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The Education of Robert Nifkin

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The Education of Robert Nifkin is the education of a beatnik. Set in 1950s Chicago and conveyed in the form of a college essay, Robert Nifkin details his journey from a mind-numbing high school that smells to the curriculum-free carnival of a private school ruled by bohemians, beatniks, and freaks.


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The Education of Robert Nifkin is the education of a beatnik. Set in 1950s Chicago and conveyed in the form of a college essay, Robert Nifkin details his journey from a mind-numbing high school that smells to the curriculum-free carnival of a private school ruled by bohemians, beatniks, and freaks.

30 review for The Education of Robert Nifkin

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Daniel Pinkwater almost makes me angry. Having read all of his personal essays and NPR pieces (I even own his dog training book!), I could see that many of the elements and characters from this book were drawn from his own life. And it's just not fair. My teenage years were nothing like Robert Nifkin's! Or Pinkwater's, or Alan Mendelssohn's, or any of his other characters. I never skipped school, only to find a strange and fascinating group of delinquents and intellectuals to fall in with. I'm n Daniel Pinkwater almost makes me angry. Having read all of his personal essays and NPR pieces (I even own his dog training book!), I could see that many of the elements and characters from this book were drawn from his own life. And it's just not fair. My teenage years were nothing like Robert Nifkin's! Or Pinkwater's, or Alan Mendelssohn's, or any of his other characters. I never skipped school, only to find a strange and fascinating group of delinquents and intellectuals to fall in with. I'm not saying I'd like to be an overweight boy who smokes cigars, but I wouldn't mind winning thousands of dollars by betting on a horse named Kanthaka. I wouldn't mind going to a school where you could choose to go to class, or not, and read whatever you wanted, and occasionally go to a coffee shop to talk about it with your teacher. In point of fact, I would have killed for such a school experience. All of Pinkwater's heroes are, on the surface, losers. Often very introverted, very passive, they nevertheless fall into strange but wonderful company and have strange but wonderful adventures. If I moved to Chicago, I doubt I could find anyone like a Pinkwater character, and well . . . it's just not fair! So I suppose I will just have to read about Pinkwater's Chicago, and how Robert Nifkin educated himself, essentially, with the help of his coterie of odd friends. This book was classic Pinkwater, Pinkwater at his best, frankly. I was howling with laughter for the entire book, yet as I pointed out to my husband, I think the book would have been wasted on a younger reader. Do kids these days know about the "Red Scare" of the 1950's? Would they get the jokes about Beatniks? Or even be able to decipher Mr. Nifkin Sr's thick Polish accent? All I can do is wait a few years and then read this with my own children when they are a bit older, making sure that they understand how freaking funny it is. I owe it to Pinkwater, for the hours of joy he's given me. Even though I'm jealous.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    As much as I love Daniel Pinkwater --- and I do, I have to admit I went into this with trepidation. Oh yes, trepidation. I've only ever read middle grade books from him, so knowing this was a YA had me wondering if he could pull it off. BUT OF COURSE HE DID! Daniel Pinkwater is a freaking genius. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Gen.ius. I imagine this book was influenced by his own experiences. Just guessing. It was hilarious, but in such a Pinkwater way. And just like I feel after ever As much as I love Daniel Pinkwater --- and I do, I have to admit I went into this with trepidation. Oh yes, trepidation. I've only ever read middle grade books from him, so knowing this was a YA had me wondering if he could pull it off. BUT OF COURSE HE DID! Daniel Pinkwater is a freaking genius. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Gen.ius. I imagine this book was influenced by his own experiences. Just guessing. It was hilarious, but in such a Pinkwater way. And just like I feel after every book I read of his -- he has me wishing I could have experienced Chicago in the fifties. But since I can't -- this book is the next best thing!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brigitte Ruel

    I had read this a couple years ago and then decided to listen to the audio version which is free on Daniel Pinkwater's website. A student in grade 8 was listening to it at my suggestion for his book report and we had a micro book-club discussion group happening in the library. It is interesting to listen to this book in this very politically correct age because I feel like today it would have been heavily edited for a young adult audience because of language and subject matter. Big topics in the I had read this a couple years ago and then decided to listen to the audio version which is free on Daniel Pinkwater's website. A student in grade 8 was listening to it at my suggestion for his book report and we had a micro book-club discussion group happening in the library. It is interesting to listen to this book in this very politically correct age because I feel like today it would have been heavily edited for a young adult audience because of language and subject matter. Big topics in the book seem to be communism and smoking, both things which my grade 8 student couldn't understand or relate to or even see the humour in. He didn't understand any of the arts references either, which is sad. I guess it was because of what a devoted Pinkwater fan I am that I thought this kid would get it. I read everything I could by Daniel Pinkwater when I was in elementary school. He is my hero. But times have changed and now I would recommend this for grades 11 to adult or they will not understand your enthusiasm for it. My student liked that the book was funny but that's about it. This book is about getting an education in an unconventional way. I feel like every kid on the planet would probably learn a hell of a lot more following the alternative Robert Nifkin approach. Hell, I wish I could go to Wheaton now.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Martha

