Recently published books by alumni

Maureen Farrell '01 talks about a startup delusion, novelist Lucy Corin '92 shares the books that got her through this year, and the latest books by faculty, alumni, and staff

Maureen Farrell

We asked Maureen Farrell ’01 about The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion (Crown), which she cowrote with Eliot Brown—the saga of the rise and fall of one of the most-valuable and most-hyped start-ups and its unusual leader.

Duke Magazine: What struck me in this book is that there’s something about the idea of a visionary that really captures people and that was a big driver in this story.

Farrell: I completely agree with you. Neumann had this ability to explain this whole vision of the world and what it would be and captivate people. I think as we dug deeper in the story, we saw that time and time again, Adam would pitch someone and usually the main person who held the checkbook, the man who held the checkbook, would become obsessed with him. And then their underlings would do all this work and say, “Here are all these red flags,” and that man with the checkbook was way too smitten with Adam, even with the red flags, and would just move ahead anyway. It was pretty interesting to see. All the warning signs were there, and people were too captivated by him to take heed.

DM: Yes, and yet everything we’re taught about business, all the popular portrayals say that you have to know the business—it comes down to numbers. But here, while it ultimately becomes about that, for a long time, the business of this business is overlooked.

Farrell: My coauthor and I have talked about this a lot. It’s like this kind of herd mentality. There is this sense that certain institutions, say a Fidelity… there’s this sober mutual fund that typically does serious due diligence. But we found that here the Fidelity guy was really upset because his nemesis at another firm wrote a check to Adam Neumann earlier, so he was desperate to get in. So it came down to something like, “Okay, well, Fidelity’s in it. It must be a really good company. Even if we have our doubts, Fidelity would never invest in a company where there were red flags.” It’s like this kind of crazy cycle and mass delusion almost because there are these institutions that everyone sort of believe in.

As much as Adam Neumann is the driver of this whole story, there should be checks and balances in capitalism. He did crazy things; he pushed the limits. But no one was willing to stand up and show leadership and stand up to him for fear of missing out. I found that very depressing the whole way through.

DM: Your book talks about this start-up moment, how part of the start-up era was an allowance for debt with the idea the money could be made later. Do you think part of this story is that these start-ups, this technology was so new and happening so quickly that a lot of people didn’t quite understand it?

Farrell: I think it was essentially the riches; vast amounts of wealth were being created out of nothing, seemingly, amounts people had never seen before, and the speed at which it happened. There was this whole new crop of companies, and there was this fear of more staid industries where you look at profits and losses. With more-traditional industries it takes a while to build a great company, and in theory, it seemed like these new companies were just these unicorns that were being invented so quickly and turning into huge companies.

So yes, there was a tendency to say, “We don’t quite understand what’s happening or how this is going to build, but it could be the next big thing, and we just don’t want to miss out on it.” I think we’re still very much in that era.

DM: In the end, was Adam Neumann a good businessman? What was his skill set?

Farrell: I think he is one of the most brilliant marketers and fundraisers of all time. And I think that is a huge part of being an entrepreneur. I think the tricky thing with him was he was so good at convincing other people to give him money and he attracted really amazing talent to WeWork, also. They had an incredible roster of employees.

A lot of the time, his ego got in the way, but I think he has qualities no one else has. There are just so few people who have a vision, and the ability to articulate it, and make people follow them in the way he did. I think he thought he could do everything, and he thought he could build this incredible company, and push for everything he wanted for himself, and it would all work. And it obviously all came crumbling down around him.

DM: Does that mean with the right partnership we might see him again?

Farrell: I think we’re going to see him again. He now is a billionaire, in terms of what he has been able to cash out and all the money he’s gotten from WeWork. He’s started to invest in things, but I think he’s not done. I think he desperately wants to have a next act and is trying to figure out what that is. I think he’s restless. It’s not enough for him to be a billionaire. I think he’s quite narcissistic, but yeah, we’ll hear from him one way or another, and the question is going to be who will stand with him and alongside him again. 


In The Swank Hotel (Graywolf Press), the novelist takes a surreal look at the outset of the 2008 financial crisis to explore trauma, cultural expectations, and the political and economic crisis of the early twenty-first century. Here, she shares the books that helped her get through this (also surreal) year:

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

I cannot believe this novel is out of print, but I finally got a copy. Other than rereading Lynda Barry, which always works, this is where I found comfort in reading this year. A book that dares to suggest that maybe being great is not all that good, that tunes into the rhythm of daily life over time in a way that is gently, gently, insistently palpable in both its sweetness and its devastation.

