My post on Matlin led me to start thinking about what my favorite books in higher education might be. I do not represent this as a definitive list of the best or most important books in the field: This list is necessarily idiosyncratic and reflective of my own interests. it includes books ranging from the informative overview for the newcomer to the provocative.
The Chosen by Jerome Karabel. This book won more awards than Michael Phelps and might break a flimsy coffee table. It's also an engrossing and compelling look at the history of admissions at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
The Power of Privilege by Joseph Soares is another book about elite admissions. This book was what inspired my original, now-abandoned thesis topic.
The Higher Learning in America by Thorstein "Pecuniary Emulation" Veblen. His rant on the commercialization of higher education from a century ago still is powerful, not to mention really funny. Captains of Erudition everywhere, beware!
How Colleges Work by Robert Birnbaum. The title tells you exactly what it is, and it is as accessible to laypersons and practitioners as it is to researchers. My criticism of this book is that the types of college governance he lays out are not empirically tested but are based on experience and gut feeling.
I was surprised to see how short this list turned out to be. Notice too that the first three books are written by sociologists and only one is by an education researcher, albeit one with an organization theory perspective. A few runners-up:
Best fiction: Stover at Yale by Owen Johnson with an honorable mention to Jane Smiley's Moo.
Best finance book: Tuition Rising by Ron Ehrenberg.
Best edited volume: The High-Status Track by Kingston and Lewis.
Best book that's not specific to the field and yet ought to be read by every higher ed researcher: The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills.
Best book based mostly on experience instead of research: The American University by Jacques Barzun.
Best book on the presidency: Legitimacy in the Academic Presidency by Rita Bornstein.
Best book on fundraising: Philanthropy in the Shaping of American Higher Education by Curti and Nash.