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Fast-forward to the s, however, and the scenario becomes reality if Walter Kirn's memoir is to be believed. Master the jargon of postmodernism, and you're home free as an English major at Princeton. Kirn's story gains some plausibility in light of the infamous Alan Sokal hoax. Kirn is a fairly engaging writer, and he spins out some good scenes, but his drug stuff doesn't trump Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City , and his orgiastic college material doesn't trump Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons.

Moreover, it's difficult to figure out Kirn's take on himself. He's obviously belittling the establishment for tolerating his former? Kirn's long-overdue flash of academic enlightenment on the book's final page doesn't exactly add up to redemption. Ironically, Kirn manages to mock academic pretension while at the same time celebrating charlatans.

Unfortunately, he fails to acknowledge that every clever impostor who makes it into the mainstream displaces someone earnest and talented who doesn't. If you have time on your hands, Kirn is a quick read, but for a much more compelling loser-to-success perspective minus the cynicism about those who succeed I recommend the works of Tobias Wolff. Mar 29, David rated it really liked it. Some of the enjoyment I got from the book was a matter of shared experience "hey, my grade school had those 'SRA' color-coded cards too, and the competitive kids would make races out of being the first to get to a certain level" "I knew snobs like that in college also!

Able to take commonplace observations it's easier to BS your way through a discussion of English Literature than in Calculus or Chemistry; undergraduates form recognizable social clusters; drugs aren't good for your emotional stability Apr 01, Lia rated it it was ok. Kirn taught at UChicago for a quarter, so I was interested to read his latest book about his underwhelming education or non-education both before and at Princeton.

Unfortunately, Kirn's writing is also underwhelming. While some of his reflections about education are interesting, and dead-on Kirn observes that all he had to do to get an A in an English class at college was to insert words he and most people didn't understand , in the end, his writing suffers from the same problems he suffered Kirn taught at UChicago for a quarter, so I was interested to read his latest book about his underwhelming education or non-education both before and at Princeton.

While some of his reflections about education are interesting, and dead-on Kirn observes that all he had to do to get an A in an English class at college was to insert words he and most people didn't understand , in the end, his writing suffers from the same problems he suffered throughout college: all sheer wit, no real depth or skill. Kirn writes that he managed to get into Princeton through cleverness and no work, and that he then proceeded to spend his years there posing as an intellectual, envying those who had more money, and doing drugs, eventually culminating in a psychological breakdown that left him aphasic.

He then slowly builds his mind back up by reading the dictionary, which I think is reflected in his writing. Nevertheless, no one can argue that Kirn isn't clever, and while I don't think there was anything particularly special about this book, it was a decent and quick read. Jun 14, Christiane rated it did not like it.

Perhaps if I were to read the second half of this book, I might glean some insights from the story, but it just made me too mad to finish. I can't quite figure out why it makes me angry, but it does. The passage about having a three-way with two beautiful girls in high school made it seem like the experience was his just reward for graduating high school in his junior year and going to college a year early.

Oh, and the SATs? A piece of fucking cake. It's easy to get into Princeton--just win a co Perhaps if I were to read the second half of this book, I might glean some insights from the story, but it just made me too mad to finish. It's easy to get into Princeton--just win a couple of spelling bees, join the debate club and you're on your way! This guy gets a chance at an education I would KILL to have, and then practically brags about how he squandered the opportunity by finding the paths of easiest resistance. Guess what you get for not learning anything in college?

A Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford! Poor guy! I know I'm probably missing the point of this book, but I just can't get past his whole "the only reason I got into an Ivy League school was because I happen to be a good test-taker" front. Mar 05, Austin Storm rated it it was amazing. I did not expect a turn toward addiction memoir leading up to a nervous breakdown.

I loved the ending, contra firehose of knowledge or academic gamesmanship. Really enjoyable.


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Jun 01, Mike rated it liked it Recommends it for: Anyone. Someone whose taste in and judgment of literature I respect added it and after glancing at the synopsis I did, also. It is clear that Walter Kirn is an excellent writer. He is articulate, literate, and can form a decent narrative. Although I understand that many people read and analyze this book to seek deeper insight into the American Education System, American Class Boundaries and the nature of Elitism and the Elite themselves, I did not.

