In this memoir, Rosenblatt (The Man in the Water, LJ 1/94) examines events surrounding the April 1969 student takeover of University Hall, Harvard's main administration building. Rosenblatt was then a fair-haired Harvard-educated English instructor with a bright future. His role was as an elected member of the Committee of Fifteen, charged with investigating the protest and determining the appropriate university response. It is not clear why he chose to write this book nearly 30 years after the events; yet from his current vantage point, he believes the student takeover was unwarranted and a disaster for Harvard and that similar action at other universities marked the decline of what universities should representthe untrammeled search for truth. While for Harvard, it may have been a coming apart, for Rosenblatt it was also his coming of age. More sophisticated analyses of the antiwar protests are widely available. Still, this is a useful title for university libraries.Nicholas Burckel, Marquette Univ., Milwaukee
Rosenblatt, a contributing editor at Time and essayist on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, unhappily recalls the turmoil that "exposed an entire generational rift and touched upon antagonisms that have not been mended to this day."
Months of verbal hostilities were set off by the violent (by Harvard standards) takeover of a campus building in an antiwar protest by SDS members and their allies, which was followed by the police overreaction, administrative hand-wringing, and widespread rejection of personal responsibility that those who lived through the era will recall as the usual sequence of events. As a young instructor popular with both students and faculty, Rosenblatt was named to a committee charged with investigating the incident and recommending discipline for many of the participants. The man in the middle predictably ended up displeasing both sides. Rosenblatt (The Man in the Water and Other Essays, 1994, etc.), finds the principal cause of the students' bad behavior in an atmosphere of loneliness and alienation that seemed to be part of Harvard's institutional heritage. Despite that measure of sympathy, his judgment of the Harvard undergraduates of the period (who included Al Gore, Michael Kinsley, Al Franken, Mark Helprin, and Tommy Lee Jones) is tough: "The students were not only sure they were right; they were sure they were wonderful." On the other hand, his disillusionment with the professoriat, most of which he found "mean and narrow-mind," ultimately drove him from academe. Rosenblatt was a decade older than the Baby Boomers he taught, and he describes his younger self as essentially apolitical; one can question whether he comprehends even now the force of Vietnam in driving much of a younger generation to excess.
His account nonetheless rings true. Not only perceptive, it's also one of the more entertaining memoirs of the era.