The Last Syllabus: David Carr Shows How It’s Done


To My Hunter College Students:

About a year ago, I mentioned the extraordinary biography written by journalist David Carr, Night of the Gun. It’s the riveting story  of a guy who, despite doing everything possible to destroy himself (and I’m telling you: David worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known to do himself in!), survives and thrives  as a friend, father, husband, and distinguished journalist.

David survived self-destructive experiences that no one should be able to survive, but —  to his eternal credit  — used his “post-jerk,” recovery years to do the hard work of becoming a living, breathing, authentic, human being capable of extraordinary acts of compassion and civility.

David passed away from lung cancer and other maladies on February 12, 2015. And among the gifts  he left was the syllabus for a course he taught this past fall at Boston University. I thought that you  might appreciate seeing and reading one of the most amazing examples of this kind of document that I have ever seen. It is packed with all sorts of “jewels” about  life, civility, teaching, and the future of  journalism in the digital age.

I think you’ll really enjoy it.

This excerpt from  the syllabus, in which David introduced himself to the class, is itself a mini-masterpiece:

Not need to know, but nice to know: Your professor is a terrible singer and a decent dancer. He is a movie crier but stone-faced in real life. He never laughs even when he is actually amused. He hates suck-ups, people who treat waitresses and cab drivers poorly, and anybody who thinks diversity is just an academic conceit. He is a big sucker for the hard worker and is rarely dazzled by brilliance. He has little patience for people who pretend to ask questions when all they really want to do is make a speech.

He has a lot of ideas about a lot of things, some of which are good. We will figure out which is which together. He likes being challenged. He is an idiosyncratic speaker, often beginning in the middle of a story, and is used to being told that people have no idea what he is talking about. It’s fine to be one of those people. In Press Play, he will strive to be a lucid, linear communicator.

Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious. If you want to know where you stand, just ask.

I didn’t know David, only met him briefly. I do, though, know that — just over a month after he left us — this world is a whole heck of a lot less interesting without him in  it.


David Carr Faces His Night of the Gun


David Carr’s masterful “The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life” is a must read.

Carr – whose writing I only have known and valued through his New York Times media blog – turns out to have a stunningly original and compelling voice.

And it’s not just the way he turns a phrase.

This is the fully-authentic voice of a real human being;  completely without contrivance or hustle or self-consciously ornate prose.

Carr writes with sheer brilliance on the topic of memory and personal narrative. Having struggled to uncover the facts of his own astoundingly messy story, he is incredibly insightful about how we all create artificially coherent and linear life narratives to mask the unsettling confusion and turmoil we would like to forget.

This is the work of a supremely self-aware man who scrupulously avoids artificial tidiness and clarity as he tells the story of a life that has been anything but.

It is almost scary to imagine what might be possible if Carr ever tries a novel. A brew like this of luminous prose and excruciating honesty could be combustible.

I haven’t felt this way since James Ellroy published My Dark Places and set the standard for painful and  honest self-exploration.

There may be no logical reason why Carr made it through all the personal horrors he faced “midway in life’s journey,” but he did and emerged to tell a remarkable tale.