You can always tell a Harvard Manby Richard Bissell
1636 – 1962.
Bissell tells the story of Harvard, its presidents,
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The history and culture of Harvard told by Harvard graduate and renown humorist, novelist, and playwright Richard Bissell (The Pajama Game, Say Darling), Hold on while he takes you on a rollicking ride of historical facts and antidotes about the formation and evolution of Harvard from
1636 – 1962.
Bissell tells the story of Harvard, its presidents, student life, curriculum, the campus and its buildings, foods (check out Ch. 5 for the original recipe for Harvard beets), restaurants, music, sports, and “the Harvard accent” with meticulous attention to detail and irreverent wit.
As for those non-Harvard graduates such as William McKinley, Bissell says that they were an “assorted lot.” William McKinley? “Nobody can remember much about McKinley except that he got shot. School kids do not like McKinley because they can never learn to spell the assassin's name correctly which was Czolgosz. You can't hardly blame them.” (Ch. 7) Bissell’s book is less a story about the brightest stars or the highest achievers or the most notable names (such as Harvard graduates Emerson, Thoreau, and Horatio Alger), but it is more a book about people and their stories, the idiosyncrasies and shortcomings that make them human, and the flaws and foibles that add flesh to the dry bones of fact and out of which greatness still arises. Did you ever wonder how Harvard got its name? John Harvard never attended Harvard, and, in fact, he died in 1638, less than a year after his arrival in the colonies. However, he was the first to make a generous donation of money and books ― and a London tavern ― so the college was therefore honored with his name.
Always successful in finding an obscure point or a twist in perception, Bissell has much to relate about student life. Students, he says, are always up to something no matter what the century. In the 1800’s, 'All sorts of things could happen and they did. The Med. Fac. (Medical Faculty), a group of jolly lads devoted to practical and impractical jokes, sent a phony honorary degree to the Czar of Russia. Highly flattered, this Slavic potentate responded with the gift of an elaborate set of surgical instruments.' (Ch. 15) Undoubtedly Bissell didn’t know about the antics of previous generations when he wrote in his own diary as a Harvard junior in 1935: “Owe Sewall 60$ for poker. Dick owes me 50₵ for movie. Reading about the dopy Incas for exam tomorrow. Boy are they boring.” (Ch. 3)
A wonderful read,You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Harvard –and more, much more.
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