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Since the first volumes were gathered to form the nucleus of the Yale College library, alumni have continued to produce the written word with rare breadth and influence. Some of the works that have made a difference:
Stephen Vincent Benet ’19, ’20MA
Called “honest, courageous, and unflinching … always spellbinding,” this book-length retelling of the American Civil War won a Pulitzer Prize and is widely considered a masterpiece of epic poetry.
Hiram Bingham III Class of 1898
In a gripping adventure story, Yale’s original “Indiana Jones” recounts his harrowing rediscovery of Machu Pichu in 1911 and offers his theories about the origins and use of the mysterious stone city of the ancient Incas.
Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities, ’56PhD
In a feast of arguments and insights, written with engaging frankness, the premier (and arguably best read) literary critic of modern times takes on the Bard.
Daniel Boorstin ’40JSD
Historian and Librarian of Congress Emeritus describes the “grand discoveries” and personalities in the history of science that have been instrumental in shaping our view of how the world works.
Cleanth Brooks, Professor of English
Detailed commentaries on ten British poets from Elizabethan times to the 20th century, including Donne, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Keats, and Yeats, helped establish the primacy of a controversial form of close reading called the “New Criticism” that was championed at Yale by Brooks and his colleagues in the English department.
William F. Buckley Jr. ’50
A half century ago, the founder of The National Review graduated and wrote a stinging castigation of his alma mater that set the educational agenda for the modern conservative movement in this country.
James Fenimore Cooper, Class of 1806
The prototype of the American adventure story is set in 1757 during the French and Indian war and features a classic hero: a man with the moral courage to sever all relations with a society he no longer can agree with.
Jonathan Edwards, Class of 1720, 1724MA
The editors of the authoritative Yale University Press series The Works of Jonathan Edwards include a selection of fiery sermons, treatises, and autobiographical work by early America’s greatest theologian and philosopher.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. ’73
One of the country’s leading black scholars offers a memoir of his youth in a West Virginia paper mill town in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a portrait of his family and its placement in a black society whose strength and self-confidence enabled it to thrive despite segregation.
John Hersey ’36
Pulitzer prize–winning writer John Hersey recorded the stories of Hiroshima residents right after the atomic bomb devastated the city. The resulting book gave the world first-hand accounts from people who had survived the most horrific attack in human history.
Owen Johnson, Class of 1900
The all-time classic coming-of-age-at-college tale is a meditation on the qualities that ought to be valued at a place like Yale, and a book that helped define the Yale man.
John Knowles ’49
This best-selling novel that recounts the story of two friends at boarding school during World War II has been described as one of “the most starkly moving parables ever written about the dark forces that brood over the tortured world of adolescence.”
Aldo Leopold ’09MF
This classic of nature writing—one of the most influential of its genre—mixes essay, polemic, and memoir as it sketches Leopold’s concept of a land ethic: that successful conservation entails extending to nature “the ethical sense of responsibility that humans extend to each other.”
Sinclair Lewis ’07
In a book that shatters sentimental myths, Lewis, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930, examines what happens when a big-city girl marries a physician, settles in a small town in the Midwest, and attempts to import a measure of culture.
Archibald MacLeish ’15
This is a definitive collection of writing culled from the long career of a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet who was also the Librarian of Congress and U.S. Poet Laureate, as well as a playwright, a federal administrator, and, as a Bonesman, a football star.
Othniel Marsh, Class of 1860, 1863MA
In the 19th century two “bone men”—Edward Drinker Cope and Yale’s O. C. Marsh—were rivals for supremacy in fossil hunting. Paleontologist Marsh tells the story of his work and explains the meaning of his discoveries.
Peter Matthiessen ’50
In an account of a “true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart,” novelist and nature writer Matthiessen joins zoologist George Schaller on a hike into “the last enclave of pure Tibetan culture on earth” in the Himalayas to search for one of the world’s most elusive big cats, the mythical snow leopard.
David McCullough ’55
This warm, Pulitzer Prize–winning biography presented with zest and imagination is both a historical evaluation of the Truman presidency and a paean to the man’s rock-solid American values.
Paul Monette ’67
Monette’s National Book Award–winning autobiography, an exploration of coming of age and coming out during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, provides an intense chronicle of the author’s struggle with his homosexuality and HIV infection, and his salvation.
