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Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life Hardcover – September 25, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition Second Printing edition (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300122888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300122886
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Kronman unfolds here a sustained argument marked by subtlety, force, nuance, and considerable appeal."—Francis Oakley, President Emeritus, Williams College

(Francis Oakley)

“In a brilliant, sustained argument that is as forthright, bold, and passionately felt as it is ideologically unclassifiable and original, Anthony Kronman leaps in a bound into the center of America’s cultural disputes, not to say cultural wars. Although Kronman’s specific area of concern is higher education, his argument will reach far beyond campus walls.”—Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World:  Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People
(Jonathan Schell)

"Just when we need them most, the humanities have relinquished their role at the heart of liberal education—helping students reflect on what makes life worth living. In this bold and provocative book, Anthony Kronman explains why the humanities have lost their way. With eloquence and passion, he argues that departments of literature, classics, and philosophy can recover their authority and prestige only by reviving their traditional focus on fundamental questions about the meaning of life."—Michael J. Sandel, author of The Case against Perfection and Public Philosophy
(Michael J. Sandel)

“No question that the humanities are in a bad way in education at the present, and this book offers not just an argument that they should be more highly prized, but a carefully reasoned position of what happened, why it did, and what needs and can be done about it.”—Alvin Kernan, author of In Plato’s Cave
(Alvin Kernan)

"An impassioned defense of the humanities."—Robert Messenger, Wall Street Journal
(Robert Messenger Wall Street Journal 2007-10-04)

"Kronman argues his case passionately. His discussion of the transformation of American higher education over the last century and a half is most illuminating."—George Leef,
(George Leef 2008-02-05)

"In Education's End Kronman succeeds remarkably well, even movingly, in conveying the intellectual and spiritual joy that a serious student can find by participating in the 'great conversation.'"—Ben Wildavsky, Commentary
(Ben Wildavsky Commentary 2008-04-01)

"Kronman's study is an important contribution to the discussion about what education is for, and where it is going."—David Clemens, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
(David Clemens Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies)

About the Author

Anthony T. Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School. Since stepping down as Dean of the Law School in 2004, he has been teaching in the Directed Studies Program at Yale and devoting himself to the humanities.

Customer Reviews

The book is topical, virile,and provoking.
F Lee. Cosgrove
And he fails to see that contact with cultures & histories & traditions other than western ones does not entail a loss to the existing tradition but an addition to it.
Doug Anderson
There is much in this book to like and appreciate, but approximately 3x too many words expressing it.
Zib Zob

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Avant on August 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Kronman's book fills a lamentable gap in the literature pertaining to higher education, to the extent that most of what is written on higher education today is rather empty. This is the kind of book that a thoughtful person, having finished college, would come across and, after having read it, would realize that they were utterly misguided in their undergraduate career. That being said, I feel the book should be required reading for anyone considering graduate school regardless of the field of study. His analysis of the "modern research ideal" seems to me right on. I would, however, agree with some previous reviewers that the book could have been shorter, and at times I found myself painfully aware that he was making a point he had aready sufficiently made. Nonetheless, the final chapter is quite profound and alone worth the cost of the book.

Yet, as a side note I find it striking that no mention of St. John's College in Sante Fe and Anapolis was made in the book. The "great books" programs at Yale, Columbia, etc simply cannot begin to compare with that of St. John's College. This omission is difficult to reconcile considering that the author sees the "great books" tradition and its secular humanism as the best way out of the current education crisis, and, quite simply, no other college or university better represents secular humanism than St. John's.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Buster on August 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
While reading Education's End, I was reminded of a story (frequently attributed to Steven Covey) involving a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar set on a table, about a dozen fist-sized rocks, a bucket of gravel, a bucket of sand, and a pitcher of water. The speaker carefully places the rocks, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar is filled to the top and no more rocks will fit inside, he asks, "Is this jar full?" Usually, an audience says yes, but then the speaker successively adds buckets of gravel, sand, and water, each time impressing upon his audience the jar is not full. Finally, he explains the lesson from the demonstration: if you don't put in the big rocks first, you'll never fit them in.

Education's End by Anthony Kronman, former Dean of Yale Law School, is an excellent analysis--I highly recommend it--of a critical issue that affects the framework of American society. A thoughtfully planned and carefully balanced argument about the role of the humanities in education, Education's End exposes the current shortcomings in higher education. For Kronman, the big rocks--the things of value--in education are the questions: What is the meaning of life? How should we spend our time? How can we succeed in the art of living? For much of our history U.S. education included the big rocks; they were part of a college education. Today, this is no longer true.

Kronman reviews what he believes to be an unfortunate path traveled by higher education in the U.S., breaking down the regrettable history into three eras. First, during the antebellum era beginning with the opening of Harvard University, there was a focus on God, a Christian perspective, and an emphasis on "the ancient model of virtue and order.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By EPCIII on September 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Education's End is fascinating and provides a persuasive argument for the restoration of liberal education. Kronman argues that the central role of the humanities should be to enable undergraduates to address the question of the meaning of life. He traces the historical development of colleges and universities as they have moved from the antebellum colleges with their theistic answers to this fundamental question and through the phase where secular humanism offered alternative answers. According to Kornman, the humanities in our institutions of higher education have recently been neutered by the dual domination of the academic research ideal and political correctness. His book concludes with an optimistic chapter predicting the return of secular humanism with the diminution of political correctness, the increasing hunger for answers to the question of the meaning of life, and the inability of traditional religions to provide answers to this question.
Kronman's central arguments are insightful and persuasive but some of his supporting arguments are overly simplistic. A minor point is that he states that nineteenth century German universities were first and most influential in promoting research as an academic ideal. In fact, academic specialization began in Scotland when the regenting system was abandoned at the University of Edinburgh in 1707 and at the University of Glasgow in 1727. Some of the chairs at Glasgow supporting specialization and the dates of their establishment were: mathematics (1691); botany and anatomy (1704); and medicine (1713). The discipline of chemistry flourished in Scotland during the second half of the eighteenth century.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a lovely and important book. It is interesting that it took a law school dean to write it. In his own intellectual and spiritual journey he realized that our institutions of higher education no longer deal with the big questions, such as the meaning of life. Now he has turned his focus to that fact and concentrated his teaching efforts in a Yale program that seeks to inculcate old wisdom and old ideals.

He approaches the issue historically, studying the antebellum approach in which colleges were predominantly religious in their orientation. Their task was to educate Christian gentlemen and they did it through the study of the classics, through the study of theology and through the instilling of personal discipline.

The doctrinal, character-centered approach was succeeded by what he terms (in the humanities) secular humanism: the study of great writers and great texts which did, indeed, confront such questions as the meaning of life. The approach was less one of indoctrination than the introduction to thousands of years of reflection on weighty issues, reflection which was not internally consistent or absolutist but rather pluralist and, in its totality, wise. This approach exists in very limited form now in such programs as Yale's Directed Studies program, which enrolls 120 students (who apply to pursue it).

Secular humanism was displaced by the politicization of the 60's, aided and abetted by the `research ideal' in which depth replaced breadth, incremental learning replaced grand syntheses and correction/replacement became the goal rather than absorption/internalization/preservation.

One way of thinking about this is to say that `the preservation of culture' (a longstanding ideal, e.g.
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