Hirsch (The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter, 2014 etc.) discusses his long career in the shifting culture of academia in this debut memoir.
Born gay into a Jewish family in Chicago in 1952 and shaped forever by the assassinations and tumult of 1968, Hirsch was set irreversibly on a career of studying political science. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s, he found himself molded by Marx, Shakespeare, and Richard Nixon. At Princeton in the mid-’70s, he considered abandoning academia for New York, though he now thinks his decision to stay saved him from an uncertain fate in the subsequent AIDS epidemic. At Harvard in the late ’70s, he received a job offer before he even finished his dissertation. His subsequent career would take him to colleges in California, Minnesota, and Ohio. Through his decades as a specialist in constitutional law, Hirsch noted the changing face of American politics as well as academia. In his view, the government has increasingly forsaken its obligation to students, while universities have metamorphosed into unaffordable and irresponsible institutions predicated on the undercompensated work of adjuncts. Additionally, Hirsch charts his own evolution as a man and educator, aging against the ever youthful and regenerative backdrop of incoming classes of students, attempting to maintain perspective in a mutable world. The author’s writing style bears all the marks of a seasoned lecturer: it is digressive, idiosyncratic, and lived-in. The book, divided into chapters with names like “Politics 101” and “Drama: Advanced Seminar,” allows Hirsch to take a topical approach to his life. His fluid prose varies to fit the subject at hand. A chapter centered on geography becomes a Whitmanesque litany of places out of order: “Rivers. The Charles. The Seine. Oceans and beaches. Ogunquit, Maine. Herring Cove, Provincetown. Coronado in San Diego, reading thick library books while tanned, perfect bodies played volleyball around me.” Subjective and impressionistic, the work meanders and becomes occasionally dry. Even so, the author’s voice is so cozy and sincere that the reader happily follows him through his recollections, wherever they may lead.
A well-crafted, wistful memoir of life in higher education.