Reviews

Reviews

Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future

Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt

How will America’s colleges and universities adapt to remarkable technological, economic, and demographic change?

The United States is in the midst of a profound transformation the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution, when America’s classical colleges adapted to meet the needs of an emerging industrial economy. Today, as the world shifts to an increasingly interconnected knowledge economy, the intersecting forces of technological innovation, globalization, and demographic change create vast new challenges, opportunities, and uncertainties. In this great upheaval, the nation’s most enduring social institutions are at a crossroads.

In The Great Upheaval, Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt examine higher and postsecondary education to see how it has changed to become what it is today—and how it might be refitted for an uncertain future. Taking a unique historical, cross-industry perspective, Levine and Van Pelt perform a 360-degree survey of American higher education.

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Combining historical, trend, and comparative analyses of other business sectors, they ask

• how much will colleges and universities change, what will change, and how will these changes occur?
• will institutions of higher learning be able to adapt to the challenges they face, or will they be disrupted by them?
• will the industrial model of higher education be repaired or replaced?
• why is higher education more important than ever?

The book is neither an attempt to advocate for a particular future direction nor a warning about that future. Rather, it looks objectively at the contexts in which higher education has operated—and will continue to operate. It also seeks to identify likely developments that will aid those involved in steering higher education forward, as well as the many millions of Americans who have a stake in its future.

Concluding with a detailed agenda for action, The Great Upheaval is aimed at policy makers, college administrators, faculty, trustees, and students, as well as general readers and people who work for nonprofits facing the same big changes.

Review by Gordon Freedman

By offering fresh insights into the true sources of strength and very real vulnerabilities of these companies, The Platform Delusion shows how investors, existing businesses, and startups might value them, compete with them, and imitate them.

The Platform Delusion demystifies the success of the biggest digital companies in sectors from retail to media to software to hardware, offering readers what those companies don’t want everyone else to know. Knee’s insights are invaluable for entrepreneurs and investors in digital businesses seeking to understand what drives resilience and profitability for the long term.

New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

Disinformation. Trolling. Conspiracies. Social media pile-ons. Campus intolerance. On the surface, these recent additions to our daily vocabulary appear to have little in common. But together, they are driving an epistemic crisis: a multi-front challenge to America’s ability to distinguish fact from fiction and elevate truth above falsehood.

In 2016 Russian trolls and bots nearly drowned the truth in a flood of fake news and conspiracy theories, and Donald Trump and his troll armies continued to do the same. Social media companies struggled to keep up with a flood of falsehoods, and too often didn’t even seem to try. Experts and some public officials began wondering if society was losing its grip on truth itself.

 

Meanwhile, another new phenomenon appeared: “cancel culture.” At the push of a button, those armed with a cellphone could gang up by the thousands on anyone who ran afoul of their sanctimony.

In this pathbreaking book, Jonathan Rauch reaches back to the parallel eighteenth-century developments of liberal democracy and science to explain what he calls the “Constitution of Knowledge”—our social system for turning disagreement into truth.

By explicating the Constitution of Knowledge and probing the war on reality, Rauch arms defenders of truth with a clearer understanding of what they must protect, why they must do so—and how they can do it. His book is a sweeping and readable description of how every American can help defend objective truth and free inquiry from threats as far away as Russia and as close as the cellphone.

Why our human brains are awesome, and how we left our cousins, the great apes, behind: a tale of neurons and calories, and cooking.

Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies. The human brain uses 25% of all the energy the body requires each day. And it became enormous in a very short amount of time in evolution, allowing us to leave our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right? Wrong, according to Suzana Herculano-Houzel. Humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals, but not because we are evolutionary outliers. The human brain was not singled out to become amazing in its own exclusive way, and it never stopped being a primate brain. If we are not an exception to the rules of evolution, then what is the source of the human advantage?

 

Herculano-Houzel shows that it is not the size of our brain that matters but the fact that we have more neurons in the cerebral cortex than any other animal, thanks to our ancestors’ invention, some 1.5 million years ago, of a more efficient way to obtain calories: cooking. Because we are primates, ingesting more calories in less time made possible the rapid acquisition of a huge number of neurons in the still fairly small cerebral cortex—the part of the brain responsible for finding patterns, reasoning, developing technology, and passing it on through culture.

Herculano-Houzel shows us how she came to these conclusions—making “brain soup” to determine the number of neurons in the brain, for example, and bringing animal brains in a suitcase through customs. The Human Advantage is an engaging and original look at how we became remarkable without ever being special.