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Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class Hardcover – March 2, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
Some of it was justified. Some of it was hype. And some of it jarred so substantially with my experience of Harvard that I couldn't believe that we had, for at least a couple of overlapping years, occupied the same two or three square miles of Cambridge.
In praise of Douthat: his writing is clear, and the dialogue he records is pitch perfect. He chronicles experiences that older writers attempting to "get" the modern college experience miss, like the so-called "college marriage," which perhaps doesn't get the "Time" and "Newsweek" headlines that the casual hook-up seems to grab with such alacrity, but which nonetheless deserves notice and comment. He's absolutely right, if a bit ponderous, about Harvard's lack of academic rigor, and the extent to which this is a national phenomenon that appears to be catching.
On the other hand, however, there's that ponderous. First-hand accounts of his life at Harvard are followed by long parades of statistical data that resemble a social science paper more than a memoir, and the curious hybrid produced tends to feel awkward and over-generalized, as if Douthat is trying to provide justification for his experiences with numbers. Too many times, his positions seemed to be culled directly from David Brooks' "Bobos in Paradise", which is an obvious and very direct influence, and, in the end, a book that says much of what "Privilege" is saying, but with less of the deadly earnestness which casts a pallor over Douthat's otherwise reasonably good prose.Read more ›
"Privilege" tells us that Harvard (like everywhere else) suffers from grade inflation (limited to the humanities and social societies) and a Great Society urge to broaden and integrate its campus. (The latter ultimately ended up with Afro-American Studies Professor Cornell West walking out on President Summer's request for more scholarly output. The point of a broadened student body is to expand one's understanding of life - however, at Harvard it was undermined by subsequent self-segregation. Regardless, most of the students were liberals, usually from blue states, moneyed, and predominantly from a few top private schools.)
Douthat then takes us through the world of joining (or not) an exclusive male club (a substitute for fraternities), the pursuit of young love and sex, "working smarter" - splitting up reading assignments and sharing notes, skipping class while relying on the professor's notes being on-line, ways to submit late papers, and campus protests of anything and everything.
It was disappointing to learn that much of a Harvard education consists of hair-splitting and academic trivia, not the solid lessons one would hopefully learn from generalizing major points and trends in history, etc.
"Privilege" makes one wonder whether getting into and paying for Harvard (and probably any other high-cost private school) is worthwhile. President Summer's efforts to reform Harvard probably would help, but then he got the boot for not being politically correct - even more reason to wonder.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If all is true, this is a much needed expose of what is generally counted as a model. The author seems to end with an "in spite of all" feeling of satisfaction, which... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Jeanne Eichelsdoerfer
A mélange of thoughtful commentary and adolescent coming-of-age memories, this book could have been SO much better. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Firefly
Assigned reading for my sociology course on Wealth, Status, and Power in America! Good read - interesting information from the author who experienced a Harvard education firsthand. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Charle O
Much better than anticipated, I loved Douthat's prose. His is an all too true but incisive commentary on what and who Harvard and Harvard undergrads have on their minds other than... Read morePublished on April 30, 2014 by Aucoot
Interesting account of Douthat's perception of the socio-economic culture at Harvard. A good, thought provoking read. Recommend this book as a good read.Published on May 9, 2013 by Harold
I didn't go to Harvard, but I almost did. I got wait-listed and was eventually rejected, before going to a state school. Read morePublished on August 17, 2010 by Traduttore Traditore
I didn't know much about the author when I started reading this book except that he was Catholic and a Republican. Read morePublished on March 31, 2010 by Steve
The author contends that the Harvard final clubs are an important part of the university's social life these days. Read morePublished on October 24, 2009 by William M. Doolittle Jr.
This book is either wrong or things have changed a great deal since I was a student at Harvard, 50 years ago. Read morePublished on October 3, 2009 by William M. Doolittle