"IF I had learned education," old Cornelius Vanderbilt once said, "I would not have had time to learn anything else." That was the voice of a past America, which admired the man of letters but adored the man of action. It was an America that believed in the self-taught pragmatist, the graduate of life, the tinkerer who achieved progress through hunch and persistence. The intellectual was, at worst, distrusted as arrogant and impractical; at best, he was respected as a cultural adornment and considered all right—in his place.

How long ago that seems. Today...

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