As the commercialization of American higher education accelerates, more and more students are coming to college with the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential. The traditional four-year college experience—an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers—is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

In College, prominent cultural critic Andrew Delbanco offers a trenchant defense of such an education, and warns that it is becoming a privilege reserved for the relatively rich. In describing what a true college education should be, he demonstrates why making it available to as many young people as possible remains central to America's democratic promise.

In a brisk and vivid historical narrative, Delbanco explains how the idea of college arose in the colonial period from the Puritan idea of the gathered church, how it struggled to survive in the nineteenth century in the shadow of the new research universities, and how, in the twentieth century, it slowly opened its doors to women, minorities, and students from low-income families. He describes the unique strengths of America’s colleges in our era of globalization and, while recognizing the growing centrality of science, technology, and vocational subjects in the curriculum, he mounts a vigorous defense of a broadly humanistic education for all. Acknowledging the serious financial, intellectual, and ethical challenges that all colleges face today, Delbanco considers what is at stake in the urgent effort to protect these venerable institutions for future generations.

In a new afterword, Delbanco responds to recent developments—both ominous and promising—in the changing landscape of higher education.

Winner of the Mark Lynton History Prize 

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

A New York Times Critics' Best Book of 2018

"Excellent... stunning."—Ta-Nehisi Coates

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to Civil War

For decades after its founding, America was really two nations--one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this composite nation ultimately broke apart, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the "united" states was actually a lie. Fugitive slaves exposed the contradiction between the myth that slavery was a benign institution and the reality that a nation based on the principle of human equality was in fact a prison-house in which millions of Americans had no rights at all. By awakening northerners to the true nature of slavery, and by enraging southerners who demanded the return of their human "property," fugitive slaves forced the nation to confront the truth about itself.

By 1850, with America on the verge of collapse, Congress reached what it hoped was a solution-- the notorious Compromise of 1850, which required that fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. Like so many political compromises before and since, it was a deal by which white Americans tried to advance their interests at the expense of black Americans. Yet the Fugitive Slave Act, intended to preserve the Union, in fact set the nation on the path to civil war. It divided not only the American nation, but also the hearts and minds of Americans who struggled with the timeless problem of when to submit to an unjust law and when to resist.

The fugitive slave story illuminates what brought us to war with ourselves and the terrible legacies of slavery that are with us still.
Since we discovered that, in Tocqueville's words, "the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the heart," how have we Americans made do? In "The Real American Dream" one of the nation's premier literary scholars searches out the symbols and stories by which Americans have reached for something beyond worldly desire. A spiritual history ranging from the first English settlements to the present day, the book is also a lively, deeply learned meditation on hope.

Andrew Delbanco tells of the stringent God of Protestant Christianity, who exerted immense force over the language, institutions, and customs of the culture for nearly 200 years. He describes the falling away of this God and the rise of the idea of a sacred nation-state. And, finally, he speaks of our own moment, when symbols of nationalism are in decline, leaving us with nothing to satisfy the longing for transcendence once sustained by God and nation.

From the Christian story that expressed the earliest Puritan yearnings to New Age spirituality, apocalyptic environmentalism, and the multicultural search for ancestral roots that divert our own, "The Real American Dream" evokes the tidal rhythm of American history. It shows how Americans have organized their days and ordered their lives--and ultimately created a culture--to make sense of the pain, desire, pleasure, and fear that are the stuff of human experience. In a time of cultural crisis, when the old stories seem to be faltering, this book offers a lesson in the painstaking remaking of the American dream.

More than an ecclesiastical or political history, this book is a vivid description of the earliest American immigrant experience. It depicts the dramatic tale of the seventeenth-century newcomers to our shores as they were drawn and pushed to make their way in an unsettled and unsettling world.



Reviews of this book:
"A powerfully imaginative and personal book--perhaps as all great American books on the Puritans must be." DD--Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books

"The arguments in this book will resonate in the study of American culture for years to come...There is much to recommend this book ... historians and literary critics alike will be challenged by [it]. The Puritan Ordeal shows great promise for the continuing study of the life of the mind in America." DD--Bruce Tucker, Journal of American History

"Delbanco's singular achievement in The Puritan Ordeal remains his sensitive, attentive, and generous recovery of the first emigrants' voices...[This book] may well provide the richest transcription we have of the hesitant, bewildered yet ultimately hopeful new-world inflections that register everywhere in early American culture." DD--Donald Weber, American Literary History

"The author of this study, displaying an ideal combination of sensibility and judgement, discusses the Puritans who fled to New England and traces the effect of their immigrant experience on American literature. Like later immigrants, they found that emotional rifts opened between the first and second generations, and, like other English religious radicals, they were disturbed by women's demands for religious equality. The Puritan hope of creating a Christian--nonexploitative--economy in the New World was disappointed, and the dominant strand in Puritan thought became the need to constrain sinful human beings. However, Mr. Delbanco believes that it was the other strand in Puritan thought--the aspiration toward a community of saints--which became an important influence on American literature." DD--New Yorker

"Against those historians whose primary interest has been the life of the mind or the development of the ecclesia, Delbanco emphasizes the fact that the Puritans were first and foremost a group of immigrants. This book offers a perceptive look at the inner history of that particular group." DD--American Journal of Theology and Philosophy

"Andrew Delbanco's book is concerned with one of the most famous achievements of the Puritan spirit, the colonisation of New England. Popular American mythology depicts this as a classic triumph of faith over adversity. Mr. Delbanco shows convincingly that it is more truly seen as an 'ordeal', marked by tensions already present in the old world and intensified in the new." DD--The Economist

"A noteworthy historical analysis." DD--Kirkus Reviews

"This is a learned, well-researched, quotable text, delving deeply into matters of scholastic debate; yet the most interesting parts illuminate the felt experience of the earliest New Englanders: their passion for sermons, their Pauline belief in sudden transformations through grace." DD--Virginia Quarterly Review

Winner of the Mark Lynton History Prize 

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

A New York Times Critics' Best Book of 2018

"Excellent... stunning."—Ta-Nehisi Coates

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to Civil War

For decades after its founding, America was really two nations--one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this composite nation ultimately broke apart, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the "united" states was actually a lie. Fugitive slaves exposed the contradiction between the myth that slavery was a benign institution and the reality that a nation based on the principle of human equality was in fact a prison-house in which millions of Americans had no rights at all. By awakening northerners to the true nature of slavery, and by enraging southerners who demanded the return of their human "property," fugitive slaves forced the nation to confront the truth about itself.

By 1850, with America on the verge of collapse, Congress reached what it hoped was a solution-- the notorious Compromise of 1850, which required that fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. Like so many political compromises before and since, it was a deal by which white Americans tried to advance their interests at the expense of black Americans. Yet the Fugitive Slave Act, intended to preserve the Union, in fact set the nation on the path to civil war. It divided not only the American nation, but also the hearts and minds of Americans who struggled with the timeless problem of when to submit to an unjust law and when to resist.

The fugitive slave story illuminates what brought us to war with ourselves and the terrible legacies of slavery that are with us still.
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