MBA student Adam Boostrom’s new novel explores a world without men

Evening & weekend MBA student Adam Boostrom has an interesting backstory: He’s the author of an award-winning novel, Athena’s Choice, set in a futuristic, all-female society struggling over the question of whether women should—or should not—bring men back to life. In a starred review, Kirkus called the work “an invigorating read in an age of political and cultural division.” Published in January of this year, Athena’s Choice also received the 2019 National Indie Excellence Award for Visionary Fiction and the 2019 Maxy Award for Science Fiction.

Boostrom, EWMBA 21, studied economics and psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago before spending more than a decade as a successful bond trader. We asked him about his personal background, his inspiration for writing the book, and why he came to Haas.

Adam Boostrom holds his book "Athena's Choice."
Adam Boostrom’s award-winning sci-fi novel “Athena’s Choice,” which envisions a world without men. Photo: Jim Block

Where did you grow up and what was your academic journey like?

I was born in Chicago and lived throughout the Midwest for most of my life. Early on, I wanted to join the military, but by the time I had left for college, my focus had shifted to medicine. I planned to become a doctor, and I loved studying how the human body works. The only problem was that I found myself dreading afternoons spent in the lab pipetting solutions. Along about my junior year, I switched my concentration to economics and never looked back. For a decade, I worked at the Chicago Board of Trade with several different firms as a fixed income trader.

What led you to switch tracks from bond trading to writing Athena’s Choice?

It’s hard to overstate just how important writing this book was to me. I believe there are problems in the world which will never be solved unless we talk about the real sources for those problems, namely our inborn human desires. I did and still do love working in fixed income. I love the competitive aspect of bond trading, and I love how it is a truly meritocratic industry. It doesn’t matter whether or not your boss likes you. It matters if your portfolio performs. Nevertheless, there were parts of my creative brain that I felt weren’t being allowed to flourish in that line of work. This book, and its ideas, were something that I had been thinking about for a long time and for a variety of reasons. In early 2016, when Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for President, something somewhere inside of me snapped. I knew I had to start writing.

Why did you want to write about a world without men? That’s pretty dark!

What’s worse: imagining a world without men, or living in the world with them? More than 95% of all murders, mass-shootings, global wars, sexual assaults, and ethnic cleansings are perpetrated by men. Doesn’t a tiny part of you wonder if maybe the rest of humanity would be better off without them?

That being said, obviously not all men are a threat, just like not all women are saints. On the whole, however, I do believe that many men carry within them a genetic predisposition for awful, sociopathic behavior that gets “switched on” by epigenetic factors when those men feel that they’re losing the game of life. At that point, they become very dangerous to those around them, and nothing will ever change that unless you change who men are—and for centuries, this is where the conversation has ended, with philosopher’s bemoaning the violent vagaries of human nature. However, because of our modern scientific advancements, because of CRISPR Cas 9 gene editing technologies and such, for the first time in human history, we really can change human nature. Now, whether we want to do that or not, I don’t know. But I do believe that that will be the great question of, if not this century, then the next one. So I enjoy thinking about it, and that’s why I wrote the book.

What was the process of writing the book like?

The process was slow. I wrote ten words for every one that’s actually in there. If the book is any good, it’s because I have a talent for knowing what I hate, and I was constantly throwing out paragraphs or obsessing over a word. Many mornings, I’d spend three hours just to change a couple of words here or there.

I first started working on it while I was still trading, but I couldn’t do it. There just wasn’t enough mental energy for both activities. So I quit my job in 2016, and then spent a couple years writing. At the same time, I was applying to business school. I got accepted into Berkeley in the summer of 2018, and I published the digital version of the book in December of last year. The print version was officially published in January of this year.

How have your readers responded to the book and did their reaction surprise you?

On the whole, people have really seemed to like it! There are some one star reviews in there, but I was surprised to see that mostly the people who didn’t rate it highly weren’t opposed to the anti-male message in the book, which I thought would be the most controversial part, but rather they disliked how I had structured the story.

What brought you to Haas?

