Director's Book Course Dark Money

Fall 2016

The Director's Book Course -- offered in first half of each semester -- is a one-credit discussion-centered exploration of a single text. Graded pass/fail, the course satisfies the Honors Program condition for taking at least one honors course per academic year.

The text for this fall is Jane Mayer's Dark Money. Selected by honors students for its relevance
to the 2016 election season, the books analyzes the role of wealthy donors in shaping the
national political scene in the United States. 

The book is the result of the author's background research in which she interviewed hundreds
of people, studied court records and published reports, and drew on the data she found in
private papers. Her account follows the trail of millions of dollars through a complex network of academic institutions, think tanks, business leaders, and media outlets that has two inter-
connected aims: (1) influencing public opinion that will in turn (2) shape government policy on issues like taxation, energy, worker safety, pollution, and budgetary priorities. 

Mayer, a New Yorker staff writer, challenges the commonly-held notion that the late-20th-century conservative movement in culture and politics is the natural outgrowth of widespread dissatisfaction with "big government." She presents evidence for her thesis that opposition to governing has been cultivated, rather than naturally developing, by a broad-spectrum campaign that has strictly followed a carefully calibrated plan change the American political landscape.

ReadingThe first meeting of the course will be on Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 7:00 p.m. in the Honors Center (Mark Hopkins Hall, second floor). At that opening meeting, the class will collaborate in establishing a course organization and settle on a sequence of topics and readings. Scheduling will include a sign-up for students to take a turn initiating class discussion by posing analytical questions about a topic. The opening meeting will also feature a pattern recognition exercise that works toward with identifying and providing evidence for the arc of a text's argument. Subsequent meetings will examine critically the segments of Mayer's argument, and the class will experiment with tactics for composing a book review that weighs a text's strengths and weaknesses. Each student will compose a brief essay to be submitted at the course conclusion. 

Since the book was chosen for its relevance to the election season, course discussions will likely branch out to consider important questions of current public debate. If there is student interest on certain topics, the course might also include guest lectures or participation in relevant campus events. 

Questions or concerns about the course can be addressed to Prof. David Langston, the course instructor ( or the Honors Director, Prof. Susan Edgerton ( 

Some students have asked if it is permissible to acquire the text for study on an electronic device, and the answer is "yes." (There is a Kindle version of the book that can be read on the Kindle app for computers and tablets.)