Books They Tried To Make Us Read

An OUMMCBNOM Book Review

Political Attitudes Over the Life Span: The Bennington Women after Fifty Years
Duane Alwin, Ronald Cohen, and Theodore Newcomb

"In this chapter we review in some depth Newcomb's early work at Bennington College." These proud words begin chapter two of this extremely thourough text. Sadly, neither I nor anyone else in my class ever made it to chapter two of Political Attitudes Over the Life Span, or to any of the eight hearty chapters which followed. Perhaps we were simply busy, or preoccupied. However, it is my belief that our inability to read beyond page fifteen of this book is due to one primary factor: Political Attitudes Over the Life Span is arguably the most boring book ever written.

I am told that the book is an important text in the field of political socialization. It details the changes in political attitudes of a group of women who attended Bennington in the 1930's. The original Bennington study addressed how the women's opinions changed while they were still in college, and this book addresses the fifty years which followed. After fifty years of research, and four hundred pages fated to be forever unread, the researchers came to this shocking conclusion: students at "liberal" colleges become more liberal while they're there, and after they leave, sometimes they get a little more conservative. Then they mostly stay that way.

The first point, that students at liberal colleges become more liberal during their college years, is patently obvious to students at such schools. Perhaps, then, assigning this book to thirty students already feeling the leftward pull of their college environment was some sort of collosal, four-hundred-page-with-really-small-print joke. Or perhaps we were supposed to feel that our own experiences were somehow validated because so many pages had been written describing them. Maybe we were supposed to be impressed by the sheer number of times the word "cohort" could appear in a single paragraph. The answer will remain a mystery.

The professor who so well-intentionedly inflicted this document upon my class introduced it to us by saying that the researchers made their results more credible by discussing them from a variety of different angles. This means that the book truly consists of the same ten sentences, reformulated into different words and placed on the aforementioned profligacy of pages in an order meant to fool the reader into thinking that she is reading something new, when in fact it is the same thing she has read over and over again before. For instance, these descriptions of the "impressionable years":

"It seems likely that. . .the openness to attitude formation and/or change persists even into early adulthood, that is, into the early twenties." (21)
"Subsequent theory and support research findings have led to the formulation of a view of late adolscence and early adulthood as particularly 'impressionable years.'" (61)
"His work reinforced the idea that there are 'impressionable years,' a time in early adulthood when people are probably most vulnerable to change." (88)
"Of course, we have already suggested that . . . young adulthood is an impressionable time." (126)
"There is, in fact, broad consensus on the relative lack of stability of sociopolitical orientations in adolescence and early adulthood, and there is growing support for the idea that these are the impressionable years." (135)
"At several points in our earlier discussions we considered whether there are impressionable years in which people are more vulnerable to changing their basic sociopolitical orientations." (259)
"The evidence he had assembled clearly supported the view that attitudes continue to be quite malleable through young adulthood." (259)

I do admit that the book addressed some interesting themes, and the questions it addressed were valid. I suppose that if one had a truly insatiable curiousity about political socialization, this book might just be perfect. But if one's curiosity is finite in the least, I promise that this book will satiate it within a few pages. It may even be enough to convince one never to pick up a book about political psychology again. Or never to pick up a book again at all.
If, however, you are one of the unlucky few to have to read this for a course, I wish you the best of luck. Have fun!
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