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Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Not to stir up shit or anything, but is David Brooks saying Jews have no character? He starts his review of a book about admission policies at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton like this:

A few years ago, I wrote a book about the rise of a new educated class, the people with 60's values and 90's money who go to Starbucks, shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos. A woman came up to me after one of my book talks and said, "You realize what you're talking about is the Jews taking over America."

My eyes bugged out, but then I realized that she was Jewish and she knew I was, too, and between us we could acknowledge there's a lot of truth in that statement. For the Jews were the vanguard of a social movement that over the course of the 20th century transformed the American university system and the nature of the American elite.

This is a large part of the story Jerome Karabel, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, tells in "The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton."
...and ends up here:

Furthermore, while he leaves the impression that he believes academic merit should be the dominant criteria for college admissions, and can't fathom why anybody would want to have jocks running around campus, he never steps outside the story, the way an essayist might, to measure what was lost and gained with the decline of the chivalric ethos and the rise of the meritocratic one. Those old WASP bluebloods may have been narrow and prejudiced, but they did at least have a formula for building character. Today we somehow sense that character matters, and it still vaguely plays a role in admissions decisions, but our thoughts about character - what it is and how to build it - are amorphous and ineffectual.
I'm just sayin'. (Emphasis mine, obvs.)

(ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention that this all just reminded me of Gilmore Girls.)

In other book news, there are certainly things I could say about this, both positive and negative (positive: good point about American literature seeming unable to address politics without only condemning it, although this is hardly the only subject it treats in such a way [pop culture, cough cough], negative: telling people for approximately the ten gazillionth time they should Write More Like Orwell--we know, we know--and not even bringing up The Public Burning), but maybe it would be easier to point you to the final paragraph of this (very good and admirably restrained) review, which makes a similar point in much less space:

Seth speaks of the "evil century past" and ends his book with the wish that we "believe in humane logic and perhaps, in due course, in love." If the new century seems set on disregarding these earnest hopes, that may be, at least in part, because we're still learning the lessons of the "evil" recent past through the literary romanticism of the 19th century.