Leonard Cassuto


Some of the following links lead to whole articles, others to previews hidden by paywalls. Please write to me if there’s something you’d like to read in full.

This cluster of articles about crime fiction showcases some of the concerns on display in my book on the subject, and also follows some tangents from those ideas:

The Case of the Elusive Case, turnrow literary review
Reality Catches Up to Highsmith’s Hard-Boiled Fiction
The Last Testament of Ross Macdonald
Robert B. Parker, the Hard-Boiled Professor

These four originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal:
The Hero Is Hardboiled [PDF]
Gold MacDonald [PDF]
Bound for Perdition [PDF]
Five Best: Tough Guys in American Literature. [PDF]

Here are some reviews that appear on the Barnes and Noble Review website:
This one is on the Library of America’s anthology of true crime writing, and
This one looks at the novels of Charles Ardai and his Hard Case Crime publishing line.
And here’s one on Richard Stark’s Parker novels.
And this is a review of the second, latest, and best Patricia Highsmith biography.
Finally, here’s a brief take on the television show Dexter.

This 2008 look at the work of Richard Wright also touches my interest in crime fiction:

Richard Wright and the Agony Over Integration

(A longer and more scholarly version of this piece appears in an academic collection, Richard Wright: New Readings in the 21st Century.)

My interest in crime fiction surely informed my editorship of The Cambridge History of the American Novel, which showcases many of the connections between classic literature and popular genres. When that book came under attack from a conservative commentator who described it as the work of “barbarians,” I published this paraliptic defense.

This 2006 article is about a different kind of popular fiction:

Beyond ‘Peyton Place’

And here’s an un-appreciation of the popular writer J.D. Salinger on the occasion of his death in 2010. In retrospect, my timing here was a mistake; Salinger’s admirers deserved their time. I still hold to the arguments I made, though.

And here are a few thoughts about the difficulty that filmmakers have had in adapting The Great Gatsby.

I happened upon Theodore Dreiser as a freshman in college when I made the mistake of borrowing a copy of An American Tragedy from a classmate at a point in the term when I could ill spare the time to read an 800-page book. The novel hooked me anyway, and years later I went on to write a handful of articles and coedit a book on Dreiser.

This 2012 essay on The Financier is my first writing on Dreiser for general audiences. The story, of an investment banker who gambles with public money for personal gain, has a certain resonance in today’s world. Appropriately for a piece on a business novel, it appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

A year later, here is another Wall Street Journal essay on a business novel. This one is about Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, in which the business is of marriage.

Bobby Fischer got a lot of attention for his lunatic politics when he died in 2008. As a longtime chessplayer, I thought that these potshots missed the main point:

In Praise of Bobby Fischer

As a lagniappe, here’s a review of a revelatory book of Fischer photos that I wrote in 2011.

I wrote the first essay in this cluster right after the events of September 11th. The second is a kind of a sequel, written a few years later. Both are concerned with the corruption of language by politics.

The Power of Words
Language and Knowing

I’ve long enjoyed the writing of Oliver Sacks, and have wondered what makes it so oddly compelling. In addition to these two articles, I wrote another one on Sacks in 2002. (It appears in a volume called Disability Studies, published by MLA Press.)

The Uncanny Symphony of Oliver Sacks (2007).
Oliver Sacks: The P.T. Barnum of the Postmodern World? (2000).

Most recently, I was able to catch up with Sacks for this interview (2010).

Much of my writing about Sacks touches in some way on the subject of disability. Here’s a related article that was also the subject of an online colloquy sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which published it in 1999. You can reach the article here:

Whose Field Is It Anyway? Disability Studies in the Academy

Also on the subject of disability, here’s an appreciation of E.B. White’s Stuart Little on the occasion of the novel’s 75th birthday in 2020. I view the book through the lens of the freak show: Adventure in Ambiguity [PDF]

This review of a book about the human head and this one about the mathematical search for design in the world further reflect my interest in what might be called romantic science. So does this shorter look at a book about the periodic table, and this review of a book called A Planet of Viruses

