Idealism and Liberal Education

James O. Freedman
An eloquent tribute to the value of the liberal education


With refreshing eloquence, James O. Freedman sets down the American ideals that have informed his life as an intellectual, a law professor, and a college and university president. He examines the content and character of liberal education, discusses the importance of letters and learning in forming his own life and values, and explores how the lessons and the habits of mind instilled by a liberal education can give direction and meaning to one's life. He offers a stirring defense of affirmative action in higher education. And he describes how, in the midst of undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, liberal education helped him in that most human of desires—the yearning to make order and sense out of his experience.

Part intellectual biography and part examination of the world of higher education, Idealism and Liberal Education is a quintessentially American book, animated by a confidence that reason, knowledge, idealism, and the better angels of our natures will further human progress.

Freedman offers, as models for shaping one's life, profiles of some of his heroes—Thurgood Marshall, Alexander M. Bickel, Václav Havel, Louis D. Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, Hugo L. Black, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, George Orwell, Edmund Wilson, Martin Luther King, Jr., George F. Kennan, Ralph J. Bunche, and Harry S Truman.

This volume speaks to all Americans who are drawn to the power of liberal education and democratic citizenship and who yearn for the inspiration to lead thoughtful, committed lives.

James O. Freedman is President of Dartmouth College.

Praise / Awards

  • "Beautifully written and a pleasure to read. At a time when the idea of the liberal university is under attack from all sides, Freedman has given a wondrous personal reaffirmation of its place in our lives."
    —David Halberstam
  • "In this wide-ranging series of essays, Freedman reveals himself again as one of America's most erudite, articulate, and reflective university presidents. Students, parents, fellow presidents, and all who love learning will find something in these pages to ponder with profit."
    —Derek Bok, Former President, Harvard University
  • "This thought-provoking book should be required reading for young people entering college and for the people who advise them. Freedman explores the purpose and importance of a liberal education in shaping values, character, and imagination and convincingly argues for the need for the wisdom and perspective it provides, whatever one's chosen field."
    —Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund
  • "Idealism and Liberal Education is an inspiring intellectual diary of James O. Freedman. . . . It is a forceful affirmation of liberal education as a social and cultural force in shaping the minds and characters of our youth as future citizens and leaders of our democracy. It is a tribute to the joy of learning."
    —Vartan Gregorian, President, Brown University
  • ". . . articulate, thoughtful—and perhaps most highly—genuinely inspiring. Few such contemporary works achieve their purpose with such clarity of expression and insight."
  • ". . . [P]resents the reader with eloquent, incisive, and sometimes passionate analyses of the central challenges facing American higher education. I do not use this trilogy of adjectives casually; the convey whey I feel this is one of the most intellectually and spiritually rewarding books I have read on the subject in recent years. . . . What I found most persuasive is the book's premise that 'a liberal education is the best foundation for a life of achievement, reflection, and idealism'. . . . [Freedman] views liberal education as 'a process of inquiry, not a fixed body of knowledge.' The goal of the process is to develop students to become leaders and citizens in a democratic society by empowering them with the requisite intellectual, moral, and spiritual resources that will enable them 'to lead lives that are thoughtful, reflective, inquisitive, and satisfying.' . . . Idealism and Liberal Education does not simply explore what liberal education has been. It also is an eloquent call for a liberal arts education that more effectively embraces science and technology, makes more use of interdisciplinary teaching, develops a focus on international studies, and presents a more sensitive and knowledgeable understanding of affirmative action programs. It is well worth reading."
    Educational Record
  • Winner: Association for American Colleges and Universities' 1997 Frederic W. Ness Book Award

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 200pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10692-9

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  • $74.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Out of Stock
  • 978-0-472-08670-2

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