The Essence of Harvard: Charles W. Eliot’s Harvard Memories

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Edited and Introduced by Paul Rich

Charles W. Eliot was the longest tenured Harvard president and one of the founders of the modern American university. He became an iconic figure in American life, called upon for opinions on virtually every subject under the sun. His “five foot shelf” of books that everyone should read became a staple in the American home, and when inscriptions were to be chiseled on the fronts of post offices and libraries, it was to Eliot that an appeal was made for apt words. A dedicated Unitarian whose son, Samuel Eliot, became president of the denomination, he had a pragmatic and common sense approach to life that left little room for moping and despair — although he had his share of grief and loss. He remains not only an important figure in education, but also an exemplar of values of persistence and optimism that are still part of American psyche.