cover image Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969

Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969

Roger Rosenblatt. Little Brown and Company, $24.45 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-316-75726-3

Rosenblatt, contributing editor to Time and the New Republic and an essayist on PBS's NewsHour, looks back on his salad days as a young English instructor at Harvard--a time, he says, when everything was easy. Here he reports, simply and affectingly, on how it all came to an end. The turning point was a 1969 demonstration against the Vietnam War that forever changed the university and the lives of those involved in it. About 300 students seized a building, the university president called in police and the resulting melee utterly divided the school. Rosenblatt was a member of the official committee of 15 that investigated the event and assigned punishment. He discusses the social and political cracks the riot exposed, Harvard's role in history (with a fervor perhaps best reserved for an alumni magazine) and his own seemingly golden career. He writes about the students' carefully nourished feeling of martyrdom and the senior faculty's abandonment of responsibility to its untenured youngest members (Rosenblatt and his associates), who were seen as ""expendable."" The chilling heart of the book is Rosenblatt's description of the ill-tempered post-riot faculty meetings; the most talked-about chapter may well be his unsympathetic account of the creation of the university's black studies program. Because ""my voice, my appearance, my honest face would impress them,"" Rosenblatt was assigned to read the committee's verdict to the faculty. It was, briefly, the making of him. Three yeas later, he was--at 29--being talked about as the next president of Harvard, but Derek Bok got the job. The English department then declined to vote Rosenblatt tenure, which he says he didn't want anyway, and he left academia. This is a very personal view of what the author calls ""the howl of the baby boom about to come into its own."" Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)