    This book was absolutely, positively the funniest book I have read this year. Robert Nifkin is a modern Holden Caulfield: i.e. witty, resourceful, not so self-absorbed. Robert goes from being a greasy, clueless new kid in a gigantic school district (thus, he is hardly acknowledged and can easily skip out of class) to a totally cool, artsy freak. If you have a teen who needs some inspiration, or if you need a quick and dirty book that will give you a cathartic humor experience (code for: I laughe This book was absolutely, positively the funniest book I have read this year. Robert Nifkin is a modern Holden Caulfield: i.e. witty, resourceful, not so self-absorbed. Robert goes from being a greasy, clueless new kid in a gigantic school district (thus, he is hardly acknowledged and can easily skip out of class) to a totally cool, artsy freak. If you have a teen who needs some inspiration, or if you need a quick and dirty book that will give you a cathartic humor experience (code for: I laughed so hard I almost wet myself..), check this out.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Medeia Sharif

    Robert Nifkin is a teen in 1950’s Chicago writing an essay about his high school experience…and what an interesting one it is. He has Eastern European parents with their immigrant quirks, teachers obsessed with banishing communism, and a group of free-spirited beatnik friends. This reads like a character-driven classic, reminding me of books I read back in my high school years. This novel gives the reader a strong sense of the Chicago setting and the spirit of that decade.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ms. K-M

    If you had a choice between sitting in a school where you all you did was copy from the blackboard all day and going to a school where you didn't even have to show up every day, you'd probably make the same choice Robert Nifkin did. But, as he explains in his college essay, he probably learned a lot more *not* going to class than he ever did showing up to school.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Turi

    A recent boingboing review by Cory Doctorow of a Daniel Pinkwater book I haven't read? Of course I'll pick it up! Fun, quick little read. Pinkwater's trademark dorky outcast kid finds his place in the world, with moments of hilarity and long stretches of absurdity.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Keith Huddleston

    It is fun to follow the character's awareness of the world -- it paints a beautiful picture of Chicago and a shows how horrible school can be. It is uneven in pacing, and probably too ambitious for the size of the book, but has it's share of quotes and humorous moments. It is set in the 1950's.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Zhichao

    Borrowed this from the Library after finding out about it via a gaming related article.(https://insertcredit.com/2012/04/09/p...) This is a belated review, so I don't remember much of the book. LOL. (Read it around May 2012) Borrowed this from the Library after finding out about it via a gaming related article.(https://insertcredit.com/2012/04/09/p...) This is a belated review, so I don't remember much of the book. LOL. (Read it around May 2012)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sheryl

    So good! surreal and funny.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Arminzerella

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Robert Nifkin’s parents emigrated rather recently to the States, and he’s been put in public school – which he hates. His father has all sorts of interesting ideas about child development and teenagers (believing that when one hits high school one is an adult), and although Robert isn’t allowed to smoke cigarettes, his father keeps him supplied with the more manly rum-soaked cigars. Nifkin’s schoolmates and teachers are all strange or quirky in some way, but school sucks the life out of Robert a Robert Nifkin’s parents emigrated rather recently to the States, and he’s been put in public school – which he hates. His father has all sorts of interesting ideas about child development and teenagers (believing that when one hits high school one is an adult), and although Robert isn’t allowed to smoke cigarettes, his father keeps him supplied with the more manly rum-soaked cigars. Nifkin’s schoolmates and teachers are all strange or quirky in some way, but school sucks the life out of Robert and he stops going one day. Eventually his truancy catches up with him (it takes months), and the public school recommends that he be sent to some kind of juvenile detention center. Robert knows he doesn’t want to be there either, but he learns of another place from some friends: The Wheaton School. Wheaton is categorized as an elite prep school, but it’s mostly just bizarre – staffed by quirky teachers and attended, when it suits them, by equally quirky students. Most of the time Wheaton seems like a joke, but Robert actually does get an education out of it, especially when he takes summer school. Mr. Gershkowitz, the summer school teacher, manages his students by surprising them, giving them real life adventures and assignments that take them out of the classroom and into the world. He threatens, he inspires, and he really gets their attention. It’s completely brilliant. Plus, it’s understood that being in school all summer all day long is more than one can ask of any student, so they have to show up at least most of the time (any student absent more than an undisclosed number of days will be failed), and they always have to have a book they’re reading which they must be able to discuss with the teacher should he ask about it (and it should change, because if it bores the teacher he’ll fail them). This was a unique and hysterical book. I’d heard Daniel Pinkwater was funny, but really I had no idea just how funny. This story is supposed to be Robert Nifkin’s college entrance application. Yeah. And while you’re reading it and laughing and thinking no way do places like this exist, you’re also secretly hoping they do and wishing they did. I think a lot of kids would benefit from a more rough and tumble experiential education of this nature. Excerpt: “Gershkowitz employed what he called an intellectual scavenger hunt, or challenge questions. He would bark out topics to all of us, or one topic to a student. Then we were expected to scurry off and find out as much as we could about the topic he had barked.” (p. 151)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brenna