A physics professor friend suggested in 2002 that I look into the case of a Bell Labs physicist whose results were a little too perfect. The more I saw, the more interesting the case looked, until I dropped everything and started digging as deeply and widely into it as I could. The result was an article that appeared shortly before an appointed panel formally accused the scientist of fraud:

Big trouble in the world of ‘Big Physics’

This article was so well received (it eventually won a national science writing award) that I wrote another article about the unlikely process of writing it:

A Humanist’s Sojourn Among Scientists

On a different note, here’s my sportswriting debut, an article about the broadcaster John Madden that appeared upon the occasion of Madden’s retirement in 2009.

As a followup to football, I branched out here into a different sport, tennis.

And with a new coedited book on baseball that appeared in time for opening day 2011, I wrote this piece on our national pastime. (Here’s a Ukranian translation of it.)

The research for this article on Woody Guthrie didn’t quite take me from California to the New York Island, but it came close: I roamed and rambled from Brooklyn to Oklahoma, and had a thoroughly great time doing so. The piece appeared near the end of Guthrie’s 2012 centennial year.

This piece remembers Pete Seeger on the occasion of his 90th birthday in 2009.

And here Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger come together in a 2012 review essay that takes in books about them both.

More on music: a review of Greil Marcus’s book about The Doors.

I always figured I should be interested in biographies, and would become puzzled when I couldn’t get through them. In this 2006 article I wondered why that should be so:

The Silhouette and the Secret Self: Theorizing Biography In Our Times

I have a longstanding interest and an insider’s view of the workings of academic culture, so I write occasional reports from the cultural front.

Here’s my first article for the Chronicle of Higher Education (which I’ve written for many times since). The academic job market has gotten worse, if anything, since I wrote this in 1998:

Pressures Fuel the Professionalization of Today’s Graduate Students

The job market also affects those who are already hired, with wide-ranging ramifications that I explored in this 2011 essay:

Faculty Immobility in the New Economy

The languishing job market also provoked this June, 2016 reflection on recent trends tracked by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences:

This Picture Tells a Story

The publication of The New PhD in 2021 brought me back to the academic job market. Here I conceive of the “market” for Ph.D.s in a different way: Graduate students need a Ph.D. that makes sense for their real lives

The poor prospects for academic employment are only one of many pressures on graduate students. What should teachers do when students have trouble finishing? I considered that question in a two-part series on struggling graduate students that appeared in fall, 2010:

Advising the Dissertation Student Who Won’t Finish

Advising the Struggling Dissertation Student

That series has led to a regular gig as a columnist on graduate education. The column is called “The Graduate Adviser.” Here are some more entries:

The Graduate Advisor

Changing the Way We Socialize Doctoral Students (January, 2011)

They’re Mad as Hell: Why our graduate students are worried and angry, and what we can do about it (February, 2011)

Redesigning Today’s Graduate Classroom (March, 2011)

Teaching in the Postdoc Space (April, 2011)

From Dissertation to Book: Just when you thought the publication process couldn’t get any harder. (June, 2011) (This column inspired a live chat sponsored by the Manchester Guardian in the UK. The moderator collected the best bits, as they call them.)

It’s a Dissertation, not a Book (July, 2011)

Demystifying the Dissertation Proposal (September, 2011)

The Time to Degree Conundrum (October, 2011)

Graduate Student Debt Matters (November, 2011)

OK, Let’s Teach Graduate Students Differently But How? (January, 2012)

Designing a Public Ph.D. (February, 2012)

The Comprehensive Exam: Make It Relevant (March, 2012)

Keyword: Placement (April, 2012)

Teaching Ph.D.‘s to Reach Out (May, 2012)

The Adviser and the Committee (July, 2012)

In Search of Hard Data on Nonacademic Careers (September, 2012)

The Multi-Track Ph.D. (October, 2012)

The Dissertation Defense: We’re Doing Something Right (October, 2012)

What If We Made Fewer Ph.D.‘s? (December, 2012)

