The Blog

Is Our Children Learning?

A depressing list of most-read-books in the humanities.

10:37 AM, Apr 15, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Via Tyler Cowen comes this list of "most cited authors of books in the humanities" in 2007. Here are the top 11:

Is Our Children Learning?

Michel Foucault: Discipline and punish the undergrads




Bandura (A Canadian psychologist I'd never heard of.)


Goffman (A Canadian sociologist I'd never heard of.)




Latour (A French anthropologist I'd never heard of.)


Apparently I need to read up on Canadian social theory. Also, what strikes you about this list is that all these authors hail from the twentieth century.  None of the great authors of the Western canon are found anywhere. A premium is also placed on non-American intellectuals -- the only native American in the top 11 is the gender- and queer-theorist Judith Butler.

What's more, the academy remains in thrall to quacks and obscurantists. University humanities departments are the only places on Earth where Freud is still read as something more than science fiction. Deconstruction went out of fashion some time ago, yet Derrida still places third. It's also interesting, and depressing, that humanities departments seem to rely so heavily on anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists. Where are the literary critics and art historians? Why no Lionel Trilling and Meyer Schapiro?

Last week Arnold Kling noted that humanities and social science majors don't see much of an economic payoff for their troubles. How to explain the "plight of the unskilled college grad"? Well, attempting to decipher writers like Foucault and Butler turns your brain into jelly. That might have something to do with it.

Prescription: Read Great Books and The Western Canon and call me in the morning.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers