Memoir of four years in Harvard Yard, “written as much in ambition as in idealism” by a member of the class of 2002.
The acquisition of an Ivy League education, Douthat reveals, is still a special privilege, and diversity remains limited. In the time-honored tradition of college memoirs, this avowed undergraduate rebel against good form reveals all the faults of higher education—along with a few of its pleasures. Douthat provides plenty of obligatory material about freshman housemates and the nubile girls upstairs and down, as well as much fretting about the clubs where the elite meet to eat and to grope the opposite sex. To be sure, he also spends time pondering the academics, from class shopping to the age-old custom of procrastinating and cutting corners on assignments. Yes, he descries grade inflation: what was once a “gentleman’s C” is now a coed B, and As abound, especially in the cut-rate humanities. Fun tidbits include the story of a wildly popular campus queen and her mild-mannered friend who got busted for embezzlement. Harvard’s core curriculum (which seems to include the movie Love Story) yields spotty learning, contends Douthat. A wider education is provided by clubs, campus publications, and, in due course, fervid hooking up. He analyzes the Crimson way with faculty and the occasional dissident movement, making some astute comments about the differences between parlor and street liberals. Once a summer intern at the National Review, the author (now working at Atlantic Monthly) recalls an idyllic sail with Mr. Buckley himself. It’s all about class, classes, geeks, grinds, and girls: college days when “academics were the easy part.”
Quite thoughtful, and the controlled verve of Douthat’s prose deserves better than a gentleman’s B in Expository Writing.