A long, unstructured exploration of how the rowdy gentlemen's colleges in 19th century America were turned into centers of university specialization in 1870-1900--and, more broadly, of the emergence of a serf-aware middle class, with the boldness celebrated by Emerson and the practical spirit of the new Northern industrial centers. The rise of professionalism, Bledstein argues, entailed ""a radical idea of democracy--a liberated person seeking to free the power of nature, a self-governing individual exercising his trained judgment in an open society,"" able to grasp concepts rather than the craftsman's mere rules of thumb. Why this idea was not consummated has to do with the ""vertical orientation"" of the professional as well as the careerism and intellectual segregation fostered by the universities, which combined German thoroughness with American conservatism. The book examines the careers of the energetic but ""somewhat shallow"" university presidents--like Eliot of Harvard--who consolidated this process, but leaves hanging the distinction between middle-class ""service"" viewed in terms of status and manipulation, and ""skill"" involving innovation and expertise. Formidably footnoted, dryly if thoughtfully written, a specialist's resource.