The mountains of academe -- or, rather, the foothills of Cambridge -- have labored and brought forth a mouse. A work whose import can be dismissed without loss to office or home, Getting to Yes attempts to simplify for the masses the findings of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a Harvard Law School workshop in settling differences. Fisher, a lawyer and teacher, and Ury, a consultant in mediation, apply Camp David-like methods to ordinary situations, such as when your child should go to bed. But their de-emotionalized "principled negotiation" offers little that is creative or even novel. Indeed, they admit that "there is probably nothing in this book which you did not already know." Then why compile it?
Worse, their presentation is often too cute for words. So they indulge in acronyms: "Develop your BATNA" is central advice. It turns out, though, that the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement is nothing more than what other people call having a viable option. Other condescending directives include such statements as "principled negotiation shows you how to obtain what you are entitled to and still be decent." If the alternatives at Harvard Law School are publish or perish, in this instance the public would have been better served by the latter.