    Robert Nifkin, a "boy of size" who survived a semester of bigoted, Commie-hunting incompetent teachers and moved on to a loosely-controlled "school" of all but self-educating "classes," is applying for college entry. This story is the product of the requisite application essay question asking the candidate to describe his or her schooling experience. A very original book dealing with the decidedly unique trials and triumphs of a boy coming of age in a world where the adults seem to be the primary Robert Nifkin, a "boy of size" who survived a semester of bigoted, Commie-hunting incompetent teachers and moved on to a loosely-controlled "school" of all but self-educating "classes," is applying for college entry. This story is the product of the requisite application essay question asking the candidate to describe his or her schooling experience. A very original book dealing with the decidedly unique trials and triumphs of a boy coming of age in a world where the adults seem to be the primary source of contention, The Education of Robert Nifkin is a story unlike any other. Though incredibly bizarre, the story itself is completely plausible - and entertaining. The concept of being written on the behest of an essay question, however, does wear somewhat thin. Perhaps this idea would be more adequate for a short story rather than an entire novel? Also, the story itself clearly takes place in the 1950s, and as such does show its generational age (though it was written in more contemporary times). This is not to the story's detriment, of course, but can possibly have the effect of making Robert Nifkin and his peers (as well as their day-to-day concerns) seem a little irrelevant by today's standards. The Education of Robert Nifkin is a story with a lot of heart. Young Robert's parents are three-dimensional characters (if just as eccentric as the rest of the portrayals within the book), and the story tackles the entire world of its protagonist - itself a great achievement over the vast selection of young adult novels proffered. "Father knows best?" Not in these pages! Though not necessarily author Daniel Pinkwater's most humorous work, this book presents a short sampling for those unaccustomed to his writing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pop Bop

    A kind, generous genius First, a disclaimer. I admire almost everything Pinkwater has ever written, from the Larry the polar bear books for little kids up through the adult novels, (like Afterlife Diet). But, I think the young adult works are absolutely the best, and this one, while less well known than Snarkout Boys or Alan Mendelsohn, is aguably the best. Many of Pinkwater's ya books have a touch, or a very large helping, of the fantastic or of "urban magical realsim". And, he can make that wor A kind, generous genius First, a disclaimer. I admire almost everything Pinkwater has ever written, from the Larry the polar bear books for little kids up through the adult novels, (like Afterlife Diet). But, I think the young adult works are absolutely the best, and this one, while less well known than Snarkout Boys or Alan Mendelsohn, is aguably the best. Many of Pinkwater's ya books have a touch, or a very large helping, of the fantastic or of "urban magical realsim". And, he can make that work. But in this book he plays it straight, if a cigar smoking habitual truant with a poet's eye can be said to be playing it straight. The appeal, to me, of this book is that we have a self-sufficient, clear eyed, slightly bemused, resourceful teenager interacting with and observing surprising people. Pinkwater is kind and generous with these characters, and the underlying theme seems to be one of affection for the humans who populate his remembered worlds. There is no overwrought angst, and this skewed world is a very good place to be. Anyway, the communist ROTC instructor and Nifkin's no-nonsense Dad are worth the price of the book right there. Everything else is gravy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Int'l librarian

