What are the themes of The Masters?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The Masters by C. P. Snow is actually the fifth book in an eleven book series, Strangers and Brothers, chronicling life in Cambridge and other centers of power in twentieth-century Britain. The setting of the book is modeled on Christ's College, Cambridge and portrays the scheming involved in the election to replace the Master of the college who is dying of cancer.

The first theme of the book is the nature of political power struggles as they are enacted among small groups of elite individuals, and the ways in which people are transformed by their participation in the process.

The next group of themes have to do with the power and prestige systems of the old universities. There are multiple different visions of the ideal Master. One is of someone with scholarly distinction. Another has to do with aggressive funding raising, administrative skill, and management ability in a technocratic sense. The final one is a relic of an older, aristocratic tradition, where clubbability and having the right social style and connections matter most.

Finally, C. P. Snow's common theme of the relationship between the sciences and the humanities surface in the disciplinary alliances underlying some of the academic politics in the book.

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