Higher Education Strategy Associates

The Reading List: Three Thumbs Up and a Meh

It’s been awhile since I updated the reading list, so, without further ado:

Science in the 20th Century and Beyond by Jon Agar. Less a history of scientific discovery as it is a history of contexts and manners in which science was practiced over the past century. In this interpretation, what gave American science the edge in the 20th century was less the massive inflow of talent from Europe than it was (a) the closer integration of scientists and engineers (the latter being very important in instrumentation) and (b) the ability of Americans to manage the discovery process in an industrial fashion (e.g., Bell Labs, the Manhattan Project). It’s also enlightening on the subject of how commercial problems, in one way or another, have always had a decisive factor in shaping the scientific agenda. For such a broad and important topic, it’s a very well-written survey.

The Roots, Rituals and Rhetorics of Change: North American Business Schools after the Second World War by Mie Augier and James March. This is intellectual history the way it is supposed to be written. It’s the story of how a few key individuals and institutions (RAND, the Ford Foundation, the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University) managed to create an intellectual movement in favour of changing and upgrading an entire field of university activity. Though you’d never know it now, the move to create a modern business school was consciously based on the process of reform that had swept through the field of medicine forty years earlier. The last third of the book could have used a better edit, but it’s still worth a read.

How Economics Shapes Science by Paula Stephan. This book, which looks at the economic incentives which face individuals and institutions engaged in science is almost certainly the best book on public policy and higher education published anywhere in the world this year. For obvious reasons, it’s fairly U.S.-focussed, but even that is in some ways enlightening; I for one had absolutely no idea the extent to which American universities were built on soft money (being a V.P. Finance at one of those schools must be absolutely terrifying). It’s a lucid sweep over an enormous literature which isn’t often tackled in a systematic way. If your job in any ways relate to making policy on science and research, this needs to go on your reading pile.

Lessons Learned: Reflections of a University President by William Bowen. Presidential memoirs are rarely very entertaining. Bowen’s is mercifully short, but far too Princeton-centric to be of interest to most. Plus it’s suffused by that seriously pompous tone that male American university presidents tend to have. Why can’t they be more like Josh Molina in The Big Bang Theory?

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