    Like most any Pinkwater story, there’s a lot of funny moments. One of my favorite lines is when Pamela/Natasha accepts a cigar from Robert. “This is good. It tastes like squirrels at play.” And as a teacher, it’s easy to appreciate a principal who kicks off the Day One assembly with “Shaddup, students.” But the book earns its fifth star with the message that school and sadism are not synonyms. More students than not are left behind in the Wheaton School model of dysfunction and aimlessness. And Like most any Pinkwater story, there’s a lot of funny moments. One of my favorite lines is when Pamela/Natasha accepts a cigar from Robert. “This is good. It tastes like squirrels at play.” And as a teacher, it’s easy to appreciate a principal who kicks off the Day One assembly with “Shaddup, students.” But the book earns its fifth star with the message that school and sadism are not synonyms. More students than not are left behind in the Wheaton School model of dysfunction and aimlessness. And the school’s summer syllabus would never fit the US public school mold. But it fits Robert Nifkin almost perfectly, and there has to be a lesson there for somebody. This book left me feeling good about learning and reading. One more note: Robert is in 9th grade as the story begins, but I feel more comfortable recommending the book to high school seniors, as opposed to middle schoolers. Too many cigars and swears.

  15. 5 out of 5

    ACS Librarian

    Like most any Pinkwater story, there 19s a lot of funny moments. One of my favorite lines is when Pamela/Natasha accepts a cigar from Robert. 1CThis is good. It tastes like squirrels at play. 1D And as a teacher, it 19s easy to appreciate a principal who kicks off the Day One assembly with 1CShaddup, students. 1D But the book earns its fifth star with the message that school and sadism are not synonyms. More students than not are left behind in the Wheaton School model of dysfunction and aimless Like most any Pinkwater story, there 19s a lot of funny moments. One of my favorite lines is when Pamela/Natasha accepts a cigar from Robert. 1CThis is good. It tastes like squirrels at play. 1D And as a teacher, it 19s easy to appreciate a principal who kicks off the Day One assembly with 1CShaddup, students. 1D But the book earns its fifth star with the message that school and sadism are not synonyms. More students than not are left behind in the Wheaton School model of dysfunction and aimlessness. And the school 19s summer syllabus would never fit the US public school mold. But it fits Robert Nifkin almost perfectly, and there has to be a lesson there for somebody. This book left me feeling good about learning and reading. One more note: Robert is in 9th grade as the story begins, but I feel more comfortable recommending the book to high school seniors, as opposed to middle schoolers. Too many cigars and swears.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fuzzy Gerdes

    Daniel Pinkwater is one of my all-time favorite authors and so it was with a bit of surprise that the recent PR for his latest book made me realized that he had written several young adult novels that I had just plain missed. The Education of Robert Nifkin was my first catching up. Nifkin follows the titular character as he attempts to make his way through high school in 1950s Chicago. It's territory Pinkwater has covered before, but this time Chicago is just Chicago (not "Baconburg" or "Hogtown" Daniel Pinkwater is one of my all-time favorite authors and so it was with a bit of surprise that the recent PR for his latest book made me realized that he had written several young adult novels that I had just plain missed. The Education of Robert Nifkin was my first catching up. Nifkin follows the titular character as he attempts to make his way through high school in 1950s Chicago. It's territory Pinkwater has covered before, but this time Chicago is just Chicago (not "Baconburg" or "Hogtown") and there's no aliens or talking lizards. But the characters are just as large and vividly drawn and the city itself is as fascinating a character. I think I live in Chicago partly because of Pinkwater's love of the city.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    This novel / novella in the vague shape of a college essay is the story of Robert Nifkin’s high school career. He first attended a public high school, where all of his teachers wrote long notes on the blackboard and the students were to copy them into their own notebooks. Not surprisingly, he found this immensely boring and stopped going to school. When the school system was about to send him to reform school, he found a private school that had few rules, where he was responsible for his own edu This novel / novella in the vague shape of a college essay is the story of Robert Nifkin’s high school career. He first attended a public high school, where all of his teachers wrote long notes on the blackboard and the students were to copy them into their own notebooks. Not surprisingly, he found this immensely boring and stopped going to school. When the school system was about to send him to reform school, he found a private school that had few rules, where he was responsible for his own education. Nifkin learned at Wheaton School. I read the book, finished it, but don’t believe it, as a novel it didn’t work for me, though I did laugh out loud sometimes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Warren-Newport Public Library

