Name the famous writer!

Strolling by the discard box in front of the local used bookstore, Powell’s, I spotted a copy of the 1953 Harvard College yearbook: a compilation of that year’s activities, sporting events, and so on, with a list of clubs and organizations—all accompanied by photos. I picked it up and took it home to see if I recognized anybody from that era, four years after I was born.

The “three seventeen” on the cover means that that was the 317th year since Harvard was founded in 1636.


Sure enough, there were lots of famous faculty, including Archibald MacLeish, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and biologists I recognized, like Kirtley Mather, mentioned in this well-known essay by Steve Gould (read it!) And one of the young faculty members was Julian Schwinger, shown at lower left, posed at the blackboard. Schwinger, of course, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, sharing it with Richard Feynman and Shinichiro Tomonaga. Four of his 73 (!) graduate students also won Nobel Prizes.

Maybe some of you can identify the formulae in Schwinger’s writings on the board.


I was amused at this photo of the Young Democrats club, looking at a picture of Adlai Stevenson as if he were God:


And finally, the quiz. Here’s a two-page spread of the undergraduate editors of the Harvard Lampoon, the College’s humor magazine. One of them went on to became a famous writer. Can you name him? I think this is pretty easy. (You can put your answers below, but if you want to guess on your own, don’t look at the comments.)




  1. Doug
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    John Updike.

  2. Dominic
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I really have no idea, but note another famous writer, Philip Roth, graduated from Chicago a couple of years later, so obviously a good vintage!

  3. Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    john updike

  4. Saikat Biswas
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    John Updike.

  5. Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    John Updike on the left

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I’d recognize the mug on Updike anywhere.

    • Merilee
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Moi, aussi🐰

  7. alexandra moffat
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Think Rabbit and Couples…and more. We had dinner with Updike, and others, once in the 50s in Ipswich, Mass. I can see him in mind’s eye, but can’t recall any bon mots except that he railed against tasseled loafers. (Shoes, for you young things). He was friends with a mutual friend.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    In ’53 the nation had just inaugurated Ike as its first Republican president in 20 years — so you can’t blame those Harvard kids for looking longingly at Uncle Adlai.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      The one who put In God We Trust on the money wasn’t it?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        One and the same. “The General,” Dwight D. Eisenhower — elected November 2, 1952; assumed the powers of his office May 24, 1959, upon the death of his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

        (That was a bit before my time, and I don’t remember who said it, but it sounds like Mort Sahl.)

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink


        • rickflick
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          I think Ike was also responsible for putting “…under God…” into the pledge, as well. Between that and a million rounds of golf, he was a busy president.

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    It is interesting too to see how dress codes change. Here the profs and students were expected to be in suit in tie.

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s the first thing I noticed when I opened the book. I wonder if the Updike Estate would want it.

  10. rickflick
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I first read The Poorhouse Fair, then all the Rabbit series, and couple of collections. Nothing after that (I’ll take suggestions). I fully admire his ability to transport and amuse. You have to compare Updike to John Cheever (Bullet Park) since they both captured the essence of 20th century life in America.

    • merilee
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      I’m not quite sure why, but I have enjoyed Updike’s short stories (and literary and art criticism) and some of his other novels much more than his Rabbit series, all of which I read back in the day. What a talented man!

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      A handy nudge in the ribs that it must be time to re-read the Rabbit books!

      I recommend ‘Couples’, and I think I recall that ‘In the beauty of the lilies’ and ‘Roger’s version’ were quite good, although it’s eons since I read them. His memoir, ‘Self-Consciousness’, is pretty good as well. Some of his later novels (eg ‘Terrorist’) are less good. But yes, a great writer: his depictions of small-town Pennsylvania are wonderful.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Don’t know if you’ve ever read the New Yorker piece I linked to under #7 above, regarding Ted Williams’s last ballgame for the Red Sox. It’s been anthologized widely as one of the best American essays ever. No need to be a baseball fan to enjoy it.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Ken. I’ll check it out.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 12, 2016 at 1:06 am | Permalink

        Thank you so much for that!!

        “…while the shortstop did a breathtaking impersonation of an open window.”

        I laughed so hard…

        (I had no idea they were doing infield shifts back then!)

  11. Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’m glad to know that Powell’s is still open. It seems like every time I visit Chicago there are fewer and fewer used book stores. My favorite, Bookworks, near Wrigley Field is closing in about five weeks. (After searching far and wide, that was the only place I could find a copy of Helena Cronin’s “The Ant and the Peacock”.) If you have time to head up North, you might want to check out their final sale.