What Are Low-Ranked Graduate Programs Good For? (January, 2013)

We’re not a Hierarchy, We’re an Ecosystem (February, 2013)

Let’s Do Lunch (March, 2013)

Remember, Professor, Not Too Close (April, 2013)

To Apply or Not to Apply (June, 2013)

Ph.D. Attrition: How Much Is Too Much? (July, 2013)

The Rise of the Mini-Monograph (August, 2013)

Rethinking the Scale of Graduate Education (September, 2013)

The Part-Time Ph.D. Student (October, 2013)

Student-Centered Graduate Teaching (November, 2013)

What’s Your Teaching Philosophy? (December, 2013)

How Should Graduate School Change? An Interview with a Dean (January, 2014)

‘4 Years Is Enough’ and Other Reforms (February, 2014)

More Than One Possible Future (March, 2014)

Time to Degree Revisited: Back to the Future (April, 2014)

Can We Create a Culture that Values Good Teaching? (May, 2014)

The MLA Tells It Like It Is (June, 2014)

Changing the Ph.D.: A Tilt Toward Teaching (July, 2014)

When Your Graduate Students Have Babies (September, 2014)

An Open Letter to Journal Editors: What If You Banned Publication by Graduate Students? (October, 2014)

The Dissertation: Then, Now, and Now What? (December, 2014)

And Teach While You’re at It (January, 2015)

Time From Degree (February, 2015)

The Problem of Professionalization (March, 2015)

Graduate Students Cannot Live by Pimentos Alone (April, 2015)

The Degree for Quitters and Failures: A Look at the Melancholy History of the Master’s Degree (June, 2015)

A Degree of Uncommon Success (June, 2015)

The Sad Story of the PMA (August, 2015)

Why We Need to Remember the Doctor of Arts Degree (September, 2015)

How Do You Measure a Good Teacher Anyway? (October, 2015)

The Alt-Ac Job Search: A Case Study (November, 2015)

Inside the Graduate Admissions Process (February, 2016)

How to Fire Your Adviser (March, 2016)

How to Ask for a Recommendation (April, 2016)

We Keep talking in Separate Rooms (June, 2016)

What Classics Professors Can Teach the Rest of Us (July, 2016)

The Changing Face of Scientific Collaboration (August, 2016)

How Much Is Your Adviser’s Reputation Worth? (October, 2016)

How Much Is Your Lab Director’s Reputation Worth? (November, 2016)

RIP, William Bowen—and the Bowen Report, Too (November, 2016)

The Job-Market Moment of Digital Humanities (January, 2017)

What if They Fail Teacher Training? (February, 2017)

How to Cut Time to Degree. (April, 2017)

A Tenure Track for Teachers? (May, 2017)

Why We Need Ph.D. Career Fairs (June, 2017)

Walking the Career-Diversity Walk (July, 2017)

What Do You Mean, ‘Job’? (August, 2017)

Do We Still Value the Dissertation? (September, 2017)

Documenting What Ph.D.s Do for a Living (October, 2017)

It’s Never too Early to Learn to Think (November, 2017)

How to Go Public, and Why We Must (January, 2018)

The Incredible Shrinking Book Exhibit (February, 2018)

The Grief of the Ex-Academic (February, 2018)

As Scientists Speak Out About Science, Women and Young Scholars Lead the Way (April, 2018)

On the Dissertation: How to Write the Introduction. (May, 2018)

Scholars, Know thy History (July, 2018)

Can You Train Your Ph.D.s for Diverse Careers When You Don’t Have One? (August, 2018)

The Overlooked Lesson of the Ronell-Reitman Case (September, 2018)

Finally a Model for Disciplines to Track Ph.D. Career Outcomes (October, 2018)

On the Value of Dissertation-Writing Groups (December, 2018)

How to Increase Graduate-Student Diversity the Right Way (January, 2019)

The MLA Gets Practical: Less Theory, More Profession (February, 2019)

Worried About the Future of the Monograph? So Are Publishers (April, 2019)

Outcome-Based Graduate School? (May, 2019)

