Poison Ivy

Nathan Heller

William Deresiewicz, a former professor of English at Yale, believes that choices must be made. Shortly after leaving the university, six years ago, he published a widely discussed essay in The American Scholar describing élite college students as whiz careerists caught up in a system that “rarely asked them to think about something bigger than the next assignment.” Now, some pointed essays later, he has sought to thread together his complaints into a prickly graduation tassel of a book. “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life” (Free Press) is an attack on college culture in this overscheduled age. The sheep are the students—he also calls them “Super People,” “an alien species,” and “bionic hamsters”—and he thinks that, with respect to their education, everything they do right puts them in the wrong.