Machine by Susan Steinberg

A crystalline novel for people like me who want the intricacy of the finest sort of short story but sustained. Hypnotic and woozily atmospheric access to the obsessive quality of adolescence that makes you never really leave it behind.

Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

I turn to this great, great novelist when I want to know that what I read will shake me to the core and make me laugh, somehow simultaneously. Dance With Snakes might be my favorite book, but Senselessness might be the book to read right now—just be ready. How to face and not face the reality of atrocity. That is what this book takes you through.

The Fiume Crisis by Dominique Kirchner Reill

Thank God for historians. I love this book because it takes on the power of narrative itself and dares to extricate it from the powerful and actually return it to the people.

That Winter the Wolf Came by Juliana Spahr

This book of poems just blows me away. It’s about all the hard things of our time—what is happening to the planet and what is happening on our streets— and gives me a way to feel part of the larger effort to contend with the reality of it. It’s brilliant and hard as hell and makes me feel together with the mind that made it.


Music in My Life: Notes From a Longtime Fan

Alec Wightman ’72 (Small Batch Books)

Wightman chronicles his musical evolution from the great rock ’n’ roll of the 1960s to numerous Neil Young concerts in the ’70s and on to decades discovering singer-songwriter favorites like John Stewart, Jesse Winchester, Tom Russell, Rosie Flores, and Dave Alvin.

A Place to Hang the Moon

Kate Albus ’93 (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House)

Three orphaned children hope the World War II evacuation of London will be their chance at a forever home.

The Ten Commandments of Marriage—Secrets of a Divorce Lawyer

David W. Erdman ’71 (SPARK Publications)

As an attorney, Erdman has been involved in 5,000 marriages. Here, he gleans lessons from those clients to help keep couples together.

Mystic Moderns: Agency and Enchantment in Evelyn Underhill, May Sinclair, and Mary Webb

James H. Thrall Ph.D. ’05 (Lexington Books)

An examination of the responses of three British authors to the emerging modernity of the early twentieth-century moment encompassing the First World War.

Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss

Katharine O’Connell White ’94 (Mayo Clinic Press)

An OB/GYN, miscarriage survivor, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Boston University School of Medicine, and vice chair of academics in the OB/GYN department at Boston Medical Center combines the latest medical research with the information you need when you experience pregnancy loss.

Experiencing Design: The Innovator’s Journey

Jeanne Liedtka, Karen Hold ’85, and Jessica Eldridge (Columbia University Press)

A guide for how to create deep design experiences at each stage of the design-thinking journey, whether for an individual, a team, or an organization.

The Murderess Must Die

Marlie Parker Wasserman ’69 (Level Best Books)

After allegedly murdering her stepdaughter in Brooklyn in 1898, Martha Place, speaking from the grave, explains how she became the first woman executed in the electric chair.


Antonio de Jesús López ’16 (Four Way Books)

A poetry collection exploring themes like the immigrant experience, the “survivor’s guilt” of higher education, and the trials of Latinx students.

Find Your Fierce: How to Put Social Anxiety in Its Place 

Jacqueline Sperling ’06 (Magination Press)

A toolkit that walks teens through strategies to help them overcome social-anxiety disorder.

Crossing Back: Books, Family, and Memory Without Pain

Marianna De Marco Torgovnick (Fordham University Press)

The author, a Duke professor of English, presents her perspective on death, mourning, loss, and renewal after the deaths of her mother and brother led to the solace and insight offered by classic books and the practice of meditation.

Griffin the Dragon and the Game of Chess for Kids

Ken Mask M.D. ’88 (

In this book for young readers suggested by the author’s son, Griffin the dragon teaches Jackson the hyena and their friend Cattails to play chess.

Unequal Cities: Structural Racism and the Death Gap in America’s Largest Cities

Edited by Maureen Reindl Benjamins ’98 and Fernando G. De Maio (Johns Hopkins University Press)

The editors gathered a team of experts to explore the racial and ethnic inequities and the ten-year gap in life expectancy between our healthiest and unhealthiest big cities.

Coach K: The King of Cameron

The Chronicle (Duke Student Publishing Co.)

Current and former Chronicle staffers, plus contributors like NBA commissioner Adam Silver ’84, examine the milestones of Coach K’s career and more. About 80 percent of the proceeds will go toward supporting The Chronicle.

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor