“Comrades of the Quest is as dramatic as the best of fiction, beginning with a complex and doomed central character —William Trufant Foster, the 31-year-old visionary idealist and first president of Reed College. It’s a great story, brilliantly constructed and told from multiple and brief, always shifting, points of first-person view. The story never lags.”
–Robin Cody, author of Ricochet River and Another Way the River Has
Visionary. Iconoclast. Rebel. William Trufant Foster set out in 1911 to launch the “ideal college,” and succeeded in building an intellectual liberal arts powerhouse that over the next one hundred years would perpetually seek to break the hard crust of custom and orthodoxy. Foster’s quest for excellence and truth generated a steady yield of students – ranging from poet Gary Snyder to muckraker Barbara Ehrenreich to Apple founder Steve Jobs – who left Reed College eager to challenge society’s dominant paradigms.
Comrades of the Quest chronicles the colorful cultural and social history of this band of young and fiercely unorthodox West Coast intellectuals, and of the institution that nurtured them. Drawing from interviews with more than 1,400 people and from unpublished memoirs stretching back to the college’s first decades, John Sheehy weaves together a riveting story told from first-hand perspectives of this unique community’s ongoing efforts to bring Foster’s vision to life.
With a punch considerably mightier than its weight, the Reed community undertakes an arduous journey through the political and educational developments of the past century— from the progressive education movement in the 1910s, the general education programs between the two world wars, scientific methodology in the 1950s, political relevance in the 1960s, theories of structuralism and deconstruction in the 1970s, the cultural wars in the 1980s, political correctness in the 1990s, to ideological bias in the 2000s—while keeping its founding ideals largely intact.
At a time when America is struggling to sustain its innovative edge, Reed College remains an iconic model, equipping students with a rigorous set of skills and attitudes possible for questioning status quo thinking in a rapidly changing world. Its story, populated with a rich cast of characters, and marked by intense focus, demanding social freedom, and unconventional creativity, is no customary college history, but rather an intellectual thriller of American idealism played out against the hard world of social, religious, and political conformity, ascending great heights and persevering through near-fatal confrontations.