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Masters in General Studies

MaryBeth's picture

By Stan Hunt, the New Yorker


A friend of mine is known to say that he will go back to school when they offer coursework for a Masters in General Studies. It's a joke, of course, but it always makes me wonder – why not? Knowing a little of everything can be just as valuable as knowing a lot about a limited subject. Once, this quality was revered as being a Renaissance Man. But today, it is when the question of profession arises that an advanced degree General Studies becomes difficult to advocate.

A recent report for the Texas Legislature urges college students to “remember their debt when choosing a major,” because degrees in the arts and humanities typically don’t result in jobs that pay as well as those with math and science degrees. (For more on this study, see the Texas Tribune.) This comes as no surprise to anyone who has even considered enrolling in higher education, but instead of reproaching students of the arts or humanities, authors of this report encourage those of us who aren’t rocket scientists to keep debts minimal while we pursue our dreams so that education doesn’t become a burden.

In public libraries, we are doing our part to make education as free as possible. Though we can’t offer you that ever important and costly paper degree, we do offer an endless stream of knowledge with intelligent guidance and prompt responses on any number of subjects at many different levels of understanding. We offer a space that any community member can use to teach and learn, to tutor or study, and even to entertain. We have public access to online resources, and we can even teach you how to use them. The library is no longer limited by the books it has on its shelves; it is as vast as the imagination!

In my personal pursuit of life-long learning, I often find myself perusing the non-fiction stacks. Here are some of my old favorites and some new books I’m excited to dive into that keep my brain functioning like a student. (…with fewer all-nighters and a lot less coffee!)

Adulthood 101

Money Rules by Jean Chatzky: With tips like: "don’t diet when you’re budgeting and don’t budget when you’re dieting," this book has real-world financial tips that make sense to me!

Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen: Because I learned to cook in Louisiana, and even our veggie dishes have bacon in them.

The Illustrated Cook’s Book of Ingredients: For those of us unfamiliar with the 10,000 different types of mushrooms.

The Real Simple Guide to Cleaning: Not only does it tell you what to clean with (with basic supplies, not store-bought specialties), but it gives you a guide for when and how often to clean what!

Arts and Crafts

The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule: Even those inartistic care-givers can inspire artistry in kids!

ReadyMade: How to Make (Almost) Everything by Shoshana Berger

Complete Art Foundation Course by Curtis Tappenden et al.

Crafting with Kids by Jennifer Casa: This is a great resource for moms, nannies, babysitters, and anyone else looking to make some cheap fun with kids.

Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts: Because no one does it like Martha does. (And that's a good thing.)


Lonely Planet: Looking for the most useful, entertaining, and informative guidebook for your next trip? Try Lonely Planet. It includes information like how to effectively use public transportation, what to call different parts of town, or special pronunciations (Austinites who have ever been corrected when saying “Guadalupe” or “Manchaca” know all about the importance of pronunciation).

National Geographic’s Complete National Parks of the United States by Mel White


[new]Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt: I haven't read this one yet, but the reviews are rave and I'm excited to see how he combines theories and ideas about the universe and the origin of life to answer the question - why are we?

The Great Course Audio Books: A teacher of mine was fond of saying, “learning Chemistry is like eating an elephant – you must do it very slowly.” With the Great Courses audio books, I often find myself pausing to ruminate on a single sentence or idea, or frantically looking something up on Wikipedia to find out more. I have listened to a variety of subjects – from the history of language to modern scientific theory – and each has been just as interesting and informative. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Introduction to Law

Don’t Steal Copyrighted Stuff! By Ann Graham Gaines: In the internet age, stealing copyrighted material is easier than ever. This book is easy to read and explains the bare bones of some very complicated copyright law.

NOLO's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law: Answers to your most frequently asked legal questions: Even with three lawyers in my family, I sometimes still need a little extra help translating legalese.


[new]The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker: Because the English Major in me (one of those under-paid degrees mentioned earlier) will never let me let go of the study of language.

Understanding Symbols by Mark O’Connell and Raje Airey: I find studying symbols a great way to get my creative writing juices flowing. Just reading about the way different cultures react to the same symbol, idea, or object can give me a new perspective.

Science and Nature

[new]Do Dogs Dream? By Stanley Coren: This book has some great facts and anecdotes about dogs and provides current research to help us figure out if our dog actually does think he's chasing squirrels while zonked out on the floor.

The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine Third Edition by Michael T. Murray and Joseph Pizzorno: My grandfather is has studied medicine for over 70 years, and he will be the first to tell you that if you don't have to take synthetic drugs, then you shouldn't. This book has great information of natural remedies, along with cases in which the natural cures were not as effective.

Why Beauty is Truth: a History of Symmetry by Ian Stewart: Using the visual concept of symmetry, this book covers issues of science, math, and history. To me, numbers are vast and unknowable, but in this artistic context and with laymen wording, I am able to grasp mathematical concepts that have always eluded me.


[new] Pocket Neighborhoods by Ross Chapin: An interesting look at how to keep a community in an age of cars, technology, and solace.

The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen: Super easy tips to make a change for the green in your daily life.

Off the grid homes: Case studies for sustainable living by Lori Ryker

The beautiful and the damned: a portrait of the new India by Siddhartha Deb

More Information about Education

Check in Adult Non-Fiction 378 for Test Prep books, books on picking colleges, and books to help keep your debt low!

[new] A Year Up: How a Pioneering Program Teaches Young Adults Real Skills for Real Jobs- - with Real Success by Gerald Chertavian.

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz.

And, of course, the best way to ensure that you and your community will have access to free life-long education is to support your local library! We appreciate your support and continued membership.