The book is based on a series of lectures and papers by Clark Kerr, a former president and chancellor of University of California, Berkeley. To this has been added comments and thoughts with a perspective of over 35 years of rapid change of the American university. Kerr had a deep and wide knowledge about the US leading universities in all their variety and their changes over the post-war period. In spite of the book being written over such a long period there are a very clear themes running through the book; the main one the complexity and diversity of the American research university. He calls them "multiversities".
As the American research system has been so extremely successful both in furthering basic research, training a great number of new scholars, researchers, engineers and teachers, and getting useful things out of the research, it has also been a model for many European university systems and for the rapidly growing university systems in China and other parts of Asia. This book is therefore of interest not only for Americans but for all who are working in and with universities and wonder where they are heading. It is a very realistic picture Kerr is giving of the modern big research university, hardly governable, uncomfortable in its diversity and all its contradictions. But this is the important message: there are no easy ways to achieve excellence in the modern university system.