Louis Menand

Professor of English and American Lit and Language, Harvard University
The New Yorker staff writer
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author, The Metaphysical Club

An influential cultural observer and incisive commentator on the American scene.

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Biography

2015 National Humanities Medalist

Louis Menand is one of those rare individuals whose work straddles the worlds of both academia and popular high culture.

As a distinguished professor at Harvard University, and as a celebrated writer for The New Yorker magazine, Louis provides an exciting and unexpected perspective on every subject he tackles.

Offering his readers, his audiences, and his students the best of both worlds, Louis gives voice to important contemporary ideas as well as key intellectual moments in the history of our country. His insights and his witty, piercing observations can be appreciated by both academics and the intelligent public at large.

He has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1991 and became a staff writer in 2001. In that role he examines important issues in the worlds of literature, art, pop culture, television, politics, history, and journalism. He uses his book reviews as a springboard for his witty and always thought-provoking observations on all aspects of the American scene.

As a professor and leading academic, he has written incisively on the problems and challenges of higher education, the role of the university in modern America. He has published many important books and papers of intellectual history and literary criticism.

He is the author of several books, including:

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, the book provides an intellectual and cultural history of late 19th and early 20th century America. It recounts the lives and intellectual achievements of the American thinkers responsible for the philosophical concept of pragmatism, a school of thought that has had a strong and direct influence on modern thought.

"A grand portrait of an age that will appeal to anyone with even a modest interest in the history of philosophy and ideas."
— Amazon.com Review

"An accessible and deeply engaging account of one of the most important intellectual movements in the history of the United States."
American Scientist

"Extraordinarily ambitious and compulsively readable."
Publishers Weekly

The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University

". . .manages to do many things in four short essays—describe the changing self-conception of the university, identify the difficulties behind curricular reform, and analyze the anxieties of humanities professors. But the book's chief accomplishment is its insistence that what we take for academic crises are probably just academic problems, and they are ours to solve."
Slate

Louis is currently at work on a new, groundbreaking book in which he examines the interaction between art and politics during the cold war.

Credentials

  • Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language, Harvard University
  • Pulitzer Prize winner in history
  • Editorial Board, The Penguin History of American Life
  • Staff Writer, The New Yorker
  • Formerly:
    • Distinguished Professor of English, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
    • Vice-President, PEN American Center; Executive Board
    • Contributing editor, The New York Review of Books
    • Associate Editor, The New Republic

Education

  • PhD, with distinction, Columbia University
  • M.A. with high honors, Columbia University
  • B.A., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Pomona College

Books

The Marketplace of Ideas

Reform and Resistance in the American University (Issues of Our Time)

Louis Menand

Has American higher education become a dinosaur? Why do professors all tend to think alike? What makes it so hard for colleges to decide which subjects should be required? Why do teachers and scholars find it so difficult to transcend the limits of their disciplines? Why, in short, are problems that should be easy for universities to solve so intractable? The answer, Louis Menand argues, is that the institutional structure and the educational philosophy of higher education have remained the same for one hundred years, while faculties and student bodies have radically changed and technology has drastically transformed the way people produce and disseminate knowledge. At a time when competition to get into and succeed in college has never been more intense, universities are providing a less-useful education. Sparking a long-overdue debate about the future of American education, The Marketplace of Ideas examines what professors and students — and all the rest of us — might be better off without, while assessing what it is worth saving in our traditional university institutions.

W. W. Norton & Company (January 18, 2010)

Reviews

Book of the WeekTimes Higher Education
Breakdown in the AcademyPolicy Review
'A Very Special Marketplace'The Chronicle of Higher Education
A study of intellectual uniformityFinancial Times
The Way We LearnThe New York Times
A look at teaching ills of top-tier collegesThe Boston Globe
The difficulties of an American doctoral studentThe Economist
Embracing the MarketplaceThe New York Times
Soothing the ElitesOpen Letters Monthly
Book ReviewLos Angeles Times
The Opening of the Academic MindSlate

American Studies

Louis Menand

From the bestselling author of The Metaphysical Club, brilliant illuminations of America yesterday and today.

