By Thomas J. Bourgeois
My last installment wishfully concluded, “I hope to see you in May.” As I file this column in late March, amid a mounting public health crisis, I am both sad and relieved that Yale has decided to cancel its 2020 commencement exercises and college class reunions. Now on to the news.
I was delighted to see Peter Bubriski at the Class Table before The Game last November, and I took the occasion to prod him for an update to share with you in class notes. He obliged, as follows: “Although I keep thinking about retiring, it doesn’t seem to be happening quite yet. I continue to work with some of the most interesting architecture and engineering firms around, from coast to coast, preparing them for interviews as they pursue major projects. I also have worked for almost a decade as a lecturer at Boston University’s Questrom Graduate School of Business, and thanks to our own (and MIT’s) Charles Leiserson, I work every winter with MIT undergrads in a leadership program, coaching them on communication style. Back home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, I serve on the Architectural Preservation District Commission, which tries to act as an educational resource for homeowners rather than as Big Brother the enforcer. We’re lucky to have the nation’s largest collection of First Period (1635–1720) houses, and Rick Spalding ’76 and I are happy to live in the Foster Grant House (1717), which was NOT inhabited by a sunglass-wearing Colonial, as far as we know. When Rick retired from Williams a year and a half ago, he thought he would settle into a quiet life of beach-going, reading, and vegetable gardening, but lo and behold, this fall he was tapped to become the interim senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s roughly a year-and-a-half-long assignment while they search for a permanent pastor for this thriving, progressive 1,500-member church. He leads a staff of 20, preaches—rather spectacularly, if I say so myself—and is enjoying the challenges and the excitement of a big college town. I’ve been getting out there for extended visits every month, and though I tried to secure a ticket for at least one home football game in the Big House, nary a seat could be found—and they seat 125,000 for each game!” I thank Peter for his thorough account, and for his hard work—temporarily come to naught—in helping Brock Holmes and Joan Spear plan our 45th reunion cabaret. Here’s hoping we can revive this beloved Yale ’75 tradition soon!
Exciting developments in the nonfiction section of the book world:
Scribner will release Chris Whipple’s The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future on May 19. The research underlying this volume began with Chris’s production of the 2015 Showtime documentary The Spymasters—CIA in the Crosshairs. While the documentary focuses on the CIA in the immediate and longer-term aftermaths of the September 11 attacks, the book explores its entire history, and it cites what may come as surprising examples of the agency’s actions to prevent presidents from overstepping the powers of their office. Praise has come from early readers running the ideological gamut from Max Boot to Jonathan Alter. James A. Baker III, who served as Reagan’s chief of staff and G. H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State, writes, “Chris Whipple is an accomplished historian, hard-nosed journalist, and master story teller with a knack of getting to the heart of an issue. His latest book . . . is a must read for anyone interested in America’s intelligence gathering and national security.” Bob Schieffer, former anchor of CBS’s Face the Nation, offers this assessment: “Better than anyone, Chris Whipple knows how to root out the secrets buried deeply in the federal bureaucracy, and turning his eye to the CIA he’s done it again. . . . This is the CIA with the bark off and Washington reporting at its best.” Our own Christopher Buckley hails it as “masterful at every level, the best book about the CIA I’ve ever read. Its revelations are eye-popping, alternately exhilarating and depressing, as he tells the story of people who have guided our nation—and misguided it. It will make you proud, and depressed. It will cause you to lose sleep, not just because of the dangers we face but because it’s so damned riveting it will keep you up until all hours. How he managed to pull so much history together, how he extracted such a wealth of detail from his principal sources—the CIA leaders themselves—is quite simply mind-boggling. This is an important book. And one hell of a story.” Your faithful correspondent can hardly wait to get his hands on a copy!
Also high on my required reading list is Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam’s latest book, from Random House: Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth and the Fight over a Modernist Masterpiece. It tells the story of the architect’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, undertaken in the mid-1940s as a weekend house for Chicago physician Edith Farnsworth and completed in 1951. Reviewing the book for the New York Times, James Barron notes, “This was the glass house that launched a thousand others, most famously the one Philip Johnson designed for himself in Connecticut.” Disagreements between the architect and his client, with whom he experienced a short-term romance, gave way to a 1952 trial, where cost overruns (the house ended up costing seven times what Farnsworth originally said she was willing to spend) and differences over design decisions were the central issues. The real story, however, seems to have been Dr. Farnsworth’s heartbreak over the demise of their romance. Barron writes, “Beam’s thorough and thoughtful account is both a knowing biography of an object—the house—and of its two principals, the well documented Mies and the widely overlooked Farnsworth,” and he lauds Alex for telling the story “without getting sidetracked by architectural arcana or excessive gossip-mongering.”
That’s all for now. As always, I encourage you to check in with your news.