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.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of the 2007 Honor Book Award, New Jersey Council for the Humanities
"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
"Here we have finally an outstanding historian writing about a significant institution. The writing is lively; the case study is connected to the larger domains of American higher education. It provides an antidote to the familiar reasons that institutional history has been maligned or ignored. Axtell's story gets off to a great start due to his historical candor. . . . Thanks to James Axtell's exciting, thorough history, a reader moves steadily to consider that it is daring for a university to be different and distinctive."—John R. Thelin, Journal of Higher Education
"How did a small men's college in a quiet town grow to become one of the world's great universities? James Axtell's insightful, comprehensive, and compelling account of the last century of Princeton explores this question through unique methods. The Making of Princeton University is different from the best of institutional histories. Axtell tells the story of Princeton in the round; not just the presidents and trustees, but faculty, students, staff, academics, social life, sports, artistic life, admissions, and alumni."—John Milton Cooper, University of Wisconsin
"I know of no recent piece of work like this in terms of its in-depth command of its material, its success in contextualizing content about one university, and its readability. A terrific accomplishment."—William Bowen, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton University
"A wonderful read. Anyone who reads this book, from well-informed insiders, who like myself have experienced nearly half of the story, to interested outsiders, will give the author the highest marks for meticulous scholarship and vigorous writing."—Robert Tignor, Princeton University
"The Making of Princeton University is the product of prodigious scholarship, graceful prose, and insight into many of the less appreciated corners of university life. Those who scorn traditional institutional history will heap praise on this book."—Roger Geiger, Pennsylvania State University
"Axtell forges a new genre. He is the first to have written an anthropologically informed history of a university as an intellectual center. This book is an exciting contribution to the history of higher education."—Bruce Leslie, SUNY College, Brockport, and Wolfson College, University of Cambridge