I read it for the usual reason: did the writer create something that held my interest. Maybe not what one would consider attention-grabbing fiction, but then this is not fiction. In this slim volume, the author exposes those incidents that he uses to illustrate his thesis: it is not an encyclopedic history of his life.

Did he live up to that potential?

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I am basing this solely on what is presented in this book. I still do not know anything more about the man. Princeton days or is it something else? I have my interpretation, you have yours. I mean in the long-term sense, not while he was there. Probably not. From his own words it was his Pakistani friend that provide him with the most intellectual stimulation of his last 2 years there even though he himself was still spouting, his friend was seriously engaged in these topics and discussions.

But it did give him the realization that there was nothing beyond for him, unless he created it himself. What does a grifter do when everyone is an honest man?

Lost in the Meritocracy

There have been people clever enough to fool others since time began. Kirn is not alone even in his apparent recovery to prominence. While I did not have any preconceived notions when I began this book, I probably would not recommend it to some one who only wants to use it for social and political material. On the other hand, it was well-written enough that I am tempted to read more by the author. I think his fiction will be up in the 95th percentile.

Three 3 solid stars. Apr 24, Caitlin rated it liked it. I borrowed this for some light reading on a plane from a fellow Goodreader. This is probably more of a 3. I would say I liked this piece and recommend it. This is a memoir, and although it is concerned intimately with the highest echelons of education in this country, it is much less about meritocracy than the title would have you believe.

About Time I Read It: Lost in the Meritocracy by Walter Kirn | Maphead's Book Blog

Even so, the f I borrowed this for some light reading on a plane from a fellow Goodreader. Even so, the first two or four chapters are uncomfortably familiar for me.


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The author reflects on being the kind of elementary school student who wanted to be the one teachers called on when a correct answer was needed. He talks about the pressure to win spelling bees I remember both those and science fairs and to focus on standardized testing. This is by no means a comprehensive evaluation of the pressure many students face. Moreover, once the story really gets going, I think it's more an indictment of college than it is of meritocracy.

The author never manages to figure out what he wants to do while he's in school. He poses as a playwright and as a proponent of Critical Theory. There is an uncomfortable truth in the way he talks about using a certain kind of vocabulary to fool people into buying your take in a Theory environment. Still, it's as if the author is laughing at us even from his "reformed" place later in life. He still doesn't think academia is worth much.

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He never seemed to really like books, or reading, or figuring out why we like them. Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the story is that, after four years of middling academic involvement, incredible drug use, and a near-total failure to make any lasting connections to other human beings, the author closes, triumphally, by applying for a fellowship that takes him to Oxford.

A fellowship for ne'erdowells with a wine budget. Maybe I'm most troubled by the fact that the author seems to want to be contrite, but ultimately leaves us feeling like he beat the system. I don't know, exactly. It's generally well-written. Sep 26, John Haskell rated it really liked it.

Kirn on his efforts to get a Presidential Certificate of Fitness in PhyEd class: "I'd already disappointed the President in two less-strenuous events - chin-ups and the standing broad jump- and another defeat, I feared, would crush me utterly and show me up as a poor citizen. It would prove that I wasn't just weak, but flawed, defective, and likely to prove a burden on my country should it ever be put to some great test such as resisting a foreign invasion.

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It was one of those small, frigid nations that at the time was partly subjugated by the Russians but would eventually break free and dominate the worldwide modeling scene" "The benefits of a Princeton degree were so far-reaching and long-lasting, supposedly, that for the duration of our lives we would be expected to give money to various university funds and causes, all of which were portrayed as critical to carrying out what was called the place's "mission.

The price of getting in- to the university itself, and to the presumed wonderland it led to - would be an endless dunning for nebulous services that weren't included in the prospectus. I chose to major in English, since it sounded like something I might already know. The Woodrow Wilson school: "The edifice, whose design was so replete with futuristic optimism that it already seemed comically defunct, faced a plaza with a broad reflecting pool whose centerpiece was an abstract sculpture evocative of the maggot-scoured remains of a giant chicken carcass.

To my mind, the vaunted mission of the Rhodes smacked of a sort of science-fiction Nazism Oct 11, Kjes rated it it was ok.