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In Defense of a Liberal Education 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 204 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393247688
ISBN-10: 0393247686
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Editorial Reviews


“Smart.” (Nicholas Kristof - The New York Times)

About the Author

Fareed Zakaria has been called "the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation" (Esquire). He is the Emmy-nominated host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, contributing editor for The Atlantic, a columnist for the Washington Post, and the best-selling author of The Post-American World and The Future of Freedom. He lives in New York City.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (March 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393247686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393247688
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Fareed Zakaria has written some very good books before, including The Future of Freedom and The Post-American World. Those were like his TV show on CNN--smart, knowledgeable discussions of politics and global affairs, helping readers understand what was going on in the world. This book is different. First of all, it's shorter and simpler. Second, it's more personal. The whole first chapter, for example, is about his own childhood and education, and throughout he talks directly to the reader in a conversational tone, often about his own experiences. And third, the subject of the book is education--what it really is and how to get it. He argues that a liberal education--studying a broad range of subjects, including the humanities such as history, literature, and the arts--is the best way to train one's mind and even character. Instead of using school to get facts or pre-professional training, this kind of education teaches you to read, to write, and to learn, all of which allow you not only to retool yourself over time, but to live a conscious, self-aware life. The book moves on from that to discuss education more generally, as well as the qualities of young people today, and what all that says about the state of the world and its future.

The obvious target audience is students and their parents, and in fact the book grew out of a commencement speech he gave a while back. But it's one of those plain, wise talks that sticks with you, because it says important things well. Why do I say it's his most important book? because what he's really doing is explaining how he developed the mental tools to write his other books, and offer the commentary that he does every week on his show, in his column, and in his talks.
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Format: Hardcover
IN DEFENSE OF A LIBERAL EDUCATION strikes close to home--a little TOO close. The author presents 3 specific advantages of a liberal education. Such an education helps one to: (1) Learn how to WRITE; (2) Learn how to SPEAK; and (3) Learn how to LEARN. The author points out that even in the high-tech world, these skills are of great value. That is, it's not just how fast or how well you can code, or how quick you are in designing that new circuit. Fareed quotes several top business executives who consider the above skills the primary predictor of career success.

I know from personal experience how critical these "liberal arts" skills are. I work in a "techie" field, with lots of smart people who graduated from fine universities. They are VERY smart and VERY capable. I have discovered, however, that nearly 100% of my bright colleagues can neither write well or present themselves well. Their technical degrees did in fact, lead to well-paying jobs, but with a very narrow focus. So narrow, in fact, that hardly anyone can write a short "white paper."

I have sadly found that the stereotype of the socially-challenged engineer is often true. (A clerk at an office products store once asked me, "Are you an engineer?" When I answered "Yes," she fell down laughing.)

Fareed presents a nice overview of American collegiate education, even discussing the "Great Books" program of John Erskine and Mortimer Adler. He explains why American colleges have abandoned this form of learning, in pursuit of more vocational skills. The emphasis has shifted to those majors that promise immediate, high-paying jobs, based on a particular (and narrow) job qualification.

All in all, IN DEFENSE OF A LIBERAL EDUCATION is an insightful read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
History shows that the problems of common education are genuinely difficult and never as easy to solve as most of us think they are. The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that “Experience teaches us that the results of an experiment [in education] are often entirely different from what we expected." This is still true.

Mr. Zakaria makes a strong case that in America’s rush to be in the top tier in international scientific and mathematical test competitions, she may be throwing away what has always been among her greatest strengths: her creativity and dynamism. He maintains that America’s liberal arts curricula in its colleges and universities have been a strong ingredient in nurturing these strengths. Paradoxically, this demotion of the liberal arts seems to be occurring just at the time that other countries seek to emulate our strengths in these areas. The book hints that perhaps 21st century America can learn something from 19th and 20th century America in this regard.

He mentions that over the past 40+ years America has never done particularly well in international test comparisons and nevertheless has been one of the most innovative countries that the world has ever seen during that time. He further remarks that Sweden & Israel also recognized for their innovative spirit, have in general never done particularly well in international tests comparisons either.

Yet at the same time, Zakaria doesn’t marginalize America’s efforts to improve its standing in such comparisons nor its initiatives to improve the number of students choosing a STEM track. Rather he argues for compromise and caution, in stating that a liberal arts education is important too.
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