John Phillips’ novel “The Second Happiest Day” may not be great literature, but if you want to experience the heyday of Ivy at Harvard, go find this book.
Phillips allegedly deflowered Jacqueline Bouvier in 1951 on a creaky hotel elevator in Paris before his bestseller was published. That’s when he was still known as John Phillips Marquand, Jr., not yet competing with his Pulitzer Prize father, J.P. Marquand. His dad’s book about an earlier Harvard generation, “H.M. Pulham, Esq.,” also chronicles the adjustment of a townie becoming a full-fledged Harvardian, eventually making the best clubs, receiving the ultimate organizing his class’ 25th reunion in Cambridge.
Lest we forget, Amory Blaine, Princeton hero in Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” always claimed “Stover At Yale” was “his kind of textbook.” Nick Carraway went to Yale and so did Gatsby antagonist Tom Buchanan. Eli always got into the act.
My Princeton favorites are the work of Geoffrey Wolff, Class of 1960. “The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father” is a knowing memoir of an errant father who got tossed out of Princeton, landed in jail, and ended his life in disrepute. “The Final Club,” is a novel with a protagonist from a public high school in Seattle with a Jewish mother and drunken father who masters bicker, Briarcliff, Lester Lanin, and crew on Lake Carnegie — a precis of the era.
The essence of Princeton nobility, Scott Fitzgerald self-destructs in a swath of booze at the 1939 Dartmouth Winter Carnival in that cruelly drawn and quartered Budd Shulberg novel “The Disenchanted.” In a different vein but with the same New Hampshire geography, Chris Miller’s “The Real Animal House” recalls Alpha Delta Phi’s dysfunction in days of yore at dear ol’ Dartmouth.
The more meaningful contribution the Ivy League provided America was a tradition of service exemplified in the nonfiction book “The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made,” by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.
In it the authors elevate the WASP ascendency beyond the gin-and-tonic, three-button snobbery of Old Money by describing the heroic examples of Dean Acheson, Charles E. Bohlen, W. Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John J. McCloy, who rescued the postwar world from chaos. The gift of public service these men provided the country is the real meat of Ivy. Read about them first, then go for the gravy. — RICHARD PRESS