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The Year’s Best Books About Higher Education

It’s that time again, where reviewers recommend the year’s best books. In 2019, we had a bevy of excellent books about American higher education, covering its history, controversies, and contributions. Here’s my list of the year’s best titles.

Alan Taylor’s Thomas Jefferson’s Education. A Pulitzer prize-winning historian, Taylor explores the links between slavery and the founding of the University of Virginia, where he’s on the faculty. He demonstrates how slavery shaped the university just as it did every institution of that time. Jefferson had high hopes for the university he started, but Taylor contends his aspirations for it never escaped the entanglements of Virginia’s “old regime,” which maintained the inequalities of slavery and social class. Two hundred years later, UVa is a very different institution, but Taylor shows how modern inequalities still undermine attempts to improve higher education.

A History of American Higher Education, 3rd edition by John Thelin. Scholars of higher education have long recognized Thelin’s authoritative work as an indispensable source for studying the early developments and current issues defining American colleges and universities. This third edition features a new concluding chapter examining the opportunities and problems higher education has faced since 2010.

Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant by Anne Gardiner Perkins. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first undergraduate women admitted to Yale, Perkin’s account of how these women transformed Yale’s “village of men” to a coeducational university is an absorbing read. Based on interviews with dozens of the 575 Yale women admitted in 1969, Perkins examines the first turbulent years of Yale’s

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