A Match Made at Harvard: Elitism, Meritocracy and My Parents, with Adam Begley

Harvard College

We’re delighted to welcome back Circle Square member Adam Begley to give us a sneak preview of his next book set at Harvard College. The evening will be co-hosted by Sam Leith, Literary Editor of The Spectator.

Adam’s forthcoming book on Harvard (tentatively titled Fair Harvard) transports us to the famous campus in the 1950s, in the midst of its great transformation from a playground of the upper class to a meritocratic powerhouse. Adam’s father and mother, who met at Harvard in 1951, embody the tension between the patrician past and the meritocratic future: he was a penniless Jewish refugee from war-torn Europe, she was from a venerable Boston Brahmin family (one of her ancestors graduated in 1670). Their progress raises questions. Any great university is necessarily populated by an elite of merit, but we also know that merit, as an American political economist has noted, “is that set of skills in which the elite excel, and by which they differentiate themselves from rivals.” Can we square this modern elitism with egalitarian ideals? Can we justify the idea of an aristocracy of intellect?


About Adam Begley

Adam Begley

For twelve years the books editor of The New York Observer, Adam Begley is the author of three biographies, Houdini: The Elusive American (Yale, 2020); The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (Tim Duggan Books, 2017); and Updike (Harper, 2014). A graduate of Harvard College, he received a doctorate in American Literature from Stanford University in 1989. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2010 and a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography in 2011. He has lived in England since 1997.


About Sam Leith 

Sam Leith

Sam Leith is the literary editor of The Spectator and author of You Talkin’ To Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Trump… and Beyond, and Write To The Point: How To Be Clear, Correct and Persuasive on the Page. He’s currently writing a book about the history of children’s literature.

DATE:Thursday 15th September


VENUE:Pushkin House, 5a Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2TA


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