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Powell’s in Portland, OR continues to be a main draw for book lovers. Friends from MN visited recently and we went to Powell’s three times in two weeks. It was super busy every time. Oregon also is losing used book stores. Amazon has gotten into that business online with Thriftbooks and Abe Books (maybe more).
      Daedalus and Hamilton’s (can’t remember the preceding initials) also sell used books either online or by catalog.

      The yearbook looks to be in excellent condition.

  12. Gilbert Klapper
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    John Updike on the left of course. I thought Kirtley Mather
    was a geologist, perhaps I am mistaken.
    Gilbert Klapper, Northwestern Earth Sciences.

  13. DrBrydon
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Adlai Stevenson. There was an article this week on Trump’s religion, which talked about the fact that he used to attend a church where Norman Vincent Peale — the author of The Power of Positive Thinking was minister. Peale blasted Stevenson at one point on abortion, and Stevenson quipped “I find the Apostle Paul appealing, but I find the Apostle Peale appalling.” Why can’t I vote for that man?

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Those of us on a somewhat different spot of the spectrum have the same dreamy wish: “Goldwater, if only I could vote for him.”

  14. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Tom Clancy on the left, Dan Brown on the right.

    Seriously, I had no idea what Updike looks like. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read anything by him.

    • merilee
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Well hop to it, Boy;-))

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted September 9, 2016 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Sir yes sir

        Where to start though? I’ve seen a few of the Rabbit(?) books lying around the house but specific recommendations would be welcome. Although I’m working through a couple of physics books atm too so they’ll come first. For some reason I don’t read as much non-fiction as I used to.

        • Merilee
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

          As I said somewhere else, probably on this thread, I’m not ahuge fan of the Rabbit series but have loved all the short stories, poems, lit crit, art crit thst I’ve read by the man.

      • Posted September 9, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        I recently started “Rabbit, Run,” but I gave up after about 30 pages; I just wasn’t in the mood. I’ll get back to it someday. I went on to read “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid. I highly recommend it. It is very short, very well written, and it made me re-think my position on what Sam Harris calls “The Narrative Narrative.” Then, because of Trump, I read “All The King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. That is a masterpiece of American literature. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. And now I just started “Middlemarch.” It is quite an intimidating book. I will eventually get back to Updike, but I think I want to make some progress on the works of Saul Bellow before I get back to Updike. So far I’ve only read “Henderson The Rain King.” Anyone got advice on which of “Herzog,” “Augie March,” or “Ravelstein” I should read next?

        • Merilee
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

          LOVED All the President’s Men. Recommend Augie March and Herzog. Haven’t read Henderson. Fwiw, Philip Roth’s Amerucan Pastoral and The Human Stain are brilliant. Currently reading a spectacular South African novel called Agaat.

          • merilee
            Posted September 10, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

            Coincidentally just came back from seeing Ewan McGregor’s film (director and star) of American Pastoral at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Last night was the premiere). I highly recommend it. Very good screenplay and acting and apparently Philip Roth gave it two thumbs up. McGregor spoke for a while afterwards. There were a lot of young women there who had probably never heard of Roth and were kind of McGregor groupies, but I must say that in addition to his being very easy on the eyes, he did a bang-up job in his first directing role. Very glad to see that one of my favorite books was not botched when brought to the screen.


            • Posted September 12, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

              If you like Ewan McGregor, I highly recommend the mini-series Long Way Round, which follows Ewan and a friend on a motorcycle trip from London to New York, the long way. It’s great. McGregor seems like a good, nice guy.

              • Merilee
                Posted September 12, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

                Thanks! Will look for that. McGregor seemed very likeable and un-divaish in the post movie Q and A. Loved him in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Hilarious movie.

          • Posted September 12, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            Thanks. I read Portnoy’s Complaint, which I loved. I will put American Pastoral and The Human Stain on my list.

            • Merilee
              Posted September 12, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

              There’s a third part to Roth’s trilogy containing Pastoral and Stain called I Married a Communist. This third one is not quite as brilliant as the first two. There is a very good oldish movie of The Human Stain with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted September 10, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

          I’ve read The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but it was quite a while ago, before I began seriously reading about politics so I don’t know if my original impressions missed something subtle. I do remember finding it fairly compelling as a novel(I wouldn’t have finished it otherwise) but I also remember bridling a little at the slightly simplistic, anti-western tone. It was a while ago though.

