ROMANCING A RHODES SCHOLAR by Bruce Feiler

ROMANCING A RHODES SCHOLAR

Seeking Wisdom and Splendor at Oxford and Cambridge
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An agreeable account of a year spent studying at Cambridge and Oxford. Feiler, after graduating from Yale and teaching for a year in a rural Japanese school (described in his Learning to Bow, 1991), pursued graduate studies at Cambridge. He arrived in 1990 with stars in his eyes; memories of Milton, Byron, Newton, and Darwin; and an eagerness ``to row, to debate at the Union, and to have a date for the ball.'' Feiler achieved all three goals--``but by then my stars had already faded.'' He found a Cambridge still ``trapped by its past''; a student body overwhelmingly content, disinclined to demonstrate, and looking for its place in the Establishment--a complacency perhaps arising from the fact that Cambridge is ``a laboratory of love'' where students are ``virtually bombarded with occasions to drink and excuses to get pissed.'' In the course of his social rounds, the author met and fell in love with a Canadian Rhodes Scholar from Oxford who eventually threw him over because, she said, he wasn't an original thinker. She might have reconsidered if she'd been able to read Feiler's analysis here of the similarities between the Japanese and the British: Both, he notes, inhabit isolated islands of roughly the same size and roughly the same weather; both boast largely homogenous peoples and unifying national religions; both speak languages characterized by a similar emphasis on courtesy, hierarchy, and indirection; and both display a powerful national pride verging on xenophobia. Feiler believes that the two nations' educational systems largely explain their different fortunes in this century, with Britain suffering from an antibusiness bias (fewer than eight percent of Oxbridge graduates go into industry, compared to two-thirds of Japanese college grads) and a hierarchy of intellectual values that stresses the abstract and philosophical while regarding the practical almost with contempt. A delightfully witty complement to Ved Mehta's Up at Oxford (p. 841), full of anecdotes and food for thought.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41492-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993




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