What’s genius got to do with it?! What did Tina Turner have in common with Boston’s Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge? That’s right! Sensing the impending final chapter of American history approaching, the late, talented, and wise Turner removed herself to Switzerland, settling comfortably in a magnificent chateau just down the lake shore from a school most Americans may not have heard of. And one will literally drive over the engineering legacy of that same school as one heads north on I-93, passing TD’s new Garden, perhaps lamenting the loss of the old Garden, and slowly realizing the Red Tavern up in Methuen has been closed for twenty years.
Hello. It’s another book review. Today we briefly examine School For GENIUS: The Story Of The ETH - The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, from 1855 to the Present, Front Street Press, (2005/6). ETH, short for the Allemand “Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule,” is that famed engineering school in Zurich with which some might not be familiar. It’s also sometimes referred to simply as “the Poly.” It is Switzerland's and Europe’s preeminent technical school and consistently ranks as one of the world’s top ten universities.
I purchased School for Genius for two very special, personal reasons. First, I am giving the book as a gift to a most important person who may choose to study at ETH in the near future. Second, it is yet another fine work authored by my dear friend, my brother, and our champion of the West, the late, great Thomas G. Moore. That last point alone should sell this review to my readers.
As many know, Tom and I first met at a school. Many might not know that Tom held three advanced degrees from two European universities. The man understood academia. He knew Europe. Previously, I was vaguely aware of ETH, and he and I had discussed the book and his resident process of researching and writing it. Reading it was nonetheless eye-opening.
As usual, Tom did something utterly fantastic with ETH. He crafted an authoritative history, apology, and exposition that flows and reads like one of his thrilling fictional narratives. It’s not quite like reading an Erik Larson book; one need not constantly remind oneself that Albert Einstein and Carl Jung were real men and not novel characters, but it’s somewhat close.
The book opens with words of knowledgeable praise from Hon. Faith Whittlesey, a two-term former US Ambassador to Switzerland. Tom begins with a bit of history and culture, wherein he compares the ancient and functional idea of Swiss “diversity” with the doomed and deadly buzzword of late American fame. He then moves into the school’s genesis as it was founded based on the established principles of Paris’s École Polytechnique (another school someone might consider).
The rise of ETH coincided with, was governed by, and helped steer the rise of the industrial revolution and the modern world. Tom beautifully covers how a decent and intelligent people bridged the transition from a rural agrarian culture to an advanced industrialized society while maintaining the best elements of both. Repeated emphasis is given to the stubborn independence and decentralization that has marked the Swiss people and their Cantons for centuries. He also delves as deeply into the copious scientific and academic contributions and achievements the school and its score-plus Nobel laureates have given the world as 270 pages will allow.
Here I will stop and highly recommend School For Genius. If not for my two privy circumstances, I might not have ever developed an interest in the subject matter. It is, I suppose, a niche study. Yet, if you or someone you know has an interest in educational history, engineering, math, Tom Moore prose, or the continuation of civilization, then do consider adding the book to your reading list.
As for gifted young American students who might contemplate ETH as their future alma mater, Tom perhaps outdoes even his own general curiosity and kindness. He dedicates a short section towards the end of the book to just those American kids who might follow Mrs. Turner toward Zurich. The requisite standards are high. Therefore, so too should be the intellectual caliber of the potential scholar. If one is qualified, and one decides to pursue this select excellence, then the process is doable. At Tom’s original press time, the annual cost of attending ETH was approximately $950. This year, it is closer to $1,500. That figure applies to all students, domestic and international. Compare that price to the tuition at MIT. Compare Zurich to Boston, and the CH to the US. ETH is oftentimes referred to as the “MIT of Europe.” That moniker might be reversed.
For general education buffs, Appendix II provides a cursory examination of the general Swiss school system. As one might guess, compared to what passes for schooling in the US, the CH’s approach is, in a word, “better.” In a self-propagating system of merit and advancement, ETH does its part to keep the cycle spinning much like CERN’s ETH-affiliated Large Hadron Collider. The adventuresome American pupil might further assist this grand process. Learn much more in Moore’s School For Genius.
A special note: Based on my outstanding experience, I also highly recommend Booketeria of San Antonio, Texas as a used bookstore of great worth. If you order School For Genius or any other preowned book from Amazon, do look for them as a source. At their website, they maintain an independent catalog of titles. For the ridiculously low price I paid for my copy, what was delivered bordered on the unbelievable. My mint condition book arrived early and double wrapped like a Christmas present. I sincerely thank these good people for their extreme dedication to quality and service.
Up there in Heaven, I once again thank you, mon frère. Really miss you.
This piece was published at Perrin Lovett on August 9, 2023.
Perrin Lovett is a novelist, author, and small-time meddler. He is a loveable, unobtrusive somewhat-right-wing Christian nationalist residing somewhere in Dixie. The revised second edition of his groundbreaking novel, THE SUBSTITUTE, is available from Shotwell Publishing and Amazon. Find his ramblings at www.perrinlovett.me. Deo Vindice!