*Empires of Ideas*

The author is William C. Kirby and the subtitle is Creating the Modern University from Germany to America to China.  The shocker is that this is actually a good book.  In contrast, hardly any books on these topics are good.  This book is substantive on virtually every page, the author actually understands how universities work, and, get this…you have to read the book to know what is inside it.  The material covers why early German universities became so successful, why they declined and stayed low quality, why they revived somewhat in more recent times, which American universities have gotten better and richer and why (with respect to their governance), and what is going on with Chinese universities and their rise to eminence.  The latter part does feel a bit out of date, but overall an impressive performance.  Perhaps the sum total of all this work is a bit more desultory than what the author intends, but I will take desultory substance any day of the week.  Especially in such a “crummy book area” as this one.  The author by the way is a China specialist (good background for understanding universities!) and a former Dean at Harvard.


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