At each step of this journey through American cultural history, Louis Menand has an original point to make: he explains the real significance of William James's nervous breakdown, and of the anti-Semitism in T. S. Eliot's writing. He reveals the reasons for the remarkable commercial successes of William Shawn's New Yorker and William Paley's CBS. He uncovers the connection between Larry Flynt's Hustler and Jerry Falwell's evangelism, between the atom bomb and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. He locates the importance of Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, Pauline Kael, Christopher Lasch, and Rolling Stone magazine. And he lends an ear to Al Gore in the White House as the Starr Report is finally presented to the public.

Like his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Metaphysical Club, American Studies is intellectual and cultural history at its best: game and detached, with a strong curiosity about the political underpinnings of ideas and about the reasons successful ideas insinuate themselves into the culture at large. From one of our leading thinkers and critics, known both for his "sly wit and reportorial high-jinks [and] clarity and rigor" (The Nation), these essays are incisive, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 13, 2002)

The Metaphysical Club

Louis Menand

A riveting, original book about the creation of the modern American mind. The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., founder of modern jurisprudence; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea — an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things "out there" waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent — like knives and forks and microchips — to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals — that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely dependent -- like germs — on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea depends not on its immutability but on its adaptability. The Metaphysical Club is written in the spirit of this idea about ideas. It is not a history of philosophy but an absorbing narrative about personalities and social history, a story about America. It begins with the American Civil War and ends with World War I. This is a book about the evolution of the American mind during the crucial period that formed the world we now inhabit.

Flamingo (May 20, 2002)

Discovering Modernism

T. S. Eliot and His Context

Louis Menand

This reissue of Menand's classic intellectual history of T.S. Eliot and the singular role he played in the rise of literary modernism features an updated Afterword by the author, as well as a detailed critical appraisal of the progression of Eliot's career as a poet and critic. Menand shows how Eliot's early views on literary value and authenticity — and his later repudiation of those views — reflect the profound changes regarding the understanding of literature and its significance that occured in the early part of the twentieth century. The new Afterword was adapted from Menand's critically lauded essay on Eliot in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume Seven: Modernism and the New Criticism.

Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition (February 19, 2007)

The Future of Academic Freedom

Louis Menand

At the bottom of every controversy embroiling the university today — from debates over hate-speech codes to the reorganization of the academy as a multicultural institution — is the concept of academic freedom. But academic freedom is almost never mentioned in these debates. Now nine leading academics, including Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Edward Said, Richard Rorty, and Joan W. Scott, consider the problems confronting the American University in terms of their effect on the future of academic freedom.

University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 15, 1998)

Praise

"Louis Menand has assembled The Future of Academic Freedom to better define and delineate what should and should not happen within our colleges and universities. . . . The whole extremely learned yet accessible debate exploits the freedoms it extols, tackling sensitive subjects such as ethnicity and ethics head-on."
Publishers Weekly

"The essays are not only sharp, elegant and lucid, but extremely well-informed about the history of American battles over academic freedom."
— Alan Ryan, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[A] superb inquiry into some of the most vexing and significant issues in higher education today."
— Zachary Karabell, Boston Book Review

Pragmatism

A Reader

Louis Menand

Pragmatism has been called America's only major contribution to philosophy. But since its birth was announced a century ago in 1898 by William James, pragmatism has played a vital role in almost every area of American intellectual and cultural life, inspiring judges, educators, politicians, poets, and social prophets.

Now the major texts of American pragmatism, from William James and John Dewey to Richard Rorty and Cornel West, have been brought together and reprinted unabridged. From the first generation of pragmatists, including the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and the founder of semiotics, Charles Sanders Peirce, to the leading figures in the contemporary pragmatist revival, including the philosopher Hilary Putnam, the jurist Richard Posner, and the literary critic Richard Poirier, all the contributors to this volume are remarkable for the wit and vigor of their prose and the mind-clearing force of their ideas. Edited and with an Introduction by Louis Menand, Pragmatism: A Reader will provide both the general reader and the student of American culture with excitement and pleasure.

Vintage; 1st edition (October 7, 1997)

Topics

Louis tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

The Modern American University

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