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Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life

Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life

Zena Hitz


A clear and quite moving paean to academic life – as it was, and perhaps should be.

The author's short history possibly applies to a lot of people. Hitz studied at a small liberal arts college in the US which emphasised small-group, open-ended discussions. This is a poor preparation for "real" academia, with larger classes and a rather cut-throat "publish or perish" culture. It's enough to drive her out of academia and into a religious retreat.

These are common concerns amongst academics, especially those not fortunate enough to work in institutions that still value and focus on small-group teaching, as it Hitz' plea for a culture less driven for the concrete, measurable, value or usefulness of what's taught. These are easy values to approve of as an academic, but harder to deliver on in the face of students whose studies burden them with debt and who are almost all pursing their studies – at least in part – because of perceived advantage in the workplace. It's usually not the only reason, in my experience, but it does demand a realistic approach to questions of usefulness. There's a discussion that could follow on form this book about the ways in which we capture and express the value of critical and creative thinking, in humanities and sciences, in ways that students can appreciate and judge.

As with many books of this type, it can leave scientists feeling marginalised, not covered by the meaning of the word intellectual as the author uses it. I don't think it's intended in this case, and Hitz makes several references to mathematics and science in academia, but the thrust is definitely more into the humanities where perhaps the question of "usefulness" (and the need to defend a subject) is more felt more keenly

4/5. Finished 02 July 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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