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3.46  ·  Rating details ·  6,795 Ratings  ·  559 Reviews
"DELECTABLY ENTERTAINING. . . . An uproariously funny and at the same time hauntingly melancholy portrait of a college community in the Midwest."
--The New York Times
Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, amid cow pastures and waving fields of grain, lies Moo University, a distinguished institution devoted to the art and science of agriculture. Here, among an atmosphere rife
Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Published February 28th 1998 by Ivy Books (first published March 21st 1995)
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Mar 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, can I give less than 1 star? This is going in to that rare list of "books I cannot even get through." It makes me very sad that this woman can get published (and apparently won an award at some point in her life!) and I have friends who can actually WRITE who cannot. Imagine if the author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" had written his 150 pages of character development, but hadn't actually been able to make you care about any of the characters. Or, in fact, been able to convin ...more
Feb 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was just reminded of this book by my friend Susan. Now here was a hilarious read. Never was there a more true back picture of academia. They are all NUTS!!! Even the ones who aren't will agree they are a bit around the edges. Please read this, and laugh.
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Moo was one of those books that I was so sure I would enjoy that I was really looking forward to reading it. I thought that since I have been in the field of higher education as lecturer/professor for the last 17 years and before that as a college student and graduate student, I would find it insightful, funny, and entertaining.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I so could not wait to finish the book not because I was enjoying, but because I simply wanted to be done with it. Ironically, I didn't
Apr 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Jane Smiley, a former academic, is pitch perfect in this subtle yet scathing account of academic life in a small Midwestern town. As a former graduate student who had more than his fill of graduate school, this book was both wonderful and horrifying to read. I recommend this book to anyone thinking of attending graduate school, or as a medicine for those still recovering from the absurdity of it.
Nov 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who has worked or taught in a university will appreciate this satirical novel set in an unnamed land-grant university in a Midwestern state with a strong resemblance to Iowa. Smiley, who manages to find the entire world in the cornfields of her native region, gets the personalities, idiosyncracies and bizarre internal politics of American academe exactly right in this book.
Dec 08, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
My response to Smiley's novel was contradictory. On the one hand, I liked her ambitious attempt at depicting the entirety of a college campus, covering students, faculty, and administration. On the other hand, there were just too many characters for any of them to be sufficiently developed. I could never keep straight the four female students sharing the dorm, in part due to the cutesy rhyming-names thing, but mostly due to the fact that Smiley didn't do a great job of distinguishing them from o ...more
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a very funny book. Complicated and very lengthy cast of characters, so I did occasionally have to check back to see who was sleeping with whom, or trying to get tenure or whatever. But that is exactly what it is like in a university, so many people, so many committees, so many forms, so many who think they are in power and are not. So many who manage to get to the conferences in the nice places, to deliver papers that add nothing to the sum of human knowledge....all too true.
Apr 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew about Jane Smiley, having won a Pulitzer Prize and having had two of her books made into movies, but had not previously read her works. I am glad that MOO is the first I read.
From MOO:
"It was well known among the citizens of the state that the university had pots of money and that there were highly paid faculty members in every department who had once taught Marxism and now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a
Keith Rosson
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Listen, Jane Smiley is a fucking straight-up genius, and MOO is a hilarious, intricate and brilliant send-up of academia. She effortlessly weaves together dozens of character viewpoints, all while keeping a sort of empathetic humor at a slow boil throughout all of it. It's really impressive.

It's also very interesting to me to see the very polarizing reviews of this book - on one hand, I can see how it's not that interesting to some people (it is, after all, set in an agricultural college in the
Timothy Hallinan
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A while back I went on Facebook and listed my three favorite novels set on a college campus -- Richard Russo's "Straight Man"( which made me laugh so hard I cracked a rib), Randall Jarrell's "Picures from an Institution" (which begins, "Half the campus was designed by Bottom the Weaver, half by Mies van der Rohe . . ."), and Kingsley Amis' hilarious "Lucky Jim." I asked people to suggest other fiction set in universities.

I do this from time to time with different kinds of books to broaden my rea
Kenneth P.
Jane Smiley's farcical depiction of a Midwestern agricultural university is very funny at times. But there are too many characters to keep track of, certainly too many to care about. Many characters and two hundred pages could have been deleted from this novel. It was a chore to plow through (no pun).

Smiley was a college professor for 15 years at Iowa State and she utilizes her experience to construct a humorous and cynical book that pretty much skewers her brethren. Teachers at Moo University
Fiona Van
Nov 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The description "Dickensian" is often given to Smiley's books and in the case of MOO, I think it is merited. MOO is the abbreviated name of a Midwestern State University, where Animal Husbandry and Horticulture have equal status with Maths or Modern Languages. The book demands concentration as, chapter by chapter you are introduced to perhaps a hundred significant separate characters, with new ones appearing until you are a third of the way through - and such characters - idiosyncratic, opiniona ...more
Jill Barrett Melnicki
This book had a lot of potential. A great storyline; an interesting setting; a talented writer. But, it was entirely disappointing. The problem is with the characters: NO ONE IS INTERESTING. And yet, the book contains detail after detail about the characters. (There are a lot of them.) One could anticipate this from the book's jacket: "Never raising her voice, giving everybody his or her (or its) due, Jane Smiley lets no one escape..." That is an understatement. Each character is just as dull as ...more
After reading 'Straight Man' I was in the mood for another satire of academic life, so I can't help but compare Russo's book to Smiley's. Moo was funny enough, enjoyable enough but so inferior to 'Straight Man' I never could get into it. It's very satirical, above the fray, ironic--you just never come to care about any of the characters. Whereas 'Straight Man' has heart, as all good comedies should.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-past
There are many little stories woven throughout, but none of them made me care what happened next. While the writing is very nice, I never mustered any interest in the characters or the university.

