Book Review: "The Marketplace of Ideas" by Louis Menand

The book that I have been able to read most recently is The Marketplace of Ideas by Louis Menand. The author generally discusses the current state of the liberal arts and humanities in higher education in a historical context, focusing on the tensions that have pervaded it for many decades, including the distinctions between the useful/practical versus learning for its own sake, disciplinarity versus interdisciplinarity, generally teaching the liberal arts to all students via a distribution versus core curriculum model, et cetera. The author further discusses how political issues have shaped academic discourse in the liberal arts, as well as how certain features of academia that are perceived to be new are actually logical extensions of features that were in place long ago, and vice versa. Overall, the author argues that much of academic work in the liberal arts, as it is conducted today, is structurally bound by how things were more than a century ago, even as the objects of study have themselves evolved quite a bit over that time.

Having completed my undergraduate education at a technical institution, I expected to see a bit more about the simultaneous evolution of science, engineering, and humanities curricula, given that the author does discuss the shifts in emphasis from teaching to research at major universities, and given the rather broad title and description of the book. Instead, the author admits fairly early on that because he is a history professor by training, his focus is almost exclusively on the liberal arts and humanities. That focus is understandable, yet I feel like by essentially ignoring simultaneous developments in science and engineering in academia, the discussion of the developments in the liberal arts and humanities in academia seems strangely divorced from the historical events surrounding those developments. Moreover, I feel that the author is somewhat siloed in his own view of disciplinarity versus interdisciplinarity in academia by focusing only on the liberal arts and humanities and ignoring how interdisciplinary research has evolved among the various branches of natural science and engineering, which is ironic considering his arguments that interdisciplinarity in the liberal arts and humanities has actually reinforced disciplinary rigidity in those fields; perhaps the author would have been better served by more extensively consulting (or coauthoring) with someone who is familiar with STEM fields in academia, but if he felt that such interactions would only reinforce rigid disciplinary boundaries and would not help mutual understanding across fields, then that may be more reflective of his own siloed experiences and resulting biases than of anything else. Additionally, the author has an occasional tendency to slip into technical philosophical and literary jargon; while the context makes the meaning of such jargon clear enough, it would have been nicer for the author to use more broadly accessible terminology, given that the book seems to be marketed toward a general audience (in line with some of the ideas discussed in the book itself). With all that said, I do appreciate seeing this aspect of academia that I otherwise would not have really seen, given my undergraduate education in physics at a technical education followed by my current status as a graduate student in electrical engineering. While it is short on prescriptions, it is long on context, which is its aim in any case. Finally, the book itself is generally clear and concise, and it is a short, quick read.


Featured Comments: Week of 2016 November 6

There was one post from last week that got 3 comments, so I'll repost all of those. (This post should have happened two days ago, but I was traveling.)

Review: Manjaro Linux 16.10 "Fringilla" Cinnamon

An anonymous reader wrote, "Manjaro repositories exist since 2014 (more or less). 'free' it's an alias for 'free -h', look at '.bashrc', also 'ls' and maybe 'grep' are often aliases. Note: Manjaro Cinnamon is a Community Edition, I think this clarification is needed."
Another anonymous commenter suggested, "perhaps it is time for a Bodhi linux review?"
Reader Bernard Victor had this suggestion: "You should review Antgeros, a much better Arch based distro than Manjaro. It is much closer to pure Arch, in fact some people call it just an Arch installer."

Thanks to all of those readers for commenting on that post. In the rest of the month, I hope to have at least one more post (unrelated to Linux reviews) put out. Anyway, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: Manjaro Linux 16.10 "Fringilla" Cinnamon

Main Screen + Cinnamon Menu
I was going to make this post a review of the SpaceFM file manager (RAS syndrome, I know) upon recommendation by a commenter in a previous post. Then I checked it out for a bit, and realized that while it has a lot of potential for graphical customization, I still wouldn't feel particularly compelled to write a full review about that one application. Instead, I'm reviewing the Cinnamon edition of the latest version of Manjaro Linux. Last year, when I reviewed it, it was still relatively tied to Arch Linux. Since then, it has become much more independent, using its own repositories and maintaining a semi-rolling release model (though maintaining ties via the Arch User Repository (AUR)). Given that, I figured it might be time for a new review to see what has changed. I tried it using a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.