          I’ve just had a novel called My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante almost literally forced on me by the female members of my family, who have been raving about it in a most convincing fashion. I’m not far in though.

          The last book I read that I really loved was about five or six months ago: The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, the Irish humourist/surrealist. It was mind-bendingly odd, funny and, eventually, deeply sad.

          • Merilee
            Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:09 am | Permalink

            Flann’s a hoot!! Loved his At Swim-two-Birds. Have 3rd Policeman on my shelves as yet unread. I’ve read 2 of the Elena Ferrantes and have not loved them as much as I expected to (despite gaving studied in Italia and loving many things Italian). Will probably still finish the series…

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted September 11, 2016 at 4:17 am | Permalink

              I’ve not read At Swim Two Birds yet but The Third Policeman really impressed me. Although I have to say the ending makes the whole story come into focus in a remarkable way – without that I might’ve come away thinking the whole thing was funny but flimsy.

              Ferrante’s atmospheric, and she’s good on the the weird, screwed up psyches of children, but I’m not massively drawn to either character yet. Seems like it might not be quite as interesting to me as it was to my female relatives. It’s very centred on female intuitions, fears and instincts, and the frightening intensity of female friendships, in a way that kind of shuts me out.

              • Posted September 12, 2016 at 7:54 am | Permalink

                I’ve no idea how it got there, but At Swim Two Birds has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I guess now I’ll have to move it from the section of “maybe I’ll read this someday” books, to the section of “I need to read this in the near future” books. That section just keeps growing, though.

              • Merilee
                Posted September 12, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

                “that section keeps growing…” LOL. Don’t I know it!! You will most likely find At Swim a bit bizarre and convoluted, but worth the effort. Think Joyce and Beckett, perhaps.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never even heard of John Updike, so you’re one up on me.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted September 9, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Shhh! You’ll get us kicked out.

        • rickflick
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

          Hey y’all! Over here! They’ve never heard of Updike!

  15. Steve Brooks
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    John Updike

  16. allison
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Ha, I thought it was Truman Capote on the right (no idea whether he went to Harvard or not).

  17. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I instantly recognized Updike.

    Only two of his novels have been adapted to feature films and the 2nd (“Witches of Eastwick”) also inspired a shortlived 13-episode TV series. I only saw the movie of WofE and it’s pretty bad. (“Rabbit Run” was turned into a so-so middling movie in 1970.)

    He’s a huge favorite of secular humanist Ian McKewan, although Updike was a (not at all evangelical) Christian and there’s a lot of discussion of theology in his novels. I suspect MacKewan’s fondness for Updike is as much because OF the way Updike discusses theology, not in spite of same.

    I’ve never gotten around to reading Updike’s retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of Gertrude and Claudius. But it’s on my list.

  18. David Andrews
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    John Updike

  19. alexandra moffat
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    “It came to me the other day:
    Were I to die, no one would say,
    “Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
    Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

    Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
    Will greet my overdue demise;
    The wide response will be, I know,
    “I thought he died a while ago.”

    For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
    And death is real, and dark, and huge.
    The shock of it will register
    Nowhere but where it will occur.


    New Yorker – I think

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      That’s fucking great. Stick it next to Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ as a light-hearted companion poem.

  20. Anna
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    This should be in the Library of Congress.

  21. Posted September 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    This should be in the Library of Congress!

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      If they did their job well, a copy should already be in the Library of Congress. Is there a LOC number on the copyright page?

      Now “it should be in the Smithsonian,” yep.

  22. Kevin
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Knowing Schwinger it was probably a cross section calculation, possibly a Green’s function (where you see the $/delta$). He did what Feynman did, but basically with the math. In many ways he is the father of Quantum Field Theory.

  23. Michael Scullin
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I used to point out that Harvard was founded 62 years before the demise of the last (minor) Mayan empire in 1698.

  24. Posted September 9, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    That Gould essay is wonderful.

    “Einstein’s theory of gravitation
    replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome.”

    What a great line.

  25. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    Whenever I am in Portland Oregon to visit family (I live in Australia), I require a visit to Powell’s. We get the train from near Boring, Oregon (sadly not an official geographic name now, although there is still a Boring, Oregon post office).
    So far, Powell’s is my favourite bookshop worldwide.

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