I wanted to be in California, and I knew that Haas had a good reputation, but I didn’t know that I would enjoy it this much. I love my classes and my classmates so much. I don’t understand how the admissions office does such a good job screening people, because the people in my evening and weekend program are just so kind, and smart, and interesting. Everybody wants to help everyone else out, and they’re all so curious, and they laugh at jokes at the right times. I really love spending time with them much more than I ever thought I would. People might judge me for paying tens of thousands of dollars just to make friends, but it’s the best money I ever spent.

Will there be a sequel?

Yes, but it’s not going to pick up where the last book left off. It will not, at first glance, appear to be a sequel at all.

Off to college they go: celebrating 30 years of Boost transformations

Boost students together in a group
The Boost mentoring program for high school students is celebrating 30 years at Berkeley Haas. Photo: Jim Block

Alessa Moscoso’s Berkeley Haas journey began the summer after her freshman year of high school, when she commuted four hours from San Luis Obispo to Berkeley and back to attend Saturday classes at the Boost mentoring program.

“I’d be doing homework in the back seat as my parents drove,” she said.

Moscoso—who went on to be valedictorian of San Luis Obispo High School and graduate from Harvard University—is now back at Haas, the first Boost student to attend the Berkeley MBA program, as an Evening & Weekend MBA student.

“It seemed like a great fit for me,” said Moscoso, who is an engagement manager at life sciences company Trinity. “The program is allowing me to continue working and developing my own career, while at the same time going to a premier business school and learning from other amazing people across various industries.”

Alessa Moscoso attended Boost and then returned to Berkeley for an MBA. Photo provided by Moscoso.
Alessa Moscoso attended Boost in high school and then returned to Berkeley last year  for an MBA. Photo provided by Moscoso.

Founded by former Haas School dean and professor Raymond Miles in 1989, Boost is a mentoring program designed to bridge the opportunity gap for first-generation high school students from economically disadvantaged families by teaching them about business and entrepreneurship. Boost is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year—and is still going strong with its largest-ever summer class of 50 students.

A transformative experience

Over the years, more than 1,200 high school students have attended Boost, and, impressively, all program graduates have gone on to attend college. Oftentimes, they are first in their families to do so, said program director Lucas Abbott.

Abbott, who has been involved with Boost for almost 14 years, said watching the students transform, and often return to the program later as mentors as Moscoso did, is the most rewarding part of his job.

“When they first come in, they’re very unsure of themselves,” he said. “But by the end of the four years, they are confident individuals who know their worth and where they’re headed.”

Students apply to the program during the 8th grade and enter the summer before freshman year. Students practice life skills such as time management, financial literacy, and problem solving, and business skills including interviewing, resume writing, business dress and etiquette, and internships.

Berkeley Haas undergraduate, MBA, and PhD students, as well as other university students and local business professionals, teach and mentor in the program.

Freshmen work on real-world case studies and leadership/communication workshops. Sophomores spend the entire school year developing business plans on teams. And juniors and seniors are offered the opportunity to apply for paid positions as camp counselors and peer leaders, providing leadership opportunities and experience in cross-age mentoring. Off-campus field trips bring the group to top companies such as Airbnb, Deloitte, and Clorox, where they explore different career paths and get a chance to network.

Boost students climbing trees
The Boost program includes confidence-building and problem-solving challenges for high school students. Photo: Jim Block

“It made me believe I could get into any university”

Juniors and seniors also attend college readiness workshops, where they get help navigating college applications and financial aid documents, take SAT preparation classes, and go on college tours.

Vanessa Lopez, college adviser for Boost, notes that all members of the Boost class of 2019 are headed to college. Arelia Díaz, who just graduated from the Boost program, will attend UC Berkeley this fall.

“Boost put me at ease,” she said. “It made me believe that I could get into any university if I put my mind to it, that I could be greater than I think I am, and that there are still people in this world who want to see people of color, people of low income, and people of first generation, succeed.”

Malik Harris, who just completed his first year of Boost, said both his older siblings graduated from Boost, which made him excited to be a part of the program.

“Boost has always been an inspiration to me since I was a kid,” he said. “It’s always been something that I wanted to be a part of and now that I am, it’s great. I just want to try and be the best I can because it’s really going to help me go far.”

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