When Josiah Quincy adopted the word veritas (meaning truth) as Harvard’s motto in the mid-nineteenth century, he saw the mission of the college as seeking new knowledge in order to come closer to God. It was a radical proposition. The imperatives of veritas are openness, freedom of thought, clash of opinions, resolution, truth-telling. In Veritas, Andrew Schlesinger traces some of the conflicts in Harvard‘s history between the forces of veritas and the inertial forces, the impediments to truth—sectarianism, statism, aristocracy, racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, the "shackles of ancient discipline." With this theme in mind, Mr. Schlesinger tells the fascinating story of Harvard College as an American institution. He examines the important actions and decisions of its leadership from Puritan times to the present, and provides lively details of its college life since 1636. There was no guarantee that Harvard would become a great university. But the commitment to veritas compelled the institution to change in the face of new knowledge or cease to be. Mr. Schlesinger’s book is about how Harvard changed. The tale includes a great many familiar names: Cotton Mather, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, John Hancock, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Gould Shaw, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, Henry Adams, William James, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ada Louise Comstock, James Conant, John Kennedy. Mr. Schlesinger punctuates his narrative with a great many marvelous anecdotes: George Burroughs, Class of 1670, condemned as a witch and hung on Gallows Hill; the "Butter Rebellion" of the undergraduates; President Willard receiving a sack of coins from the Charles River Bridge toll as his salary; Teddy Roosevelt getting tipsy at his Porcellian initiation; the l939 Communist cell that included the future Librarian of Congress. The men and women who shaped Harvard and were shaped by it were in many cases fine writers, speechmakers, preachers, journalists, historians, correspondents, diarists, and memoirists, providing a high tone to the proceedings. The history of Harvard is the story of the quintessential American university. With 32 black-and-white illustrations.
Andrew Schlesinger is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College, Class of 1970, and a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts. His forefathers were distinguished professors of American history at Harvard. As a writer, producer, and documentary filmmaker for ABC, PBS, CNN and elsewhere, Mr. Schlesinger has received two Emmy Awards, a Writers Guild Award, and a Christopher Award.