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In 1970, organic chemist, Harvard president, and nuclear- weapons mandarin Conant published a ponderous and unrevealing autobiography, My Several Lives. Now, in an even more massive but engrossing look at Conant's public life, Hershberg (a historian at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.) illuminates the importance of this enigmatic and undeservedly obscure figure. Because of the magnitude of his undertaking, as well as the secrecy maintained by both Harvard and the US government over many relevant files, Hershberg has concentrated on Conant's careers as ``atomic bomb administrator, nuclear and scientific adviser to the government, Harvard president during the `Red Scare,' Cold War public figure, and envoy to Germany.'' Nonetheless, Hershberg relates the story of child prodigy Conant's upbringing in a Boston suburb, his rise to academic excellence at Harvard, and his profitable work in the ``chemist's war'' of WW I—where he ``threw himself into the task of producing poison gases, confronting for the first time the moral quandaries involved in a scientist's participation in constructing deadly weapons rather than advancing knowledge.'' After the war, Conant became equally absorbed in his groundbreaking chemical research at Harvard, until, in 1933, he was appointed the university's president—a posting that prompted him to pursue a liberal policy, reforming tenure procedures and making the school more democratic and less hidebound. In 1941, Conant joined a group of scholars studying the question of whether to develop a nuclear weapon, and he played a key role in the Manhattan Project. Until the early 1950's, he constantly advised the feds on nuclear policy—especially on attempts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons—and he campaigned against the development of the hydrogen bomb. Later, Conant presided over Germany's rearmament and became America's first ambassador to West Germany. Finally, in 1957, at age 65, he commenced a new career as ``author, commentator, and critic on American public education.'' Conant died in 1978. A magisterial study of an awesome and intriguing public career. (Photographs)

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-57966-6

Page Count: 1024

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1993

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American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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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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