The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (Issues of Our Time) by Louis Menand
I originally wrote this review for my IHE blog. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/on_the_marketplace_of_ideas
- Reason 1: If we want to change the academy we first need to understand it. The Marketplace of Ideas situates the current governance and major challenges of academic institutions within their historical context. The absence of pedagogical training in graduate school has deep roots in how our Ph.D. granting research institutions and the training of faculty members evolved. Learning technology can provide a catalyst for change, but only if we fully grasp how the current system came into being and what supports the continuation of the status quo.
- Reason 2: Menand writes beautifully. The audiobook is read by Michael Prichard, a master of the art form.
- Reason 3: The book is concise. 4 hours and 7 minutes in audio format. 176 pages. We should have more short books on big topics. The length of the book, combined with the elegance with which it is written, means that most of us can actually get it read. The Marketplace of Ideas would make the perfect choice for a book club discussion sponsored by your teaching and learning center.
The critique I'd offer for The Marketplace of Ideas is that Menand spends almost all of his time looking backwards instead of to the future. The opening up of higher education to new paradigms of learning and a new set of digital tools has the potential to disrupt what has been created. The open learning movement, online education, and the development of learning platforms around constructivist learning theory are but three examples. It is not clear to me that the institutions that have historically led the way in shaping the norms and structure of higher ed. will continue to do so in the future. Rather, our community colleges, online units and for-profit institutions institutions might be where we find successful innovations and new models that better meet the changing demand for higher education. Certainly the new models that the 'non-elite' institutions of higher learning are experimenting with are an important part of the story in understanding the direction of higher education.
These critiques, however, should not discourage you from reading the book. In fact, I suggest using The Marketplace of Ideas as a starting place for a faculty / academic librarian / academic technologist / administrator discussion on the past and future of your institution.
In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue by Lauren Weber
Perhaps the recession and the breaking of the economic contract between employers and employees has spawned a new sub-genre of anti-consumption. Weber's book is best read as a companion to Shell's, "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture" and Anderson's "Free: The Future of a Radical Price". Weber's main message is that consumerism is a choice, and the consumer industrial complex is a creation and not a given, and that in understanding both the history and psychology of spending we can choose to opt-out. Easier said than done - but learning about individuals and groups who have made this choice in the past makes contemplating voluntary cheapness more appealing.
Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson by William Langewiesche
Every time I read one of Langewiesche's "pilot books" I feel much calmer about flying. Going on a commercial airline flight is about the safest thing we can ever do. Particularly if we are flying on a big modern jet. The story of how the career of an airline pilot has morphed from a high-status / high-pay profession to one barely paying professional wages is particularly dispiriting. Apparently, nobody likes working for the "legacy" carriers - one of the reasons why nobody likes flying them either. If you think you know the whole story about that famous landing in the Hudson (I did), than you are in for a treat. Langewiesche uses this freak event to tell a much bigger, and much more important, story about how airplanes and the airline business has changed.
The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman
I can think of no reason not to read this book. Who doesn't want magic to be real. Who wouldn't like to escape from the human struggles so as to fight bigger battles. Who wouldn't want to be a goose - if only for a little while. Who amongst us are the magicians?
Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King
1074 pages. The biggest impression that this book leaves is its bigness. If any book ever cried out to be Kindled (Kindleized?) or Ipadded it is the Dome book. I couldn't quite figure out a comfortable position to work with it. Too heavy to hold above my head in bed. But reading on one's stomach is maybe a younger persons tactic? Sitting in a chair was okay until my arms tired. A workout and a story - all in one. Oh - the story. I haven't read King since the Stand (1,141) pages. Reading "Dome" is a similar physical achievement to King's earlier masterpiece. If Dome doesn't quite live up to the Stand - it is still an enjoyable town to be trapped in. King goes fast enough to divert - although I never quite understood how these folks got themselves in their predicament. Who wouldn't love a local politician / used care salesman / biggest crystal meth producer in the NorthEast. The dome seems like the least of this town's problems. Try passing a local property tax budget to fund your schools, that is where you will locate the horror.