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The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (Issues of Our Time) [Kindle Edition]

Louis Menand
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"Crisp and illuminating . . . well worth reading."—Wall Street Journal

The publication of The Marketplace of Ideas has precipitated a lively debate about the future of the American university system: what makes it so hard for colleges to decide which subjects are required? Why are so many academics against the concept of interdisciplinary studies? From his position at the heart of academe, Harvard professor Louis Menand thinks he's found the answer. Despite the vast social changes and technological advancements that have revolutionized the society at large, general principles of scholarly organization, curriculum, and philosophy have remained remarkably static. Sparking a long-overdue debate about the future of American education, The Marketplace of Ideas argues that twenty-first-century professors and students are essentially trying to function in a nineteenth-century system, and that the resulting conflict threatens to overshadow the basic pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Editorial Reviews


A worthy and admirably succinct exploration of why colleges are so difficult to improve.

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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 271 KB
  • Print Length: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 13, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003418540
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #588,281 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and well written study 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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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Louis Menand on the Marketplace of Ideas January 30, 2010
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.

Menand addresses four questions about contemporary higher education in the United States: "Why is is so hard to institute a general education cirriculum?
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Higher education muddling through February 14, 2010
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A Benign History, Not a Polemic or Diagnosis
Menand is a good writer and the American educational history here-- especially from the period of 1870-1970-- is often well-detailed and informative. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Johann Cat
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into the evolution of ideas in the academy
Having spent my life in higher education, I was so busy with my discipline I forget to review the philosophical underpinnings of what I was a part of and why it was structured in a... Read more
Published 12 months ago by L. P. Mercer
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Intelligent Collection, but Not Always Cohesive
Louis Menand, Harvard English professor and writer on American literature and culture, serves up here an intelligent but not completely cohesive set of musings on higher education... Read more
Published on March 16, 2013 by MoseyOn
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 Questions for Discussing Menand
This week, faculty and staff at my institution will be getting together to discuss Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Read more
Published on March 26, 2011 by Joshua Kim
1.0 out of 5 stars Another politically correct approach to higher education
This is a book characteristic of the times of decadence we are in. Under almost every conclusion of the book is hidden the corporatism perspective concerning higher education and... Read more
Published on February 25, 2011 by Bibliopolis05
4.0 out of 5 stars nothing like the "universal" experience
The book is part of the Marketplace of Ideas series. Author explains statistics related to education in the humanities including his specialty, English Lit. Read more
Published on February 18, 2011 by T. Kepler
5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Think Piece
This is an interesting think piece on contemporary higher education. Three of the chapters originated as lectures at the University of Virginia, but the book does not feel... Read more
Published on June 24, 2010 by Richard B. Schwartz
4.0 out of 5 stars What is going on in America's Colleges and Universities?
Louis Menand is, of course, the author of the wonderful "The Metaphysical Club," and a professor of English at Harvard. Read more
Published on April 29, 2010 by Ronald H. Clark
4.0 out of 5 stars Why (Not) Reform the University?
Without providing yet another synopsis of *The Marketplace of Ideas* -- several of which have already appeared on Amazon -- I want to posit a couple of points about Louis Menand's... Read more
Published on March 4, 2010 by K. N.
4.0 out of 5 stars Reforming American higher education: A road map?
Louis Menand notes at the outset of this rather brief volume (Page 15): "There is always a tension between the state of knowledge and the system in which learning and teaching... Read more
Published on February 17, 2010 by Steven A. Peterson
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More 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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