Book: A Tenured Professor

tenuredA Tenured Professor is a novel published by Harvard Economist John Kenneth Galbraith in 1990, just a year or so after the Berlin Wall came down and while the Cold War became less cool, but still alive. This maybe something to remember when reading the book, as, although the title could suggest a novel mostly concerned with academia, much of the book is about (US) politics and should probably be understood in the context of the Cold War ending.

But first a brief summary: the protagonist is a young economist, joining Harvard “with the right credentials” (i.e. education and political background) and embarking on a career studying -and gaining tenure- through the world shattering study of refrigerator pricing. Unbeknown to his colleagues, however, he also creates an infallible formula to predict (negative) stock market movements – and is prepared to put his own money behind his formula. He, and his equally progressive thinking wife, are rapidly becoming multimillionaires – but rather than spending the money on themselves, they invest in progressive causes: from women’s liberation, to attempting to endow chairs in peace studies at military academies, to counterbalancing donations to political campaign funds. Obviously, such “subversive” tendencies soon arouse the suspicion of both fellow academics and the authorities …

I found the book a very entertaining and extremely well written satire; poking fun largely at the economical and political environment of the late 1980s early 1990s in the US – but it does so without being stale when read over 20 years later. In fact, some of the points Galbraith makes seem even more poignant with hindsight. While not the main focus of the story, the book also takes a tongue in cheek look at academia – especially the arrogance of (certain sections of) academia, who prefer(ed) to focus more on intellectually demanding but possibly not very rewarding activities such as refrigerator pricing, while ignoring the bigger questions in life.
Overall, a thoroughly recommended book in terms of readability (watch out for the acerbic understatements throughout the book!) entertainment – and being an even better read 20 years on.
Available as a Kindle edition from Amazon.co.uk – or very cheaply (£0.31!) as a pre-loved book!

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