Outcomes-Based Graduate School: the Humanities Edition (June, 2019)

8 Tips to Improve Your CV (July, 2019)

6 Tips to Improve Your Cover Letter (September, 2019)

Anatomy of a Polite Revolt in Columbia’s English Department (September, 2019)

Reprinted in ebook: Endgame: Can Literary Studies Survive? (2020)

A Modern Great Books Solution to the Humanities’ Enrollment Woes (November, 2019)

Why We Need a Yelp for Doctoral Programs (December, 2019)

The Gender Politics of Doctoral Reform (January, 2020)

Start Career Advising for Ph.D. Students in Year 1 (February, 2020)

Graduate Advising in the Time of Covid-19 (April, 2020)

How Can Graduate Programs and Students Prepare for an Uncertain Fall? (May, 2020)

How a Postdoctoral Fellowship Can Be a Bridge to a Nonacademic Career, Too (June, 2020)

Doctoral Training Should Include an Internship (August, 2020)

How to Write a Dissertation during a Pandemic (November, 2020)

The Ph.D. Isn’t Working Right Now (December, 2020)

Will Covid Finally Force Us to Fix Our Broken Doctoral Advising? (January, 2021)

The Concrete Benefits of a Virtual Conference (February, 2021)

How a 2-Day Boot Camp Is Helping Ph.D.s Identify Career Options (March, 2021)

Can Yale Reform Its Humanities Doctoral Programs? (May, 2021)


This July, 2014 essay, Spotting a Bad Adviser—and How to Pick a Good One, appeared in a Workplace Supplement but could easily have been an entry in my regular column.

The same goes for What Will Doctoral Education Look Like in 2025?, which appeared in a Career Supplement in January, 2016.

Professors are taught that the academic career is comprised of a combination of research, teaching, and service—but where did that tricolon come from, and why? I fell into a rabbit hole in search of the answer (especially the origins of the disrespected “service” piece) and emerged in 2016 with University Service: The History of an Idea.

Getting out behind The Graduate School Mess has led my writing essays about my own book. I outlined the argument of the book in this piece in The Conversation in June, 2015.

In September, 2015, I wrote this piece for ‘Grade Point’ in The Washington Post.

In November I wrote this op-ed in the LA Times.

Also in November, I wrote this essay in Inside Higher Ed in response to a disagreement with the activist Marc Bousquet. (We’ve communicated since and agree that our approaches to reform are complementary.)

The covid pandemic has opened a whole new set of discussions about higher education. Here’s an op-ed I wrote for The Washington Post
in 2020 on the choice between zoom education and a gap year. College students: Take a Gap Year, but Use It to Make a Difference (The Washington Post, May 2020)


When it’s publish or perish, exactly how should “publish” work? Here’s a 2002 report on what one professor did:

Breaking the Unfair Rules of Academic Publishing

Professors decide what gets published, who gets grant money, and who gets tenure through a peer review process that allows the judge to be anonymous while the petitioner stands exposed. This has never seemed fair to me, so I wrote this column in protest in 2005:

Evaluation and the Culture of Secrecy

Also on the subject of evaluation, I argue in Why Grading Is Part of My Job that professors need to evaluate their students’ work themselves and maintain final say over their grades.

In 2007 Harvard released a report that called for greater attention to teaching by its professors. But from where should that extra attention be diverted?

Harvard, Be Honest

The value of teaching is a constant theme in my writing about academia. It’s also the subject of this 2014 personal essay:

I Just Wanted to Hear Your Voice.

And here’s another personal essay, a meditation on my choice of profession in the wake of the death of an old classmate, who chose a different one:

The Financier and the Professor.

Academic fields need good public relations and periodic self-evaluation to stay well-nourished and sound. This column looks at the state of American studies through a landmark 2002 encyclopedia that attempts to sum it up:

American Studies: Grasping at a Moving Target

I also served as a member of the Modern Language Association’s Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion. Our 2006 report is available online

All contents © 2008-2018 Leonard Cassuto. All rights reserved.