Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class

Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class

by Ross Gregory Douthat
     
 

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In the spirit of Scott Turow's One L and David Brooks's Bobos in Paradise, a penetrating critique of elite universities and the culture of privilege they perpetuate, written by a recent Harvard alumnus.

Part memoir, part social critique, Privilege is an absorbing assessment of one of the world's most celebrated universities:

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Overview

In the spirit of Scott Turow's One L and David Brooks's Bobos in Paradise, a penetrating critique of elite universities and the culture of privilege they perpetuate, written by a recent Harvard alumnus.

Part memoir, part social critique, Privilege is an absorbing assessment of one of the world's most celebrated universities: Harvard. In this sharp, insightful account, Douthat evaluates his social and academic education — most notably, his frustrations with pre-established social hierarchies and the trumping of intellectual rigor by political correctness and personal ambition. The book addresses the spectacles of his time there, such as the embezzlement scandal at the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and Professor Cornel West's defection to Princeton. He also chronicles the more commonplace but equally revealing experiences, including social climbing, sexual relations, and job hunting.

While the book's narrative centers on Harvard, its main arguments have a much broader concern: the state of the American college experience. Privilege is a pointed reflection on students, parents, and even administrators and professors who perceive specific schools merely as stepping-stones to high salaries and elite social networks rather than as institutions entrusted with academic excellence.

A book full of insightful perceptions and illuminating detail, Privilege is sure to spark endless debates inside and outside the ivied walls.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Close on the heels of Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons” and the flap surrounding Harvard’s president, Lawrence Summers, comes this memoir-cum-polemic about Harvard by a 2002 graduate. Douthat critiques his peers’ sense of entitlement from the perspective of a cultural conservative, although his high moral tone is somewhat compromised by an eagerness to bolster this account of campus life with salacious anecdotes of debauchery, greed, and snobbery. Douthat skewers the political and sexual shenanigans of his classmates and provides a thoughtful analysis of the prevailing liberal politics of the campus. But his righteous indignation can seem misplaced, when so many of the injustices that exercise him are so petty. It’s hard to get really upset about charges of button-stealing in a campus election.
Publishers Weekly
"Harvard is a terrible mess of a place," Douthat writes, "an incubator for an American ruling class that is smug, self-congratulatory, and intellectually adrift." It is also Douthat's beloved alma mater (he was class of 2002), a place where a young man sneered at by the "high school jockacracy" could finally become "cool." Or so he thought. In this memoir-cum-pop-sociological investigation, Douthat reflects on campus academics, diversity, class and sex, "the lunatic schedules and sleepless nights, the angst and the ambition, the protests and r sum -building." He comes down against grade inflation and mourns the "smog of sexual frustration" that floated over Harvard's campus; he reflects longingly (though with mixed feelings) on the tony clubs to which he did not gain entrance; he explains the lack of real diversity on campus (most students are privileged blue-staters, despite differences in race); and he serves up anecdotes about the homeless man masquerading as a Harvard student, the senior who embezzled from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and his failed trip to Smith College to look for girls. It's an interesting book, if a little self-centered and self-serving (it was "written as much in ambition as in idealism"), and it'll no doubt be read eagerly by Crimson students-at least the ones like Douthat, who are not quite "the privileged among the privileged, the rulers of the ruling class." (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Memoir of four years in Harvard Yard, "written as much in ambition as in idealism" by a member of the class of 2002. The acquisition of an Ivy League education, Douthat reveals, is still a special privilege, and diversity remains limited. In the time-honored tradition of college memoirs, this avowed undergraduate rebel against good form reveals all the faults of higher education-along with a few of its pleasures. Douthat provides plenty of obligatory material about freshman housemates and the nubile girls upstairs and down, as well as much fretting about the clubs where the elite meet to eat and to grope the opposite sex. To be sure, he also spends time pondering the academics, from class shopping to the age-old custom of procrastinating and cutting corners on assignments. Yes, he descries grade inflation: what was once a "gentleman's C" is now a coed B, and As abound, especially in the cut-rate humanities. Fun tidbits include the story of a wildly popular campus queen and her mild-mannered friend who got busted for embezzlement. Harvard's core curriculum (which seems to include the movie Love Story) yields spotty learning, contends Douthat. A wider education is provided by clubs, campus publications, and, in due course, fervid hooking up. He analyzes the Crimson way with faculty and the occasional dissident movement, making some astute comments about the differences between parlor and street liberals. Once a summer intern at the National Review, the author (now working at Atlantic Monthly) recalls an idyllic sail with Mr. Buckley himself. It's all about class, classes, geeks, grinds, and girls: college days when "academics were the easy part."Quite thoughtful, and the controlled verve ofDouthat's prose deserves better than a gentleman's B in Expository Writing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781401301125
Publisher:
Hyperion
Publication date:
03/01/2005
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
692,211
Product dimensions:
0.81(w) x 9.00(h) x 6.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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