By: William Martin
(Hardcover / 576 Pages / Warner Books / ISBN: 0446530840 / $25.95)
Description: Picking up where his runaway bestseller 'Back Bay' left off, William Martin returns to Boston to bring the history of Harvard University vividly to life.There are many Harvard legends. One of the oldest is the tale of how John Harvard's parents were brought together by none other than William Shakespeare, who then gave them a gift of an original manuscript upon the birth of their son. Now, Peter Fallon, the Harvard historian introduced in Back Bay, teams with other memorable characters from that novel and sets out to find those priceless pages that were thought to have been lost in the Harvard Hall fire of 1764.
Verdict: Through Harvard grad Peter Fallon, a rare book dealer, author William Martin reveals the more than three hundred fifty years of Harvard history and its intimate connections to the history of New England and the nation. An ancient legend says that Robert Harvard, father of John Harvard, for whom the college was named, lived in Stratford-on-Avon and was a friend of Shakespeare. Supposedly, Shakespeare gave him a hand-written manuscript of a now-lost play as a wedding present, sometime around 1605. Author Martin uses this legend as the fulcrum around which the book turns and speculates about what might have happened to the play over the course of almost four hundred years. 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.
Reviewed by Mike Dawson