Dr. Jacob Soll

Dr. Jacob Soll is a Professor of History and Accounting at the University of Southern California. He was the 2017-2018 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar.

Dr. Jacob Soll, this year’s Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar, left a lasting impact on the TAS community. During his time at our school, Dr. Soll taught more than 30 classes, spoke at upper school assembles, and gave two parent presentations.

Dr. Soll, Professor of History and Accounting at the University of Southern California, received a B.A. from the University of Iowa, a Ph.D. from Magdalene College, Cambridge University, and a D.E.A. from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. He has authored three books: Publishing "The Prince" (2005), The Information Master (2009), and The Reckoning (2014), which remains on the Taiwan bestseller list. He has also received numerous awards, including the 2005 Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009, and, in 2011, the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant. In addition to writing two new books, Dr. Soll works on public financial reform in Greece, Portugal, and the Eurozone where he has personally advised the prime minister of Greece and members of the finance ministry, as well as executives of the European Commission.

While at TAS, Dr. Soll taught European History, World History, Principles of Business, Economics, U.S. History, Philosophy, International Relations, and a new Historical Archival Research course at the Imperial Archives at Academia Sinica. Fifteen students in Grades 9-11 traveled with Dr. Soll to Academia Sinica to view historical documents; this special excursion provided a rare opportunity that opened the door for TAS students to conduct further research among over 300,000 written treasures from China.

Derek C. '21 described his experience with Dr. Soll:

"His comments were insightful and inspiring at the same time. I was always completely engaged with his lectures because everything he taught me just kept expanding my appetite to learn more history."

Si Yun E. '19 remarked, “Working with Dr. Soll has been a very fulfilling experience for me.” She added, “What I have learned under his mentoring is the importance of detail and below surface level historical evidence...Studying history is very much like a puzzle; figuring out what the different pieces mean and what goes together is true learning about history and cultivating appreciation for it.”

In addition to interacting with students, Dr. Soll engaged parents on two occasions. His parent tea discussion, inspired by his bestselling book The Reckoning and its implications for modern European financial markets, provided timely and thoughtful insight on historical sustainable commercial economies such as the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century, when there was trust in society and widespread accounting literacy. He discussed how this contrasts with modern western culture where, “We don’t have cultural accountability; we have lost it. We need a new culture of accounting and accountability…using the tools of analysis and critical thinking.”

Dr. Soll also addressed parents as the keynote speaker at an evening presentation during upper school college counseling week. Building upon the ideals of Plato with the belief that you get closer to goodness through study and learning for the sake of learning to better oneself, Dr. Soll discussed the history of western universities and the mission of the modern university. He also described the characteristics that set the strongest university students apart from the rest: talent, creativity, courage, and grit. Based on his experience, he also feels strongly that creative people, not just the greatest technicians, are going to win out, to do the great work, and be successful. His advice for TAS students as they move on to universities? “They are going to have to speak up; they are going to have to raise their hands; they are going to have to sit in the front row; and they are going to have to knock on their professors’ doors.”

Dr. Soll described TAS students as “fantastic” and the culture at school as “incredibly dynamic.” Reflecting on his time here, he said, “My best experience was being interviewed by the student newspaper because the questions were really smart and got really hard...These students are better than many of the top journalists I’ve been interviewed by.” He encouraged all students to pursue their passions and told them,

"The thing you love to do will probably be what you are best at. Your time on earth is very, very short, and you need to enjoy what you’re doing."

He shared additional words of wisdom, “When in doubt, read a great book that challenges you.”

Dr. Soll’s stay at TAS represents the seventh installment of the Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar program, which is the result of the continuing, extraordinary generosity and vision of former TAS parent Mr. Kenny Cheng. The program brings relevant, distinguished, and stimulating figures such as Dr. Soll to TAS each year to share singular insights and experiences with students. Past Visiting Scholars include:

  • Dr. Nancy Steinhardt, Department Chair and Professor of East Asian Art at the University of Pennsylvania;
  • Dr. Michael Littman, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University;
  • Dr. David Spergel, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University;
  • Dr. Benjamin Elman, Professor of East Asian Studies Department at Princeton University;
  • Dr. Arthur Benjamin, Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd University; and
  • Mike Chinoy, Senior Fellow of the USC U.S.-China Institute.

TAS looks forward to next year’s Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar, Dr. Aaron Kyle, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University and Co-Founder/Lead Instructor at Hypothekids (HK) Maker Lab.