12 March 2009

Small Worlds

Upon graduation from college in the late 1970s I was singularly unprepared for graduate school; as an undergraduate I had been - more or less - what is now known as a 'slacker.' I read what I wanted, attended class sporadically, and squeaked by as a middling student. In lieu of a job or any desire for one, I ended up moving back to Massachusetts and eventually ended up working at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where part of my compensation consisted in some now forgotten number of free tuition credits per term. I set about taking courses in social and political theory. Among the faculty I encountered was Norman Birnbaum who was then teaching at Amherst College and who offered a graduate course in social theory at UMass. This was an intimidating experience since Birnbaum seemed to have read and have smart things to say about pretty much everything. Eventually I wrote a passable paper for the seminar and Birnbaum kindly wrote a letter of recommendation to accompany my applications to proper graduate programs. This week The Nation includes this review by Birnbaum of a collection of essays by the late radical sociologist C. Wright Mills edited by John Summers a young intellectual historian who took classes with me here at Rochester. Small world. John is a smart, decent fellow. Birnbaum praises the volume and notes John's deft work on it too. Neither the gracious review nor the fact that is is surely deserved surprises me.

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