World's Most Famous University, One Embarrassment at a Time Paperback – July 1, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Just in time for graduation season, Kester, a writer for collegehumour.com, shares his hilarious and poignant misadventures during his often humiliating first year at Harvard...With self-deprecation and clear eyes, he deftly manages to dispel some of the Harvard mythos and his illusions as he learns to not take his achievements or himself so seriously." - Publishers Weekly

"Even if you didn't go to an ultra-competitive school, you will still enjoy this book. Eric does a great job of poking fun at himself, his school and just about everything, without being offensive. It's a great humor book that would be perfect for any kid who is just entering college. " - Second Bookshelf on the Right

"All in all, it's a well-told, entertaining and totez LOL-inducing story of a freshman hopelessly floundering at a university that most of us (besides me, obvvv) couldn't get into even if we donated a library or 16. " - Study Breaks

"Laugh out loud funny!" - A Bookish Affair

"Kester provides a fresh male perspective that makes readers laugh and, ultimately, understand that it's not the grades or the girls that define success - it's about accepting yourself." - Anokhi Magazine

"I love those columns in the back of 17 magazine where teenage girls discuss their most embarrassing moments. This book is one long list of those. " - The Unshelved Book Club

"The book is every bit entertaining, full of laugh-out-loud moments and the freshness of narrative brings the much needed lightness in the otherwise tensed first day and first year in the premiere college of Harvard repute. Clearly Eric Kester has a wonderful way with words and has created a true page turner... " - BookPleasures.com

"If you like your memoirs on the funny 'I can't believe he just said/did that' then this is definitely the book for you. I loved it.
" - Bookshipper

"A light-hearted and raunchy story of frat boy–style college adventures, this book is written with skill and (a kind of) grace. An enjoyable addition to the genre" - Library Journal

"Eric Kester is rather young to be already writing a memoir but, in this instance, it works because he only focuses on his first year at Harvard. The reader is invited to follow along as the insecure freshman copes with adjusting to a place that he never really feels comfortable in." - BookLoons

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Prologue

It must have looked pretty weird to people driving by: two parents flanking their teenage son as they all made a solemn walk down the driveway. My ashen face and hesitant steps likely made it look like I was walking the plank, or being led by my parents through some bizarre driveway-based version of that punishment. But anyone who's ever opened a college admissions letter can attest that this was far more terrifying.

Mr. Lynch, our neighbor across the street, was out mowing his lawn and began to watch us. He seemed surprised to see me walk up to the mailbox. "Already time for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue?" he shouted cheerfully.

Part of me wanted to snap at him. I was checking the mail today because I was getting my admissions decision from Harvard, not because I was some sort of obsessive horndog. Besides, the next swimsuit issue was still 293 days away.

I kept quiet, though; my anxiety about the letter had me unusually irritable, and snapping at Mr. Lynch wouldn't do anything to change what was going to be in the letter when I opened it.

I was a decent college candidate (at least that's what I had been told by family members obligated to say such things). But everything I had ever heard about the prestigious university indicated that being "good enough" wasn't good enough for Harvard. So by the time my parents and I finally reached the mailbox, I had already read the letter in my mind:

Dear Eric "Failure" Kester,

After carefully reviewing your application, we have determined that we cannot offer admission to you or any of your future offspring. This was not an easy decision*, but ultimately we concluded that it reflects poorly on the Harvard brand to admit a student who would be better served attending a lesser school, perhaps as a janitor. For your benefit we've included a pamphlet to a nearby orphanage in the event that your parents abandon you in shame. We wish you the best of luck in your future, highly unsuccessful life.

*It was.

With the utmost sincerity,

Harvard Admissions

P.S. Your ex-girlfriend was right about you.

My mom reached into the mailbox and pulled out the heap of mail. She then forced me to walk halfway up our driveway before handing over the pile. Getting into Harvard wasn't a life or death situation for me, but still my parents thought it might be best if I opened my letter a safe distance away from oncoming traffic.

Breathing, hearing, and pretty much all other bodily functions ceased to work as I hastily flipped through the mail, starting first with the thin letters at the top. The past two years of my life were flashing before my eyes-the grueling "college process" filled with SATs, APs, GPAs, and other miserable letters that have left me forever terrified of the alphabet. The stakes were huge: an acceptance letter would mean that all my hard work had actually paid off. And that my parents wouldn't have to return those Harvard T-shirts they bought on my campus tour.

I found the envelope from Harvard near the bottom, and it was thick. Under normal circumstances this would indicate good news; acceptance letters include brochures and other informational material for the new admits, while rejections are normally just a letter in a thin envelope. But I remained skeptical. I figured that, in typical Harvard fashion, the university would make even their rejection letters ostentatious, and I would open the fat envelope only to release a package of fireworks that would explode above my house and spell in giant letters: YOU'RE REJECTED.

But my mind was the only thing that exploded when I tore open the letter, scanned the first line, and saw "Congratulations!"

Holy shit, I'm going to Harvard!

In my excitement I accidently expressed this thought out loud. But my parents didn't notice; they were too busy cheering. We collapsed into a prolonged three-way hug that made an uncomfortable Mr. Lynch turn off his lawn mower and go inside. My mom ran back to the house to call my grandma and probably the local newspaper, leaving my dad and me to relish the moment.

"I'm proud of you, son."

He looked at me with misty eyes, and we shared a long man-hug. Now I had banned such public displays of affection back in middle school, when I learned that girls don't have "dad hugger" high on their list of turn-ons. But this was a special moment. Something miraculous had just happened. I had somehow been accepted into Harvard, and I didn't even play the violin.

