Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever
Percentile is destiny in America.â
So says Walter Kirn, a peerless observer and interpreter of American life, in this whip-smart memoir of his own long strange trip through American education. Working his way up the ladder of standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and class rankings, Kirn launched himself eastward from his rural Minnesota hometown to the ivy-covere
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From rural Minnesota where his father moved the family when he was a sma ...more
Growing up in a small town in the Midwest with an eccentric father and self-educated mother, Walter Kirn was always one of the bright boys in his small school district. More importantly, he learned early on that education was about one thing: being applauded, winning prizes, and doing what you needed to ...more
And again, personally, I was by turns bemused and annoyed by Kirn... or maybe Kirn's TONE, his STYLE, not Kirn himself, I should say. I am a rabid fan of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and I think anyone who enjoyed that book as a story of aspiration might enjoy Kirn's ...more
Much of the focus is on his time as an English major and theater/arts-scene hanger-on at Princeton.
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 woul ...more
"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."
An exchange student at his high school: ...more
One paragraph does stand out on page 23: "My psychiatrist, who'd encouraged these reminiscences and patiently listened ot them for several sessions, fanning my hopes for a conclusive insight into my conflicted character, ended ...more
This is one of those cover designs/titles that, I thought, suggested a much different kind of book within than what I encountered. 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. Even so, the f ...more
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 Boun ...more
Outside of the last few chapters, this read like a veiled attempt for Kirn to brag about all the women he slept with and all the drugs he did when he was younger. There was nothing resembling a narrative thread, and there wasn't really any rhyme or reason for what anecdotes were included, except that he seemed to inc ...more
Because the character (the author) doesn't really evolve much during ...more
The quality of higher education -- Ivy League or otherwise -- is not at all what this book is about. It is nothing ...more
Do I want to read some really good writing?
Kirn is an excellent writer and this is a ...more
He was not particularly well educated. He faked it. He scammed his teachers. He took the right classes. He aced the SAT.
I’m not sure I really wanted to know this. Is he typical? I know I don’t want to know the answer to that.
That's why we're all here: we all showed aptitude. Aptitude for showing aptitude, mainly. That's what they wanted, so that's what we delivered. A ta ...more
This tacked with all of the attention th ...more
However, I truly dislike the narrator.
I think this should be 3.5 stars because I feel like I've been duped. I thought this book would provide a scathing critique of the breed of asshole Kirn himself "was." So, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to believe that he wasn't proud of himself for becoming an expert test-taker with paper-thin knowledge of anything at all.
His tone betrays him as the asshole we all assume that he is. ...more