Books for the fall: With reflections on the academic vocation

This fall, I’m scheduled to teach one course, Social Sciences I (and audit a course for training purposes). The books I have on my desk for course prep are as follows:

  • Benedict, Patterns of Culture
  • Freud, Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis and New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
  • Durkheim, On Suicide
  • Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
  • The Marx-Engels Reader
  • James, Psychology: The Briefer Course
  • Gilligan, In a Different Voice

It will be great to get to read a lot of the texts and authors that I “should’ve” read, and also to teach the ones I already know. I imagine that I’ll be continuing to focus on new courses next year so that Shimer can ensure that I’m adequately flexible, and so I will continue to get a chance to expand and deepen my knowledge of what one might call “great books.”

To me, this highlights one reason people want to go into academia, a reason that can often get buried among many other legitimate concerns — we want to know stuff. By no means is an academic career the only or even necessarily the best way to know stuff, but it is certainly a really good way to attain that goal. Anyone can be an avid reader, but there are relatively few people who are paid to read books and talk about them with people.

When we’re in grad school, there’s this pressure to somehow know everything already or at least appear to — but there’s no substitute for just steadily reading over the course of your life, adding new books to your repertoire and returning to old ones. It seems so obvious when I say it, but it’s only in the last couple years that I was able to step outside the grad student “panic mode” and reflect on the magnitude of having an entire life to study this stuff.

One thought on “Books for the fall: With reflections on the academic vocation

  1. It’s something I envy, and part of what draws me to this blog. As an academic manqué, with most of a life left to study this stuff but no institutional framework in which to do so, I face the sad fact that I’m probably not going to deepen my knowledge of theory or philosophy — or even literature — in any meaningful way, other than adding smidges and factoids here and there. (Had we but more RSA Animates, and time!) Every now and then I get a bug in my butt and go do something like join an Arcades Project reading group at The Public School, but I don’t have the internal constitution or external rewards system to spend quality time with serious thought.

    If you have a chance spend a little time with Weber’s Bureaucracy essay alongside The Protestant Ethic. It blew my mind as an undergrad.

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