I only finished it because it was a book club selection.
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a delightful read! Hilarious, poignant, great characters. This is a satire of Midwest American academia, written (and set) around the time of the fall of the Soviet empire.
Will Walton
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition







Everyone keeps telling me I should read Jane Smiley and they’re probably right. With biting humor, sharp satire, a wealth of fascinating characters, and even some touches of tender affection for people, place and environment, Moo is a slowly rising storm of a Midwestern University vs. the world, and vs. itself. Readers are guided into the heads of professors, administrators, students (successful and otherwise, plus those still trying to figure what constitutes success), lecturers, secretaries (w ...more
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only other Smiley I have read is 1000 Acres (and that back in the 90s when it came out...despite my husband lamenting the theft of the Lear story). I have had this on my list forever.. as a former grad student of UW and still resident of Madison WI as well as a graduate of Grinnell College (small college in small IA town) AND a high school grad from a small town in IL, I can claim some knowledge about the midwest, the rural farming communities, and academia.

Unfortunately, this is slightly be
Mar 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
I actually abandoned the book. I've been trying to read it since early March or late February, and I'm barely past page 100. I just can't get interested. The first 50 or more pages seem to do little more than introduce character after character after character. By the time all the characters have been brought in, I can't remember who the first ones are, and at page 100, I still can't figure out if there's plot. I considered the possibility that the book is more of a collection of vignettes than ...more
I read this too long ago to make for a good review, but what I do recall is that immediately upon finishing I sent it to my friend, Jas. She and I used to talk about how in high school we pictured ourselves at university sitting around in coffee shops talking philosophy and such (perhaps even wearing black turtlenecks) and then we got to university and... Well, it was underwhelming. Something about this book struck a chord with me at the time.
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jane Smiley is such a sharp student of human nature. This book is so hilarious and filled with so many wonderful characters, including a very lovable 700 pound hog named Earl Butz. Can't believe I had never read this book, which I picked up at a Library sale. Long live Libraries!
Bett Correa-Bollhoefer
Such a fun book. It takes a while to get used to the shift in perspective:
Doug Wykstra
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting reading this right after Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man. While Bradbury's novel bemoans the effect student activism in the 70s seemed to be having on the functions of the university, Moo takes place in the post-Reagan 90s, and focuses on how the college counterculture has gradually given way to the corporatization of education, and how the university has gone from "A limited promise extended to a limited group" to "a vast network of interlocking wishes, some of them modest, ...more
I tend to have mixed feelings about novels about academia. On the one hand, I think academia is a rich subject for fiction, including satire. On the other hand, many novels about academia are so heavily satirical that the reader feels the authors must utterly hate academia and that there is evidently no redeeming it from its foibles and sins. As someone who has had almost entirely positive experiences with academia both as a student and, recently, as a professor, I find this thin and tiresome mo ...more
Jason Pettus
(As of October 2013, my arts center is selling a SIGNED first-edition, first-printing copy of this book at reseller eBay. [See our entire rare-book collection at (] Below is what I wrote for the listing's description.)

One of the most common questions out there among people who collect "hypermodern" first editions (books less than thirty years old) is how to best guess which living authors to be collecting in the first place; and while only the future will show us which
this was a bit too episodic for my liking. but very funny in parts. and insightful. from my favourite chapter:

"It was well known among the citizens of the state that the university had pots of money and that there were highly paid faculty members in every department who had once taught Marxism and now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a time of national weakness.

It was well known among the legislators that the facult
Sana Krasikov
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I laugh out loud every time I reread this book. Smiley is one of the great masters who writes about systems as much as about people. In Moo, each character’s point of view comes alive with an incredibly specific weltanschauung — economic, religious, zoological — and it's a joy to move around the kaleidoscope of these different sensibilities.
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-1998
Between reading Moo and DeLillo's White Noise, I feel like I just went back to college! I enjoyed Moo and was surprised at how long it took me to read it -- nearly three days, with two days of solid reading. Smiley populates this book with a university microcosm. At first, it's a little confusing, but it doesn't take long until you are into the swing of it and know these people (just like college).

The book takes place during two semesters in the 1989-90 school year - when businesses are downsiz
Pito Salas
I technically didn't finish this book. I have a love hat relationship with it. In parts it was very funny to me, and other parts dragged. The writing for me was clean but a bit intricate. The stories about academia were interesting and ironic and to my newbie ear rung true. My biggest beef is that there are so many main characters (about 20) who all have interconnections between them. The story doesn't have a straight narrative and I would constantly loose the thread. Finally about half way thro ...more
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
More about Jane Smiley...

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“The body, the mind, and the spirit don't form a pyramid, they form a circle. Each of them runs into the other two. The body isn't below the mind and the spirit; from the point of view it's between them. if you reside too much in the mind, then you get too abstract and cut off from the world. You long for the spiritual life, but you can't get to it, and you fall into despair. The exercise of the senses frees you from abstraction and opens the way to transcendence.” 6 likes
“Almonds. Apricots. Avocadoes. Some peaches I don't know. Grapefruit. Lemones. Probably oranges.” 3 likes
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