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Readers Can Glean Much From Gumprecht's Work
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Even readers who have spent decades in college towns can glean much from Gumprecht's work. The first chapter, for example, is an interesting exercise in definition. If one selects American cities where university students constitute 20% or more of the total population and, of these, eliminates big cities and suburbs, the result is about 300 college towns. He notes how these entities are rare in other countries (where urban universities are the rule), explains why they are so numerous here (state as opposed to federal control, a scattered population Links Of London Bracelets religious sponsorship, and local boosterism), and identifies six subtypes. He also relates how many of the phenomenon's characteristic traits emerged only after an enrollment surge in the late 1940s.
The thematic chapters are uniformly rich. The University of Oklahoma, with its wooded groves, formal gardens, and public auditoria is a perfect demonstration of the open, verdant nature of most American campuses. Their contrast with cloistered, inward-looking universities in Europe is stark. One learns that fraternities at Ithaca were outgrowths of literary societies and at Manhattan that Aggieville bars were scarce until the 1960s when women were first allowed to enter them freely. Documentation of progressive political initiatives at Davis and the music and art scenes at Athens is interesting, too, including a contradictory reluctance in these increasingly middle-class towns to promote social justice and provide affordable housing. Such conflict between alternative and corporate culture reaches a peak in the Ann Arbor discussion on that town's love-hate relationship with pharmaceutical companies and military contractors. Unlike any other professors I know, Gumprecht has worked previously as a newspaper reporter, sportswriter, librarian, and music executive. This experience flows into the book. His arguments for five of the chapters also have been honed through previous publication in scholarly journals. All this has helped him to achieve balance between detail and overview, history and the present scene, scholarship and storytelling. In fact, I see Links Of London Charms self-indulgence in only two places: the preface where he nostalgically recalls his drifter days in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Athens chapter where he obviously identifies with the six artisans he profiles. If I were his editor, I would have shortened these discussions.
A related problem comes from a compulsion to be thorough. Even though this book is a pleasure to read at 348 pages, I think it would have been even better cut by a third. With a little less detail on 'Shug' Jordan's coaching career at Auburn, Ann Arbor's industries, and Newark's landlords, we would still have a clear picture of the uniqueness of college towns. The bonus might have been Gumprecht's dream to interest a trade publisher in the project and to create one of the few geographers' books ever to capture the attention of the elusive general public.
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