Gloria Naylor ’83MA
This bittersweet novel chronicles the communal strength of seven diverse black women—“hard-edged, soft-centered, brutally demanding, and easily pleased”—who live in decaying rented houses on a walled-off street of an urban neighborhood.
Sherwin Nuland ’55MD
A National Book Award–winning look at death by a physician who wants it known that “we rarely go gentle into that good night” examines both the characteristics of the most common deadly diseases and what the end of life means to doctor, patient, nurse, and family.
Camille Paglia ’74PhD
In a scholarly work that challenges the cultural assumptions of both conservatives and liberals, Paglia, an intellectual provocateuse, explores the connections between art and pagan ritual, as well as between such odd couples as Emily Dickinson and the Marquis de Sade, and Lord Byron and Elvis Presley.
Richard Rhodes ’59
The definitive story of humanity’s most awesome discovery and invention provides a gripping, authoritative account of the men, women, science, drama, and intrigue behind the single most important event of the century: the discovery of nuclear energy and construction of the atomic bomb.
Vincent Scully ’40, ’49PhD
In this influential study of the underappreciated residential architecture of the late 19th century, Scully planted the seeds of the architectural movement that became known as postmodernism.
Jonathan Spence ’65PhD
The definitive introduction to the history of the world’s most populous nation explores the past four centuries to tell a story of vast struggle, exhilarating dreams, and crushed lives, and the capacity of the human spirit to endure.
Benjamin Spock ’25
Since it first appeared more than half a century ago “Dr. Spock”—now in its seventh edition—has remained a virtual bible for parents seeking trustworthy information on every aspect of child care.
Garry Trudeau ’70, ’73BFA
What started out in the late 1960s as a Yale Daily News comic strip called “Bull Tales” that parodied life on campus has gone on to become an internationally syndicated feature in more than 1,400 daily newspapers. This collection shows how “Doonesbury,” now more than 30 years old, evolved and revolutionized the “funny pages.”
Calvin Trillin ’57
In a meditation on one life’s aborted promise and a memoir about how America has changed in the past 30 years, Trillin charts the course of classmate Denny Hansen ’57, a Rhodes scholar and “golden boy” who was featured in Life magazine and later committed suicide.
Robert Penn Warren, Professor of English
In the classic novel about American politics, Warren examines good and evil in a Pulitzer Prize–winning book whose lead character, Governor Willie Stark, was based on the life of Huey Long and has been called “one of the greatest of American literary creations.”
Wendy Wasserstein ’76MFA
This Tony- and Pulitzer Prize–winning play presents the story of smart, overachieving, and unhappy Heidi Holland—“the girl we all want to grow up and be or for our daughters to grow up and be”—as she recounts her floundering feminist march through 30 years of America.
Noah Webster, Class of 1778
The first dictionary of American English, which is now in its 10th edition, continues to be a classic: a trusted, influential, and authoritative source of information about the language.
Thorton Wilder ’20
An American stage perennial, Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize–winning drama of the small, New Hampshire village of Grover’s Corners transformed the simple events of human life into a universal reverie.
Garry Wills ’61PhD
In a 272-word speech that took a mere three minutes to deliver, Lincoln gave the nation “a new birth of freedom,” says historian Wills. His Pulitzer Prize–winning analysis presents the Gettysburg Address as “a calculated political statement with roots in the Declaration of Independence, the Greek Revival, and Transcendentalism.”
Naomi Wolf ’84
The average women in this country stands five-foot four and weighs 140 pounds, and yet the images that saturate the airwaves and the pages of clothing catalogs and magazine advertisements feature females who are far outside the norm. In a book that laid down a feminist gauntlet, Wolf argues for the acceptance of a more natural beauty.
Tom Wolfe ’57PhD
The account of the epic cross-country tour the author made in the 1960s with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters helped define a literary style called the “new journalism,” as well as a generation of rebellious American youth.
C. Vann Woodward, Sterling Professor of History
Woodward’s influential study of the history of the Jim Crow laws and of American race relations debunked the popular notion that segregation had always been part of the Southern way of life and provided a nuanced analysis of the course of white Southern resistance to desegregation decisions by the Supreme Court.
Robert Woodward ’65 & Carl Bernstein
In their Pulitzer Prize–winning reporting for the Washington Post, Woodward and Bernstein doggedly pursued the dirty tricks and dark secrets of the Watergate scandal. The book details all the events and personalities in an affair that began as a bungled burglary and ended with the resignation of President Nixon.
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