Thoughts on The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King

This isn’t actually a book review, although I will say that The Institute by Stephen King is a very readable horror story in the style of Firestarter – though not as good as King’s earlier work. Goodreads rates it 4.2, while I give it a less generous 3.

I want to focus this post on the child-prodigy main character, who is at a school for the gifted and is intending to study engineering at MIT and English at Emerson College in Boston. The boy’s parents would prefer that he studies at the University of Minnesota (UMN):

‘What about the University of Minnesota?’ she asked … Greer sighed. ‘You might as well consider taking him out of the Brod and putting him in an ordinary high school. We’re talking about a boy for whom the IQ scale is useless. He knows where he wants to go. He knows what he needs.’

Now Times Higher Education ranks MIT as #4 in the world for engineering, and UMN only at #95. And it is true that MIT has considerable prestige. But really! There is not that much difference between undergraduate engineering degrees in the US (at least in good institutions), since high school standards determine the entry point, and professional societies determine the graduation standards.

For a very bright student, extracurricular activities that go beyond the formal coursework become important (like the UMN Solar Vehicle Project and the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team). I have met students from both those teams, and they were all bright.

Solar racing cars built by students from MIT (left, credit) and UMN (right, credit). Click images to zoom.

For a genius-level student, like the child in this novel, flexibility is perhaps most important, along with professors that have the time and inclination to mentor unusually gifted students. Those things are not necessarily more likely at a more famous institution, and Stephen King seems to be recycling some unjustified prejudice here.

Some of the mathematics and science in the book is also a little dubious, but I do not have the time to discuss that.

* * *
The Institute by Stephen King: 3 stars


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