Curiously enough, in the midst of all this gloom and doom and sounding of various alarms, the high-humanist conviction that liberal arts education can fashion good character and alter outcomes in the world persists. Roche thinks that paying respectful atte ntion to authors in an academic setting teaches ‘generosity of spirit’ and a ‘level of modesty.’ (I see no evidence of this, on campus or in these books.) Nussbaum asserts that ‘an education process can strengthen the sense of personal accountability, the tendency to see others as distinct individuals, and the willingness to raise a critical voice.’

And, most surprising, Taylor, the tech guru and hard-eyed apostle of the most up-to-date university one could imagine, declares that ‘I would bet my retirement that if Wall Streeters had read and understood Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man,” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug,” William Gaddis’s “JR,” Georg Simmel’s “The Philosophy of Money” and Karl Marx’s “Early Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts,” we would not find ourselves in this economic mess.’ (In short, if they had only taken my course.) I would take that bet in a heartbeat and so would Hacker and Dreifus, who observe drily (and correctly) that ‘the verbal fluency students attain will [not] necessarily led them to lead more selfless lives’; the most we can say is that ‘holders of bachelor’s degrees tend to be … more adept at crafting paragraphs to justify what they want to do,’ but what they want to do might very well be bad.