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The Shape of the River Paperback – January 4, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2001 Grawemeyer Award in Education

Winner of the 1999 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, Association of American Publishers

"The most ambitious and authoritative study to date of the effects of affirmative action in higher education, . . . a serious (though accessible) work of research, . . . an important corrective to conservative propaganda masquerading as social science."--Ellis Cose, Newsweek

"A compelling new book . . . demonstrates why affirmative action programs can be good for the country. . . . The authors prove with facts, not anecdotes, that affirmative action works. . . . With the presidential commission having fallen flat in trying to advance the national discussion on race, it may be the smaller-scale efforts, like the Bowen and Bok book, that better lay the groundwork for long-term change."--Los Angeles Times

"No study of this magnitude has been attempted before. Its findings provide a strong rationale for opposing current efforts to demolish race-sensitive policies in colleges across the country. . . . The evidence collected flatly refutes many of the misimpressions of affirmative-action opponents."--The New York Times

"The Shape of the River is the most comprehensive study ever done of affirmative action in higher education, and it demands the attention of anyone who cares about American universities."--David Gergen, U.S. News and World Report

"The Shape of the River . . . offers much more comprehensive statistics and much more sophisticated analysis than has been available before. Impressionistic and anecdotal evidence will no longer suffice: any respectable discussion of the consequences of affirmative action in universities must now either acknowledge its findings or challenge them, and any challenge must match the standards of breadth and statistical professionalism that Bowen, Bok, and their colleagues have achieved."--Ronald Dworkin, New York Review of Books

"What is good for business in this case is good for society too--good for us all. This report may, at last, make that fact evident even to the most obtuse."--Garry Wills, The Plain Dealer

"On the strength of [the authors'] credentials the reader can expect much, and much is delivered.... The Shape of the River is a monumental achievement. Its foundation is so solidly anchored to a bedrock of data that it will be relied upon as a navigational beacon for years to come."--Robert E. Thatch, Science

From the Back Cover

"Written by two of the most respected figures in higher education, The Shape of the River offers to the public what has long been needed: a large dose of crucial, unvarnished fact about affirmative action. Mining new and sensitive information, Bowen and Bok present an analysis that is careful, clear, comprehensive, and, above all, candid. No work tells us nearly as much as this one about the social costs and benefits of affirmative action in our colleges and universities. A brilliant scholarly performance, The Shape of the River should be essential reading for anyone seeking a dependable guide through the morass of competing claims that obscure from public attention the questions that need to be posed and the answers that need to be assessed."--Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School

"This important book is a calm, expert, analytical study of race-sensitive college admissions, and what happens afterwards. There is nothing else in the same league. It tells us many things we didn't know, because until now there was no way to know them. The deepest question is: can we make social policy in this area on the basis of fact and reason, or will it all dissolve in ideological certainty?"--Robert M. Solow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Instead of relying on preconceived notions and conventional wisdom about race in college and university admissions, Bill Bowen and Derek Bok use facts to examine the record. The result is an invaluable resource for those interested in American higher education and more generally, race in America. It shows that merit and diverse student bodies can be complementary goals and that individuals who have benefited from the policy have gone on to excel as contributing members to the life of our country."--Senator Bill Bradley

"With its persuasive evidence about the positive effects of higher education on the social, civic, and economic lives of African Americans, The Shape of the River is a real eye-opener. William Bowen and Derek Bok have brought erudition and hands-on experience to the debate over race-sensitive admissions. For all readers struggling to reconcile principles of fairness with the needs of the society, this book offers even-handed appraisals and a wealth of new and compelling facts."--Anne Armstrong, Former Ambassador to Great Britain and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies

"This is a fascinating 'must read' book. The authors use a newly constructed database to elucidate the role that highly selective undergraduate colleges play in shaping individual life courses of black Americans and in contributing to the texture and robustness of our society. The issue of race-sensitive admissions is elegantly framed while the reader comes to appreciate the subtleties of the college educational experience . . . an exciting read!"--John Reed, Chairman and CEO, Citicorp


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 536 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691050198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691050195
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William G. Bowen is the author of more than twenty books, including The Shape of the River and Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By christian hopsburg on August 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is VERY dense and long winded at times, but needs to be. I think this and D'Souza's "The End of Racism" for example should be required reading, one after the other, in an AP social studies class or PoliSci one. Its a very detailed analysis of the actual empirical results of decades of this policy, and is very convincing.

