THE HARVARD CENTURY: The Making of a University to a Nation by Richard Norton Smith

THE HARVARD CENTURY: The Making of a University to a Nation

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In recognition of this year's 350th anniversary of Harvard, Smith has produced an engaging history with special emphasis on the reigns of its last five presidents--Charles William Eliot, A. Lawrence Lowell, James Bryant Conant, Nathan Pusey, and Derek Bok, the current incumbent. Smith (Thomas E. Dewey: and His Times; An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover) approaches The Harvard Century as a life and times that demonstrates the manner in which Harvard has maintained a balancing act with the nation's culture--ofttimes shaping it in its image; at other times, following the culture in an effort to keep pace. After a brief discussion of Harvard's first two centuries, when it ""was little more than an academy of manners for Boston's gentry,"" Smith shows how each president from Eliot onwards (consider that in the same time period, the US has had about 24 presidents) took off from its predecessor and molded Harvard as they saw fit. From Eliot's strong Emersonianism, Harvard shifted to Lowell's urge to run matters himself. As Smith writes, ""If Eliot combined Jay Gould and Cambridge Common in roughly equal measures, Lowell was a perfect coupling of State Street and Cecil Rhodes."" Then came Conant, who wanted nothing but to pursue the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but instead ruled Harvard for 20 years in an informal manner--the Herald Tribune pronounced that Harvard had ""crowned a commoner."" Pusey had the dubious distinction of having to face down both McCarthyism and student radicals during his reign. And to Bok has been assigned the role of bringing peace back to Harvard and reestablishing the Core Curriculum after some of the extremes of the 60's had altered the face of Harvard's educational system. A fitting update to Samuel Eliot Morison's Three Centuries of Harvard, published 50 years ago, and worthy on its own proliferating merits.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster