How to Be an Intellectual makes the case for a renewed critical writing. It tells the story of contemporary criticism and theory from several unique perspectives, notably its institutional and historical circumstances. For instance, it recounts the rise of "the theory journal," under the aegis of the drive for research beginning in the 1970s, which supplanted the little magazine, and it deciphers the evolution of academic keywords from "sound" to "rigor" to "smart." It also draws on a wealth of interviews with leading critics and philosophers, from M. H. Abrams and Donna Haraway to Andrew Ross and Judith Halberstam, presenting profiles of their work and their careers. Throughout, it considers how its academic location has influenced contemporary intellectual work, and one section deals explicitly with the current problems facing American higher education. It offers original analyses of the draconian expansion of student debt (including an account of how it parallels colonial indenture), and the situation of professors, increasingly casualized and subject to unprecedented stratification. Lastly, the book presents a number of personal essays about experiences related to working with books, inside and outside the university. Throughout, How to Be an Intellectual argues for the public obligation of criticism-both to educate its public about otherwise specialized academic matters, and to consider the politics of our culture.