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The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (Issues of Our Time) Hardcover – January 18, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

To anyone who has spent time on the inside, as they say, The Marketplace of Ideas is alternately bracing and chilling.... As ever, Menand writes like an angel, with the wry élan that made his previous book, The Metaphysical Club, such a winning exploration of the history of ideas. (Kirk Davis Swinehart - Chicago Tribune)

About the Author

Louis Menand, professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of The Metaphysical Club, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in History. A longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Product Details

  • Series: Issues of Our Time
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062755
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,078,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on January 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Louis Menand makes a powerful argument in this book that the bright line separating the education and research within the academic disciplines from the world outside the ivory tower is very much blurrier than most academics believe. He offers a fascinating history of the modern university as a series of compromises and maneuvers that from their very start were negotiated across that line while trying to patrol and enforce its boundary. The four long chapters of this slim volume trace this topic and its implications through arguments over general education (ch. 1), the (r)evolution in the humanities (ch. 2), the fetishizing of interdisciplinarity (ch. 3), and the socialization of the professoriate (ch. 4). Some readers may recognize parts of ch. 2, which appeared in an earlier version in "The New York Review of Books."

While Menand refrains from making many specific recommendations (his goal is to describe the paradoxes and anxieties of the liberal arts academy rather than to advocate for a particular response), one gets the strong sense that he thinks academics should make their peace with the university's inevitable role in the world and stop trying so hard to tilt against it. Such a conclusion is implicit in pithy statements like the following: "To the extent that this system [American higher education, with its roots in the 19th century] still determines the possibilities for producing and disseminating knowledge, trying to reform the contemporary university is like trying to get on the Internet with a typewriter, or like riding a horse to the mall" (17). These are the words of a reformer; though exactly what reforms Menand wants remain unclear, it seems obvious that they will involve higher education embracing its role in the world more self-consciously and vigorously.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1903, the philosopher William James wrote an essay, "The PhD Octopus", available in the linked Library of America volume, William James : Writings 1902-1910 : The Varieties of Religious Experience / Pragmatism / A Pluralistic Universe / The Meaning of Truth / Some Problems of Philosophy / Essays (Library of America) in which he expressed concern about over-specialization in the academic world and about the increased and not entirely beneficial effect on students and teachers alike resulting from efforts to pursue the PhD. Lois Menand wrote about James and his pragmatist colleagues in his Pulitzer-prize winning study "The Metaphysical Club" which broadly examines changes in American intellectual life during the period of roughly 1870- -- 1920. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America Menand's most recent book, "The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University" (2010) makes no mention of James or his essay. But Menand uses the history of the reform of the American university system during the late 1800s to suggest how and why the structure of American higher education established over 100 years ago may not be entirely conducive to the educational role of the university in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. The book is succinctly and engagingly written but also difficult and challenging. Menand is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I suspect that Louis Menand's reading audience for The Marketplace of Ideas will be narrower than that for The Metaphysical Club (2001), his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of American pragmatism conveyed via mini-biographies. The current volume deals strictly with higher education, and thus its chief appeal may be mostly to academics directly engaged in the subject. The four principal chapters address differing conceptions of "general education," transformations in the humanities, interdisciplinary initiatives, and faculty political inclinations.

Menand's focus is primarily elite institutions, four-year liberal arts colleges and the top universities that stress liberal arts and sciences for their undergraduates. He provides an instructive history of selected innovations at these schools, stretching back to the late nineteenth century. He does a good job, too, of bringing to the surface certain fundamental tensions inherent in the motivating ideas. Menand has a broad vision for how higher education could do better, although in this volume he does not offer any programmatic detail.

The strongest chapter, in my opinion, is the first. Menand points out how on the one hand liberal education has been promoted as "preparation for life," but on the other as the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, unencumbered by worldly objectives. Liberal education is sometimes thought of as a body of knowledge that all educated persons should know, but also as a way of thinking, applicable to all specialized areas of inquiry. As Menand observes, these various notions of what liberal education is and what it is supposed to achieve are often incompatible with one another.
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