I think all liberals should have to read D'Souza or similar, and all conservatives this book.
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27 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Idi VD Amin on November 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Shape of The River continues the same liberal deception and dogma we have come to expect in the debate over affirmative action, and this helps racists of all stripes- liberal and conservative ones. See Sowell on the data.
1) The authors skew their results towards elite private colleges, that most black students don't attend. Their sample has 24 private institutions and only 4 state institutions. But in fact only 9% of blacks attend private institutions. In addition they are selective in their sample of actual black students. Two thirds of those sampled have one or more parents with college degrees- something not typical of the black college going population as a whole. With such a selective sampling it is no wonder the authors got the "results" they wanted.
2) The authors lump together blacks admitted with no special preferences with those admitted under lower standards, rather than separating them out so as to disguise the impact of AA. But in fact, as numerous other studies show, where black students are similar to their white counterparts, their graduation
rates have been similar. In other words they are cutting the mustard, just like everybody else. But where there are those admitted under lower standards, then there is a wide gap in graduation rates.
3) Several other studies contradict the author's conclusions and for some strange reason they will not make their base data public so that others can analyze it. As shown above, they lump together blacks enjoying no special preferences with those admitted under such- disguising the impact of preferences. Their refusal to release base data (like any normal academic study would), suggests something fishy at work.
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19 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
I have read the book twice. Truth often is stranger than fiction. The book is complicated but the central theses is that blacks "need" lower standards to succeed in school, jobs and life. Basically, it says they cannot succeed in life without me the arrogant, academic white liberal providing lower standards for admissions to college for you, the blacks.
The whole subject of differences in test scores, academic achievement is a touchy subject. White IQ averages 100 and Blacks IQ averages 85, a gap of 15 points. Many believe, that the difference will be less once equal opportunity is provided. These people believe in equal opportunity and believe "all races" have the ability to succeed.
Bok and Bowen basically comes and says they CANNOT succeed without lower hurdles, lower admissions criteria, the aid of white paternalism. Bok and Bowen have basically accepted the very notion that blacks are inferior to whites and they will never succeed without the white man support. It�s again the ideas of the "white man burden" to civilized the Africans in our midst. If this is not white racism at its worst. I have no idea what it is. Paternalism of liberal whites toward blacks is the worst form of racism possible. It is the "plantation mentality" at work again. If you behave toward the plantation master, I will invite you inside the master�s house and let you have the goodies.
There no way to get around it: Bok and Bowen are academic racists.... academic racists of the worst type because they believe intrinsically that blacks are inferior to whites and only through their "benevolence" will blacks succeed. I find this ugly, distasteful and objectionable.
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18 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
The authors of this book once again raise the question of whether those who work in the social "sciences" will ever allow their work to be subjected to the same academic rigor as the physical sciences. To wit, William G. Bowen is the head of the Mellon Foundation, which is in possession of the research used to justify the claims made in this book. In real science the data would be made available to anyone. In the case of this book, however, the Mellon Fundation will only make the data available under "special" circumstances:
"Requests for access ... must go beyond a general desire to recheck results; they should instead offer sound reasons for believing that there is a likelihood of error or misinterpretation in the work of others..."
That's a quote from the Mellon Foundation's guidleines to obtain the data. In other words, in order to get a chance to prove that it's wrong you already have to be able to prove it's wrong. Hmmmm....Not very scientific for these two "social scientists."
National Review's Melissa Seckora recently gained fame for disproving much of the data used to justify Michael Bellesiles' book "Arming America." Mr. Bellesiles reputation has come under furious assault for the falsification he used to support his book's thesis. Perhaps a similar fate awaits these 2 men, if their data ever actually becomes available. Perhaps if Mr. Bellesiles had been the head of "his own" foundation? (It is, of course, Mr. Mellon's money - I'm sure he's spinning in his grave.)
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