What We Are Reading Today: The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski

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Updated 12 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski

The Rules of Contagion is a prophetically timed book from an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

It was published immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

“From ‘superspreaders’ who might spark a pandemic or bring down a financial system to the social dynamics that make loneliness catch on, The Rules of Contagion offers compelling insights into human behavior and explains how we can get better at predicting what happens next,” said a review in goodreads.com.

“Along the way, author Adam Kucharski explores how innovations spread through friendship networks, what links computer viruses with folk stories — and why the most useful predictions aren’t necessarily the ones that come true,” the review added.

It said that Kucharski “is very effective in setting out how to look at viruses, plagues, and pandemics. In the process, he provides wonderful explanations of all the details that have likely be mystifying many of the people trying to make sense out of the new on COVID-19 — except for the politics, of course.”

What We Are Reading Today: Two Cheers for Higher Education by Steven Brint

Updated 13 August 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Two Cheers for Higher Education by Steven Brint

Crushing student debt, rapidly eroding state funding, faculty embroiled in speech controversies, a higher-education market disrupted by online competition—today’s headlines suggest that universities’ power to advance knowledge and shape American society is rapidly declining. But Steven Brint, a renowned analyst of academic institutions, has tracked numerous trends demonstrating their vitality. After a recent period that witnessed soaring student enrollment and ample research funding, universities, he argues, are in a better position than ever before.

Focusing on the years 1980–2015, Brint details the trajectory of American universities, which was influenced by evolving standards of disciplinary professionalism, market-driven partnerships (especially with scientific and technological innovators outside the academy), and the goal of social inclusion. 

Conflicts arose: Academic entrepreneurs, for example, flouted their campus responsibilities, and departments faced backlash over the hiring of scholars with nontraditional research agendas. Nevertheless, educators’ commitments to technological innovation and social diversity prevailed and created a new dynamism.

Brint documents these successes along with the challenges that result from rapid change. Today, knowledge-driven industries generate almost half of U.S. GDP, but divisions by educational level split the American political order. Students flock increasingly to fields connected to the power centers of American life and steer away from the liberal arts. And opportunities for economic mobility are expanding even as academic expectations decline.