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The Making of Princeton University:
From Woodrow Wilson to the Present
James Axtell

Winner of the 2007 Honor Book Award, New Jersey Council for the Humanities

Hardcover | 2006 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691126869
688 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 35 halftones. 1 line illus.
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In 1902, Professor Woodrow Wilson took the helm of Princeton University, then a small denominational college with few academic pretensions. But Wilson had a blueprint for remaking the too-cozy college into an intellectual powerhouse. The Making of Princeton University tells, for the first time, the story of how the University adapted and updated Wilson's vision to transform itself into the prestigious institution it is today.

James Axtell brings the methods and insights from his extensive work in ethnohistory to the collegiate realm, focusing especially on one of Princeton's most distinguished features: its unrivaled reputation for undergraduate education. Addressing admissions, the curriculum, extracurricular activities, and the changing landscape of student culture, the book devotes four full chapters to undergraduate life inside and outside the classroom.

The book is a lively warts-and-all rendering of Princeton's rise, addressing such themes as discriminatory admission policies, the academic underperformance of many varsity athletes, and the controversial "bicker" system through which students have been selected for the University's private eating clubs.

Written in a delightful and elegant style, The Making of Princeton University offers a detailed picture of how the University has dealt with these issues to secure a distinguished position in both higher education and American society. For anyone interested in or associated with Princeton, past or present, this is a book to savor.


"Do we really need another 600-plus pages about the University? The answer is yes--if the book in question is as good as this one is. . . . [I]t's appeal transcends the alumni market. Besides being arguably the most readable account of Princeton ever written, this overview of college life is so illuminating on such a wide range of subjects, including administration, faculty, admission standards, scholarship, and life inside and outside the classroom, that it stands not only as the definitive work on its specific subject but as an invaluable study of the university experience in general."--Stuart Mitchner, Town Topics

"Axtell's retelling is vivid, particularly as he tracks larger societal changes alongside the university's transformation. His explanation of Princeton's changing politics, style and patois serves as a fascinating guidebook to understanding the university through all its various permutations."--Iris Blasi, ForeWord Magazine

"Mixing scholarly excellence with subtle humor, Axtell is both an excellent historian and storyteller.... The Making of Princeton University is more than a mere institutional history: It is the story of the transformation of an American icon."--J. Gregory Behle, Journal of American History

"An excellent and exceedingly well-written book. . . . It is hard to imagine a better book on a single university. The Making of Princeton University is engagingly written, judicious in its use of materials, exceptionally well researched (here Axtell had the advantage of an outstanding archival collection), and wise in its understanding of how Princeton has become what it is."--Marvin Lazerson, Academe

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Table of Contents:

Illustrations xi
Preface xiii
Acknowledgments xxv
Abbreviations xxxi
CHAPTER ONE: The Dream Realized 1
CHAPTER TWO: From Gentlemen to Scholars 27
CHAPTER THREE: Getting In 111
CHAPTER FOUR: In Class 178
CHAPTER FIVE: Beyond the Classroom 238
CHAPTER SIX: A Charming Turbulence 310
CHAPTER SEVEN: Higher Learning 373
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Bookish Heart 436
CHAPTER NINE: The Tiger's Eye 487
CHAPTER TEN: Coin of the Realm 530
Conclusion: She Flourishes 593
Selected Bibliography 615
Index 623

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by James L. Axtell:

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