Synopses & Reviews
Now in paperback, the penetrating critique of elite universities and the culture of privilege they perpetuate
Ross Gregory Douthat arrived at Harvard University in the fall of 1998 carrying an idealized vision of Ivy League life. But the Harvard of his dreams, an institution fueled by intellectual curiosity and entrusted with the keys to liberal education, never materialized. Instead, he found himself in a school rife with elitism and moneyed excess, an incubator for the grasping and ambitious, a college seduced by the religion of success.
So Douthat was educated at Harvard, but what Harvard taught him was not what he had gone there to learn. Instead, he was immersed in the culture of America's ever-swelling ruling class--a culture of privilege, of ambition and entitlement, in which a vast network of elite schools are viewed by students, parents, administrators, and professors more as stepping-stones to high salaries and coveted social networks than as institutions entrusted with academic excellence.
Privilege is a powerfully rendered portrait of a young manhood, a pointed social critique of this country's most esteemed institutions, and an exploration of issues such as affirmative action, grade inflation, political correctness, and curriculum reform.
"'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 rsum -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.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Quite thoughtful, and the controlled verve of Douthat's prose deserves better than a gentleman's B in Expository Writing." Kirkus Reviews
"Douthat offers a withering indictment of Harvard's institutional culture, a culture in which the administration (and not just the president), the faculty, and the students have all drifted into self-congratulatory complacency." Booklist (Starred Review)
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.
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.
About the Author
While at Harvard, Ross Gregory Douthat wrote a biweekly column for the Harvard Crimson and edited the Harvard Salient, a conservative journal. He now works at the Atlantic Monthly. His work has appeared in the National Review, Policy Review, the Hartford Courant, the Claremont Review of Books, and other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.