While we walked back up the driveway, my dad held onto the other mail as I leafed through the Harvard brochure, excited to get a taste of my new school. It was filled with picture after picture of highly enthusiastic Harvard students engaging in various academic activities. There was one photo of a guy in a white lab coat mixing test tubes of chemicals, then another of a young woman at a blackboard writing what appeared to be Egyptian hieroglyphics. Or maybe it was calculus...I wasn't sure.

For some reason, I felt my chest begin to tighten. Next was a picture of a student relaxing with a magazine in his dorm room. It wasn't a magazine I'd qualify as "leisure reading," and it sure as hell wasn't the swimsuit issue. It was The Economist, and the guy was giggling with delight while reading it.

My hands felt sweaty as I quickly turned the page. Now I was faced with a picture of a student just standing there and staring intensely at me, his unnaturally wide eyes bulging like they were being squeezed out of his skull by his oversized brain. I looked at his shirt, neatly pressed and tucked in. I glanced down at my shirt, the host of an ongoing territorial war between ketchup and mustard stains.

I closed the brochure, and the iconic crimson shield stared me in the face.

Oh shit, I thought, I'm going to Harvard...

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks; Original edition (July 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402267509
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402267505
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a book about the author's first year at Harvard, a school that most of the world will never have the chance to attend. Reading it, I was taken back to my first year of college and I found myself involuntarily giggling, or grimacing depending in the situation being related. And seriously, boy does he relate some cringe-inducing stories, including the time he walked across campus in his underwear, and when he was arrested, and...well, I'd better stop there, although there are many more to share.
I enjoyed also the different interesting tidbits he shared about life at Harvard. Stepping around the protest clubs in the way to class, dodging tourists anxious to get a glimpse of a "real Harvard scholar", choking on the cafeteria food, taking part in the "primal scream", and more.
While there was much that I enjoyed about this book and it is a really fast read, I wish that he had made it a bit longer. I would have enjoyed reading a bit more about the rest of his time at Harvard, and also would have liked to know who the girl is that he wrote the book to impress, (i.e. did her name start with "H"?).
The book is also quite crude in parts, he channels his 19-year-old self very believably and there are some parts that I did not find as enjoyable to read. Overall though, it is a good book and a fun read.
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Format: Paperback
Mr Kester can write. He has a deft hand with self deprecation, can craft a witty phrase and knows how to pace a book. I bought his book today and demolished it, hell, I bought it off the strength of the first paragraph. That is how entertaining Kester is.

But he's also kind of a jerk, and he doesn't bother to hide it.

Give me a minute! I know that's a harsh assessment, but all of the virtues I've stated come with some rather telling flaws. Kester's writing is at times racist and sexist, and the wry observations he makes about himself are juxtaposed with cruel observations about others. His calculus professor's accent is derided in lengthy swathes of dialogue, and Kester's maturity and understanding is so underdeveloped that he laughs in the man's face. Quite literally. He also goes to great lengths to describe a girl he finds unattractive, slapped on the ass and later found out had slept with a friend of his (who also mocked her cruelly). He does the same with a man he found overweight. Kester's writing does not just reveal a man who struggled under the weight of a high class university... It also shows that the experience did not give him empathy. His writing oscillates between hilarious reflections of himself, which are unflinching, and thoughtless meanness. It is, if I am being fair, well written meanness. But it does not speak well of Kester, and it makes the book an uncomfortable read at times.

However, I still finished the book, because when it is funny it is very funny and when it is cruel, well... You get an extremely rare insight into the mind of a man who is privileged, white and american, but with all the censoring turned off. If you want to know how the white boy on the football team thinks about other people, this book will tell you.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having been a Harvard student myself many years ago, with a son about to start the college application process now wondering whether or not Harvard might be the right school for him, I could enjoy Kester's book on two very different levels. It's a hilarious read, with many laugh-out-loud passages. But it's also a sobering and insightful commentary about the school, its traditions, and the perspectives and priorities of its students and faculty. There's a lot there, and it's all done well.
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By Molly on October 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was equal parts enlightening, funny, and informative. I learned some stuff about Harvard I had not known (despite living next to it for some time), and I think I understand the idiosyncrasies of my coworkers who studied at Harvard a little better now...
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Format: Paperback
I had a great time reading this book and in fact loved it. The first half of the book is hard hitting laugh out loud funny and the second half just wraps up beautifully. It's very easy to imagine this story becoming a National Lampoon movie with a young SNL cast member. The material and ending is simply gold. In addition, I learned a good bit about Harvard in a way that humanizes it.
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The author's self-deprecating humor provides many laugh-out-loud moments as he shares his insecurities as a Harvard freshman. It is hard to reconcile what I know about the rate of admission to Harvard with his apparent mediocrity as a student. (What was his hook for acceptance?) I was glad to see him finally gain some insights about himself by the end of the book.
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The title caught my attention. My son is a freshman at Harvard and I am an English teacher. The book caught my eye. What I did not expect was to laugh out loud. I cracked up. This young man can write well. I highly recommend this book to any parent of a high school or college student. It does not matter if they attend Harvard or the local state school. You will laugh. I think my high school students would love it as well. It is pure fun, honesty, playfulness and youth.
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I was an athlete at Stanford and there are a lot of similarities. Yes, the book is vulgar, rude, etc.

That is the kind of stuff college guys joke about. Here is a paraphrased line, "Your idea of getting ass in high school was having a bully sit on your face."
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