Columbia University began the second half of the 20th century in decline, bottoming out with the student riots of 1968. But by the close of the century, the institution had regained its stature as one of the greatest universities in the world. According to the New York Times, "If any one person is responsible for Columbia's recovery, it is surely Michael Sovern." In his memoir, An Improbable Life: My Sixty Years at Columbia and Other Adventures, Sovern, who served as the university's president from 1980 to 1993, addresses key issues in academia, such as affordability, affirmative action, teaching and research, tenure, and government funding. Sovern also reports on his many off-campus adventures, including helping the victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, stepping into the chairmanship of Sotheby's, responding to a strike by New York City's firemen, and chairing the Commission on Integrity in Government.