Harvard Yard Hardcover – Apr 11 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Martin, who introduced antiquarian Peter Fallon in his debut novel Back Bay (1979), brings him back for a second quest in this sprawling bibliomystery, which traces the tightly interlaced histories of the fictional Wedge family and Harvard University. Fallon, a proud Harvard grad, assists in the university's annual fund-raising appeals. One call, to Ridley Wedge Royce, lands him not a donation but a tip. The intriguing possibility that the Wedge family once owned a rare and unknown Shakespeare manuscript-a text purportedly linking Will Shakespeare and Harvard's founder-is enough to hook Fallon. But others are on the same scent and willing to go to any lengths to root out the manuscript if it still exists. How it came into the possession of the Wedges, and what happened to it next is gradually revealed as Martin spins through 300 years of American history-from the Salem witch trials and the Boston Tea Party to the Civil War and up to the radical late 1960s-telling a tale of Harvard the institution growing from a tiny establishment under beastly first master Nathaniel Eaton to become America's premier university. Fallon's search takes a back seat to the historical material, but the novel provides good entertainment and copious Crimson lore.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Martin continues to entertain with the successful formula he perfected in best-sellers Back Bay (1979) and Cape Cod (1991). The author races back and forth through time in order to solve a bookish mystery rooted in historical events. When antiquarian bookseller Peter Fallon follows the clues he hopes will lead him to recover a lost Shakespeare play written in the bard's own hand, he himself becomes the target of both underworld thugs and unscrupulous academics. The most compelling action takes place in the past as he traces the utterly fascinating evolution of Harvard University by interweaving it with the intimate history of one of New England's first families. Bound by oath to preserve John Harvard's library, Issac Wedge takes care to squirrel away the Shakespearean quarto the dying Harvard entrusted to his care. Realizing that Puritan reactionaries would most certainly destroy the play, Wedge hands it down for safekeeping to his own son, establishing a pattern that is repeated by each succeeding generation until it appears that the manuscript has been lost. Or has it? It is up to Fallon to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The unexpected twists and turns through history will keep readers guessing and the pages turning. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
A dozen generations after Shakespeare gave the manuscript to Robert Harvard, a member of the Wedge family engages Peter Fallon of Back Bay to try to confirm the existence of the manuscript and ascertain its whereabouts. As Fallon begins his research into the story of the Isaac Wedge, thought to have received the manuscript from John Harvard, he introduces us to such luminaries as Cotton Mather, a religious zealot who began Harvard at age 11; George Burroughs, who was executed in the Salem Witch Trials; Caleb Wedge, who fought in the Revolutionary War; Theodore Wedge, a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; and eventually to Joseph Kennedy, Harry Widener, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Oppenheimer, and President Franklin Roosevelt. We witness the horrors of King Philip's War and the religious excesses of the Salem Witch Trials, the Great Boston Fire, the Civil War, the sinking of the Titanic, two world wars, and the opening of the college to Jews, blacks, and women.
Martin's concern is to make history lively and understandable, his characters sympathetic and often noble. He humanizes even the dour Puritans and the earliest settlers, observing the commonplaces of their lives. A great deal of humor enlivens the novel, which even includes chases reminiscent of slapstick farce. He emphasizes basic ideas, rather than the minutiae of history, entertaining his readers, rather than bogging down in complex details. Ultimately, Martin explains how succeeding administrations at Harvard have ensured that the brightest students from all walks of life will have the same opportunities for intellectual growth, regardless of income level or sex. This huge and entertaining novel is a tribute both to Harvard and to the men and women it has educated--popular history at its best. Mary Whipple
The strength of the novel is in the beginning when Isaac Wedge becomes one of the first students at the first college in English America, founded on the edge of the wilderness, just six years after the settlement of the colony itself. The strength of is also in the enduring "mystery" of Shakespeare's play "Love Labor's Won which may or may not have lasted all these years and survived down though the generations of Wedges. The novel speaks about the universality of artistic inheritance and the lengths that families will go to preserve their heritage and speak to one another from the past.
Although the novel is about rebellion war, and devotion, there is also an important detective story running through the modern day narrative, as Peter Fallon, who has found evidence that the undiscovered Shakespeare play is hidden somewhere at the college, races against time to uncover the mystery before other protagonists get their hands on the manuscript. Fans of libraries, literature, and writing will find a lot to admire in this work, as the world of historical - and modern - academia is bought vividly and authentically to life. Harvard Yard is not one of my favorites for the year, but it is still a good, if not excessively long read.
While the multi-narrated style of Citizen Washington worked well, it is in this form that Mr.Martin seems most insightful. Like Back Bay and Cape Cod, Mr. Martin covers familiar ground.
At first, I thought the topic could be too parochial for mass consumption. However, after reading the novel, I realized this is not just the story of the history of one institution in Boston, but is a metaphor for the evolution of education in America. Harvard has been a leader and innovator in the American style of college education. Mr.Martin expertly shows how innovation need not scacrifice tradition.
As always, Mr. Martin is able to pull pertinent history of the times to his central story. As always, I learned much.
For those with a Harvard connection, this is a must read. For those who are interested in the history of American education, this book will fill your plate. And for those who just enjoy reading, this is a treat