    I'm not sure why but I wasn't looking forward to reading this. Maybe it was the dated cover or not knowing anything about the book but I can't begin to say how wrong I was. I have no reservations calling this a more wry and sarcastic Catcher in the Rye. I felt the writing and tone were perfectly dated and made reading the story more fun and interesting. It reads like historical fiction even though it has many themes that today's coming of age stories have, girls, rebelling against authority, dis I'm not sure why but I wasn't looking forward to reading this. Maybe it was the dated cover or not knowing anything about the book but I can't begin to say how wrong I was. I have no reservations calling this a more wry and sarcastic Catcher in the Rye. I felt the writing and tone were perfectly dated and made reading the story more fun and interesting. It reads like historical fiction even though it has many themes that today's coming of age stories have, girls, rebelling against authority, disinclination to attend school, all without taking its self too seriously. Really, really liked it.(Amanda)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I remember really enjoying Daniel Pinkwater when I was younger. This book is very funny and has the quirky sense of logic you'd expect from him, but I just didn't find it as magical as his other works. It is very much a parody of high school, and on some levels it works brilliantly. I felt like it lost some focus toward the end when Robert discovered the somewhat anarchist and radical version of school. Interesting that Pinkwater highlights the Chicago Public Library, Bughouse Square, and other I remember really enjoying Daniel Pinkwater when I was younger. This book is very funny and has the quirky sense of logic you'd expect from him, but I just didn't find it as magical as his other works. It is very much a parody of high school, and on some levels it works brilliantly. I felt like it lost some focus toward the end when Robert discovered the somewhat anarchist and radical version of school. Interesting that Pinkwater highlights the Chicago Public Library, Bughouse Square, and other local institutions as instrumental in Robert's education.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lorenza

    What i learned from "The education of Robert Nifin" would be that he tells us all of his problems dealing with the first year of high school. This book it reflex with most of are life because mostly of Roberts problems we all pass through them, well i did i don't know about all of the students. I also kind off like it, and kind of no, i like it because it tells all of his first year in high school and he did to have a better year but it was kind of boring is not my type of but that i was looking What i learned from "The education of Robert Nifin" would be that he tells us all of his problems dealing with the first year of high school. This book it reflex with most of are life because mostly of Roberts problems we all pass through them, well i did i don't know about all of the students. I also kind off like it, and kind of no, i like it because it tells all of his first year in high school and he did to have a better year but it was kind of boring is not my type of but that i was looking for but it is really good story.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I'm not sure why but I wasn't looking forward to reading this. Maybe it was the dated cover or not knowing anything about the book but I can't begin to say how wrong I was. I have no reservations calling this a more wry and sarcastic Catcher in the Rye. I felt the writing and tone were perfectly dated and made reading the story more fun and interesting. It reads like historical fiction even though it has many themes that today's coming of age stories have, girls, rebelling against authority, dis I'm not sure why but I wasn't looking forward to reading this. Maybe it was the dated cover or not knowing anything about the book but I can't begin to say how wrong I was. I have no reservations calling this a more wry and sarcastic Catcher in the Rye. I felt the writing and tone were perfectly dated and made reading the story more fun and interesting. It reads like historical fiction even though it has many themes that today's coming of age stories have, girls, rebelling against authority, disinclination to attend school, all without taking its self too seriously. Really, really liked it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    If you've never read a Daniel Pinkwater book, which is probably most people, this is a pretty good primer. It's actually quite enjoyable. There was this one exchange that really resonated with me: "'Do you ever get the feeling you're in a black-and-white movie?' I asked Linda. 'All the time,' she said" For some reason that stuck with me. It might not be Pinkwater's best young adult novel, but it's a lot of fun.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    A fun book about Chicago in the 50's, and the kind of fear-of-others that dominated society then. This is funny in the strange humor of all Pinkwater's books, but this isn't my favorite. Only because I see a limited audience for it-- I think adults would enjoy it as much or more than my average student.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This wonderful memoiristic novel traces the high school career of a short, fat and painfully uncertain kid who may resemble the author in some ways, first to an uncaring and unpleasant public high school, and then to an expensive private school where education is optional. Unfortunately, the last fifty pages can't compare to the hysterically funny experiences of Robert at Riverview High.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eliza

    I love Daniel Pinkwater, but I had somehow never read this book, which is actually set in Chicago! I stumbled across it at the library and picked it up. If you like Pinkwater, you'll definitely like this. If you've never read Pinkwater, you should.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette Johnson

    Robert Nifkin has to write an admissions paper about his high school experience. Full of humor and unique and bizarre characters this story took us through 4 years of high school.This was a very different type of coming of age story. It was fun while I read it but was easily forgettable days later.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    A must read for anyone writing a college essay. Heck, it's pretty funny for the average disillusioned high schooler or high school graduate too.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Hamilton

    Oh, am I glad I wasn't a Chicago Public School student in the 1950s but if you wish you were, you should read this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laurel

    This website is an experiment in watching my "currently reading" pile grow while I actually finish so few books.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    excellent book. Smart, fun and good lookin'. Everything I want to be.

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