THIS BOOK, intended to encourage and direct non-academics who wish to undertake private intellectual research, regrettably exemplifies many of the hazards of independent scholarship.
First, a tone of zealotry. Gross comes across as a sour Dr. Dan Asher, at once shrill and sweeping in his dismissal of university life. No one, he assumes, could possibly enjoy graduate school, or find course work there other than narrowing and dull. By contrast, at an independent scholars' seminar "participants attend only because they want really to understand the topic of discussion, not because it is part of a doctoral program or something they are paid to do. They want to go deeper than the surface facts."
Second, hip jargon, carless language, and poor editing. The kindest heart sinks before phrases like "flash on." Even more disturbing is the book's jungle of misprints and inaccuracies. Welker metamorphoses into Weber; Baudelaire appears as Beaudelaire; Cincinnati becomes Cincinatti. Issues are "honed in on" or "responded to." William Shirer's famous history loses its first half, becoming only "The Fall of the Third Reich"; what happened to the rise? Someone named Francoise du Maurier appears in a list of distinguished diarists: Is this Daphne du Maurier? Or George du Maurier? Or perhaps Francois Mauriac (the odds-on favorite)? How can you trust someone who doesn't care enough to make a reference book accurate?
Third, the book's format itself is derivative. Combine inspirational life histories a la How to Win Friends and Influence People with the list-o-mania of What Color is Your Parachute? . Throw in some potted "Small Is Beautiful" philosophizing, a touch of '60s nostalgia, and a faint soupcon of socialism. Et voila! The Independent Scholar's Handbook .
There are a few good things to this otherwise sloppy, uninspired production. Eric Hoffer, Buckminster Fuller and Alvin Toffler, among other mavericks, recount their truly exemplary lives as "independent scholars." Gross himself offers some well-worn advice to would-be scholars. Keep a journal. Join discussion groups. Study or teach in an open university. Learn about grants, libraries and foundations (lists provided). Publish your findings, if not through a commercial publisher then on your own. More crassly, Gross also suggests that independent researchers make up fancy titles for themselves, acquire impressive-looking business cards, and even "create" a foundation or organization to work for. Whatever became of the joy of learning?
In years to come new college graduates and PhDs, unable to find work within the university, will increasingly undertake scholarship on their own time. A handbook would be useful to them. This isn't it.