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Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever

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Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever Cover

ISBN13: 9780385521284
ISBN10: 0385521286
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Percentile is destiny in America.”

So says Walter Kirn, a peerless observer and interpreter of American life, in this whip-smart memoir of his own long strange trip through American education. Working his way up the ladder of standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and class rankings, Kirn launched himself eastward from his rural Minnesota hometown to the ivy-covered campus of Princeton University. There he found himself not in a temple of higher learning so much as an arena for gamesmanship, snobbery, social climbing, ass-kissing, and recreational drug use, where the point of literature classes was to mirror the instructor's critical theories and actual reading of the books under consideration was optional. Just on the other side of the “bell curve's leading edge” loomed a complete psychic collapse.

LOST IN THE MERITOCRACY reckons up the costs of a system where the point is simply to keep accumulating points and never to look back—or within. It's a remarkable book that suggests the first step toward intellectual fulfillment is getting off the treadmill that is the American meritocracy. Every American who has spent years of his or her life there will experience many shocks of recognition while reading Walter Kirns sharp, rueful, and often funny book—and likely a sense of liberation at its end.

Review:

As a high school student in the 1970s, Walter Kirn knew the deal: He would win contests, prizes and plaques; and, in return, he would get the job, the girl and entree into elite social circles. In his hilarious memoir, "Lost in the Meritocracy," Kirn recounts the many ways that the American educational rat race betrayed him. He ends up miserable at Princeton, bullied by his rich roommates and ashamed... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Synopsis:

One of the nation's best observers and interpreters of American life chronicles his own long, strange trip through American education. This is a remarkable book that suggests the first step toward intellectual fulfillment is getting off the treadmill that is the American meritocracy.

About the Author

WALTER KIRN is a regular reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, and his work appears in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Time, New York, GQ and Esquire. He is the author of six previous works of fiction: My Hard Bargain: Stories, She Needed Me, Thumbsucker, Up in the Air, Mission to America and The Unbinding. Kirn is a graduate of Princeton University and attended Oxford on a scholarship from the Keasby Foundation. He lives in Livingston, Montana.

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cmottwoolley, July 6, 2009 (view all comments by cmottwoolley)

In a way, only if reviewer has not read Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritoctacy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever - a discursive look backward at his days as an undergraduate at Princeton, would this marvelous book be properly reviewed: while at Princeton Kirn learned chiefly to pay greater attention to how, and who, structured a review of his book than to what his book might in fact say. That, Kirn now says, is a shame, a shame because a reviewer need not have read his book to write an excellent review of it. Kirn knows this now - many years after having graduated from Princeton - but he did not know it while at Princeton. Yet as he explains, that is not quite right either. He knew of deceit while at Princeton but embraced it eagerly lest his appalling lack of education while there become known, both to himself, and others. In the event, as he says, he proceeded from ignorance to revisionism. This line in his narrative reminds the reader of Clemenceau’s observation about America itself: "America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization."

How odd Kirn’s experience was: being privileged to attend Princeton yet unable to benefit from the privilege owing to the very nature of privilege: unearned merit. The waste of such an opportunity is now appalling to Kirn. He knows better than anyone how much he let slip through his fingers while at Princeton. But he had no choice, actually. When his roommates purchased new furniture for their shared room, they expected him to pay his share without first asking if he would contribute to the cost. He had no money to contribute. He had nothing, he then thought, to contribute to society at Princeton. This poisoned his tenure at Princeton.

Today, of course, Kirn stands manifestly successful. He is a writer of great dimension, talent and wit. So great that no one who has not read his book could ever review it successfully. Maybe that is his revenge: "Meritocracy" lets the reader see what he could not while at Princeton. For that, we have Kirn, not Princeton, to thank.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385521284
Subtitle:
The Undereducation of an Overachiever
Author:
Kirn, Walter
Publisher:
Doubleday
Subject:
General
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
Students
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Authors, American -- 20th century.
Subject:
Students -- United States.
Subject:
General Biography
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20090519
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
224
Dimensions:
8.47x5.88x.86 in. .79 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Education » General

Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever Used Hardcover
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Product details 224 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385521284 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , One of the nation's best observers and interpreters of American life chronicles his own long, strange trip through American education. This is a remarkable book that suggests the first step toward intellectual fulfillment is getting off the treadmill that is the American meritocracy.
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