Posted by: chartroose | March 26, 2009

Harvard Yard

William Martin, 2003, 576 p.

I’ve always been disappointed that I never had a chance to go to Harvard, and I don’t know why I feel this way.  I doubt that I would have fit in at all, since Harvard enrollees aren’t typically former high school losers who sit in the school parking lot and smoke and listen to “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” over and over again during lunch breaks.  Harvard students have 4.0 GPA’s.  Harvard students are driven and ambitious.  Harvard students are like Tracy Flick in Election (which is a great book, BTW).  I was the antithesis of a Harvard student, but still…

This may be the reason why I picked up a copy of Harvard Yard.  Perhaps somewhere deep in my subconscious I continue to yearn for that rarefied old-school Harvard atmosphere of tweediness and pipe-smoking and snobbish joviality.  Since I won’t be attending Harvard now or ever, the least I can do is read about the place now and then, and Harvard Yard seemed to be a good choice for some vicarious wish-fulfillment.

The novel is large; 576 pages, and it’s chock-full of history.  Harvard Yard traces the history of Harvard from its founding in the mid-1600’s to present-day.  The novel also has an interconnected modern storyline, in which the protagonist, Peter Fallon, is attempting to locate an unpublished Shakespearean play entitled “Love’s Labors Won.”  The manuscript was gifted to Robert Harvard by The Bard himself and brought to America by his son (and Harvard founder), John Harvard.  John gave it to a protegé before he died, and it was then hidden and lost and found and lost once again over the course of many years.

Harvard Yard is impeccably researched and written with an exactitude that I find to be quite laudable, but it was these very qualities that contributed to my increasing restlessness as I continued to read, and read, AND READ.  It felt like a never ending story.  There is just too much detail, and my interest began to wane as time progresssed.  I think Martin (and his editors) made a huge mistake when they decided to include the Peter Fallon bibliomystery, because it detracts from the voluminous historical fiction aspects of the novel.  Either make it one or the other, dagnabbit!

Overall, though, Harvard Yard was a good read, and I learned a great deal about Harvard and Puritans and The American Revolution and suffragism and civil rights and everything in between.  How long will I retain this knowledge–oops, it’s already gone!  That’s what I get for being a slacker and listening to devil music during my angsty adolescent years.  Now leave me alone–I need to get back to World of Warcraft.  There are a few demons that still need killin’… 


For your viewing pleasure, here are some photos of Harvard, both old and new: 


                                                   Late 1600’s










                                   Harper’s Weekly, 1885



                                   Physics Faculty, ca 1900



                         Harvard College Observatory, 1900


                                        Modern Harvard






Here are a few other notable Harvard grads:



  1. Hey, if Conan O’Brien could fit in at Harvard, surely you could! I’m not that interested in Harvard (and never have been, by the way) so I think I’ll skip this book.

  2. Were there…palm trees…at Harvard in 1823? That drawing looks a lot like the drawings of early Waikiki. LOL.

    Also, I got my t-shirt in the mail the other day-thanks!!

  3. Kathy–You’re right, if Conan could fit in, anyone could.

    Dreamybee–Maybe they were thinking of relocating the campus, so the picture is in the transitional stage. The college could have been renamed “Aloharvard.”

  4. I have Martin’s book Cape Cod – I haven’t started it yet because it’s too freakin’ long! My aunt, who loaned it to me, keeps after me: “you haven’t read that yet?” and she can do the Yankee New England accent. ugh.

  5. If you woulda gone to Harvard you probably woulda ended up as President. Then you wouldn’t be hanging out with the likes of us. So see…it’s a Good Thing you didn’t go there.

  6. Kathy stole my comment! 🙂 Have you ever visited the campus? You should at least do that. Harvard has never held any allure over me, but that might just be because I am Midwesterner.

  7. the closest i got to harvard was a visit to cambridge a few years ago…and one super hunky (in that old, academic, tweedy jacket with leather elbow-patches way) english professor when i was in college. *sigh*

    the book sounds like a bit of a slog…but i do love learning things in books….so i just may pick it up and hope some of the braininess rubs off on me.

  8. I think you would have fit in nicely myself.

    I read William Martin’s The Lost Constitution and absolutely loved it. Thank you for reminding me I meant to pick up Harvard Yard too. One click! (why is it when I’ve done one one click, I feel I must add more?)

  9. Had no idea about Damon, Lithgow, or O’brien. Wow…that’s about all I can muster. Bet if I went to Harvard I would have something more profound to say 😉

  10. The school’s been around for 400 years and has produced 10 well-known grads? What’s the big deal?

  11. Great pictures of the school. The book sounds…long, and I love curling up with a good tome.

  12. This sounds like a good read. Thanks for all the pictures.

  13. It does sound like a good read, although it’s a shame that so few books get a really good edit these days. Many of them really need it. Nice photos, too. I’d love to go to Harvard, although it would only be to admire it from a distance!

  14. Great post. I just got accepted to Harvard (fortunately, I’m no Tracy Flick). I’ve seen this book and it seemed a bit over the top, but you just won me over to read or at least skim it.

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