William Deresiewicz

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William Deresiewicz (/dəˈrɛzəwɪts/ də-REZ-əwits)[1] is an American author, essayist, and literary critic. Born in 1964 in Englewood, New Jersey, Deresiewicz attended Columbia University before teaching English at Yale University from 1998-2008. He is the author of A Jane Austen Education, How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter (Penguin Press, 2011) and Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (Free Press, 2014). His All Points blog appeared on the American Scholar website from March 2011 to September 2013.[2]

His criticism directed at a popular audience appears in The Nation,[3] The American Scholar,[4][5] The New Republic,[6] The New York Times,[7][8] and Harper's.[9][10]

Early life and education[edit]

Deresiewicz grew up in a Jewish home and attended a yeshiva high school. He has described himself as being "thrown out" of the high school and has imagined that he might have been charged with "gross insubordination and incipient atheism."[11]

Deresiewicz received his B.A. in biology and psychology (1985), his master's in journalism (1987), and Ph.D. in English (1998) from Columbia University.[12]



In 1998, Deresiewicz joined the faculty of Yale University. He taught courses in modern British fiction, Great Books, Indian fiction, and writing, among other areas.[13] He left academia in 2008 to become a full-time writer.


In 2011, Deresiewicz published A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter. In it, he divulges that his life was changed and he became a better person after reading Jane Austen for the first time at age 26.[14]

Deresiewicz is a contributing writer for The Nation and a contributing editor for The New Republic. His writings span such topics as books, higher education, culture, and politics. His article "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education," along with his speech "Solitude and Leadership," have gone viral on the internet.


A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter[edit]

In this memoir of a sort, Deresiewicz admits that he was initially resistant to reading 19th-century British fiction. Soon, though, he discovered that Austen’s novels are valuable tools in the journey towards becoming an adult.

Deresiewicz juxtaposes his reading of Jane Austen with insight into his own life. For example, the reader learns about his controlling father, a series of girlfriends that come and go, and the struggles of being raised in a religious household.[15]

"The Disadvantages of an Elite Education"[edit]

In the summer of 2008, Deresiewicz published a controversial essay for The American Scholar titled The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. In it, he criticizes the Ivy League and other elite colleges and universities for supposedly coddling their students and discouraging independent thought. He claims that elite institutions produce students who are unable to communicate with people who don't have the same backgrounds as themselves, noting as the first example his own inability to talk to his plumber. Deresiewicz then uses Al Gore and John Kerry, graduates of Harvard and Yale (respectively), as examples of politicians who are out of touch with the lives of most Americans.[16]

"The Disadvantages of an Elite Higher Education" went viral, receiving more than 40,000 shares on Facebook.[17] Many readers had mixed reactions to the article, with plenty of criticism coming directly from the Ivy League, its peer institutions, and many others who accused him of cherry picking. The IvyGate blog published a facetious rebuttal, "Isn't Harvard Just the Worst?", telling the Class of 2012 to "enjoy these last few months of innocence, because soon you'll join the ranks of an organization whose sole purpose is to destroy the world."

Nonetheless, the article became the groundwork for Deresiewicz' book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014).[18]

"Solitude and Leadership"[edit]

In October 2009, Deresiewicz delivered a speech titled "Solitude and Leadership" to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was later published in The American Scholar and went viral online.[19] In it, he makes the case that leadership entails more than just success and accomplishment. Citing observations he made of students at Yale and Columbia, Deresiewicz discusses the ubiquity of “world-class hoop jumpers” who “can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.” [20] Instead, he argues, true leaders (such as General David Petraeus) are those who are able to step outside the cycle of achievement and hoop jumping in order to think for themselves. Deresiewicz claims that solitude is essential to becoming a leader.[21]


As a writer, Deresiewicz has won or been nominated for several awards.

Personal life[edit]

Deresiewicz lives in Portland, Oregon.


  1. ^ William Deresiewicz & Mark Edmundson.
  2. ^ Deresiewicz, William. "The Complete All Points". Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "William Deresiewicz". Author Bios. The Nation. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  4. ^ William Deresiewicz (2007). "Love on Campus". The American Scholar. 
  5. ^ William Deresiewicz (2008). "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education". The American Scholar. 
  6. ^ William Deresiewicz (2012-02-22). "That is So! That is So!". The New Republic. 
  7. ^ William Deresiewicz (2005-01-09). "You Talkin' to Me?". New York Times. 
  8. ^ William Deresiewicz (2000-08-06). "Among The Bad Boys". New York Times. 
  9. ^ Deresiewicz, William (June 2015). "What a Piece of Work: Mark Greif's intellectual excavations". Harper's. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 
  10. ^ Deresiewicz, William (September 2015). "The Neoliberal Arts: How college sold its soul to the market". Harper's. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 
  11. ^ https://theamericanscholar.org/a-jew-in-the-northwest
  12. ^ William, Deresiewicz. "The Academic Dilemma". Spectator Publishing Company. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Deresiewicz, William. "Long Story Short: About Me". Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Flynn, Kathleen. "A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz". Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Seymour, Miranda. "Lessons From Jane Austen". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  16. ^ William, Deresiewicz. "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education". Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  17. ^ William, Deresiewicz. "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education". Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  18. ^ "Free Press to Publish EXCELLENT SHEEP: Thinking for Yourself, Inventing Your Life, and Other Things the Ivy League Won't Teach You by William Deresiewicz". PR Newswire Association. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  19. ^ William, Deresiewicz. "Solitude and Leadership". Phi Beta Kappa. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Denning, Steve. "The Key Missing Ingredient In Leadership Today". Forbes. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  21. ^ "Want To Be A Leader? 'Learn To Be Alone With Your Thoughts'". Boston University. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  22. ^ John Williams (January 14, 2012). "National Book Critics Circle Names 2012 Award Finalists". New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2013. 
  23. ^ The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. "2013 Hiett Prize Recipient Dr. William Deresiewicz Keynote Speech". 

External links[edit]

Online articles[edit]