A whimsical, informal account of American university life as it now stands. Matthews (Journalism/New York Univ.; Where the Buffalo Roam, 1992, etc.) structures her book as a journey through the academic year. It runs from summer to summer, beginning with a look at how colleges and universities make their (often undignified) pitch to high-school students and ending with a reunion of old-timers at Princeton. The author's ambition is sweeping. She aims to touch on all kinds of four-year institutions, leaving no part untouched: student drinking, faculty salaries, academic standards, tenure, mathematicians who dress funny, and so forth. The result is an entertaining glimpse of what goes on behind the ivy-covered walls of elite schools (which are likely to conceal faulty plumbing), at state-financed mega-universities (``where you can get a good education, if you want one,'' she writes in evident innocence of her prejudice), and in the hardscrabble world of small and marginal institutions with trailer-park dorms. There is Sinte Gleska, for example, a college in South Dakota that is struggling to carve a niche for itself in the already competitive ``academic marketplace'' of Native American higher education. Matthews gets a good deal of mileage out of anecdotes from student life, with punch lines like ``I told him there was a pizza under the sofa!'' Faculty are good for laughs, too: ``How can she whine for money to the dean when she wears two-hundred-dollar shoes?'' (overheard at a Renaissance scholars' conference). ``After tenure,'' Matthews notes, ``a campus asks only one thing of its professors: keep your brain alive. Many do not, will not, cannot.'' Over the long haul all Matthews's knowing cuteness wears pretty thin. Her touch is informed but light—the result is less journalism than infotainment.

Pub Date: April 10, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81541-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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