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It may seem like cheating, but my first best book of 2012 is “The Best American Essays of 2012” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), part of the Best American Series. I read it each year and am never disappointed. This year’s selection was made by David Brooks, a moderately conservative author, columnist and PBS commentator. The 24 essays are wide-ranging in topic and tone, and every reader is bound to find a number that delight and instruct.

Among the strongest essays is Mark Edmundson’s “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?” It is a passionate indictment of many American universities, where professors prefer writing abstruse articles to engaging in stimulating teaching, students are focused on what jobs they will get and how much they will earn rather than on the struggles and pleasures of real learning, and administrators are concerned above all that no one makes waves. (Edmundson’s description is at least as applicable to Japan as to the U.S., in my view.)

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