Paging Mr. Orwell: “Disrupted” Is a Must-Read

George Orwell would reel at the language and corporate culture brilliantly depicted by Dan Lyons in this year’s best nonfiction book about a workplace, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. “My year in start-up hell” might have been a better subtitle. It’s not exactly the corporate history book or branding exercise that Lyons’s ex-employer HubSpot would have commissioned, but HubSpot hardly seems print-oriented. Lyons is no angel either, though he writes like one. Reading Disrupted  is like watching a 21st-century gladiator match. I tore through it without stopping, sometimes laughing out loud but more often gasping, and can’t wait for the inevitable TV movie.

Kirkus Reviews captures the book well: “But beneath the showy display of unlimited candy, beer, and other sundry perks … the culture Lyons experienced was ruthless, predatory, and unforgiving. Employees were routinely ‘graduated’ (i.e., fired) without warning, oftentimes by younger, inexperienced managers. (The theme of ageism plays throughout.) HubSpot pitches itself as a mission-based company whose software will not only help their customers save money and increase profits, but also make the world a better place. These examples of Orwellian doublespeak and utopian jargon are commonplace at tech companies, and they are strategically employed to whip up fervor among employees, investors, and the press as well as disguise the fact that their business models are often ineffective. … An exacting, excoriating takedown of the current startup ‘bubble’ and the juvenile corporate culture it engenders.”

I was delighted to discover that Lyons (who cut his teeth in the magazine world when magazines thrived) just started writing a column for Fortune . It’s called “Disrupted” (d’oh!) and will focus on corporate life and culture. There are a lot of positive workplaces out there—I look forward to Lyons’s reporting on those, well as his takedowns of the baddies.