We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence - book cover
  • Publisher : Grand Central Publishing
  • Published : 14 Sep 2021
  • Pages : 528
  • ISBN-10 : 1538746859
  • ISBN-13 : 9781538746851
  • Language : English

We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence


Named One of The Best Books of 2020 by NPR's Fresh Air * Publishers Weekly * Marie Claire * Redbook * Vogue * Kirkus Reviews * Book Riot * Bustle

A Recommended Book by The New York Times * The Washington Post * Booklist * The Boston Globe * Amazon * Goodreads * Buzzfeed * Town & Country * Refinery29 * BookRiot * CrimeReads * Glamour * Popsugar * PureWow * Shondaland

Dive into a "tour de force of investigative reporting" (Ron Chernow): a "searching, atmospheric and ultimately entrancing" (Patrick Radden Keefe) true crime narrative of an unsolved 1969 murder at Harvard and an "exhilarating and seductive" (Ariel Levy) narrative of obsession and love for a girl who dreamt of rising among men.

You have to remember, he reminded me, that Harvard is older than the U.S. government. You have to remember because Harvard doesn't let you forget.

1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious twenty-three-year-old graduate student in Harvard's Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.   Forty years later, Becky Cooper a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she'd threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a 'cowboy culture' among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims. We Keep the Dead Close is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman's past onto another's present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.

Editorial Reviews

"As an undergraduate at Harvard, Cooper became obsessed with the unsolved murder of Jane Britton, an anthropology student there, in 1969. As Cooper was digging, new D.N.A. analysis eventually identified a suspect, but the real thrills of the story are the twists and turns that kept the killing a mystery for decades."―New York Times

"We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper is a brilliantly idiosyncratic variant of generic true crime. . . While much that Cooper uncovers in her private pursuit of the case is fascinating in itself, not least her interviews with Lamberg-Karlovsky and other 'persons of interest' for whom the case of Jane Britton was never allowed to go cold, it is the revelation of the murderer that is most unexpected."―Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books

"Cooper's resolve to excavate the truth about Britton's murder will keep a reader engaged enough to want to follow this case to its unexpected conclusion."―NPR

"[E]xhaustive and extraordinary. . .The most noteworthy element of Cooper's book might be its reportorial ambition. . .It is a testament to her skills as a writer that she is able to connect the threads of the cold case to larger cultural issues."―The Washington Post

"When Ms. Cooper describes her war room, covered with 'theories and photos, a map of Iran, a blueprint of an apartment building, all stuck to my cork boards with dissection needles,' she sounds like Carrie Mathison of Homeland, flirting with the porous boundary between commitment and mania ... [Jane] is as tantalizing and as fleeting as her smile."―The Wall Street Journal

"Becky Cooper's gripping literary nonfiction debut. . .admirably avoids this mistake and never lets us forget the lived experience of Jane Britton ... a compelling portrait of a woman's life cut short-as well as a fascinating exposé of a prestigious enclave within the country's most elite institution. . .an engrossing, monumental work."―USA Today

"Searching, atmospheric and ultimately entrancing, We Keep the Dead Close is a vivid account of a notorious murder at Harvard that had remained unsolved for fifty years, and a meditation on the stories that we tell ourselves about violence. Cooper is a methodical, obsessive and very companionable sleuth, who ushers us through the many twists and turns in her own investigation until she arrives at a solution. In a deft touch, she interrogates not just the evidence, witnesses and suspects, but her own biases and assumptions, as well."―Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing

"I defy any reader to resist the hypnotic power of this Harvard whodunit. In a tour de force of investigative reporting, Bec...

Readers Top Reviews

Tony Hall
I thought I know what to expect when I started this book: a classic true crime piece set in the background of a famous institution....Instead, I discovered something completely beguiling: true-crime writing, painstakingly research, without doubt. But here was the surprise: A philosophical treatise about the ethics of the genre, with archaeology as a beautiful metaphor for that vein of writing; an exploration of powerful Institutions and their influence; a pragmatic, powerful argument for the #meetoo movement; an existential reflection on identity, place and meaning. I could go on. This is a clever, rewarding book, beautifully written. A great book to start 2022.
Lynda KellyTambok
I read a lot of true crime but this just isn't for me. It's more a history of Harvard and its archaeological department with a cast of anyone who's ever been through its hallowed halls, pretty much. It ended up just boring me rigid and I jacked it in at 28%. The murder mystery seems to fall by the wayside and pretty much merits a couple of lines each chapter while we traipse through Harvard and Radcliffe in the interim. This isn't what I expected at all, I'm afraid. I'm pretty sure the case is still unsolved, so to carry on and still reach no type of resolution wasn't for me. I checked when I finished and the murderer IS unmasked, for those of you wanting to stick with it. I saved myself hours and found the answer on Google in a few seconds !! For most of the book she might as well have been writing in Swahili for me. I've not ever been to university, have no idea how they run and I'm really NOT that interested !! One of the characters was in and out of Jane's apartment every time he felt like it and HE later said that she'd not have let anyone in she didn't know, but since she never locked her door and he was in and out on a whim I found that a dumb remark to make !! I got to page 154 and yet another person was introduced who'd studied at Harvard and I lost the will to live. We really don't need the detail she's included. That isn't why people picked the book up. The author made mention of the fact that Jane's murder outshone coverage of RFK's assassination in the press. Another fatuous remark, since THAT occurred seven months before !! I spotted one apostrophe and one hyphen error and that was it, which earns it an additional star.
Liz Barnsley
I fell into “Keep The Dead Close” – Becky Cooper’s writing is just beautiful, she immerses the reader into the narrative so you feel like you are walking in her shoes- following behind a girl long gone – and trying to find out what happened to her. The murder of Jane Britton in the late 1960’s, somewhat of a quiet urban legend within the walls of Harvard, suggests she was having an affair with a professor who then killed her. The ensuing supposed cover up by the historic institution is still whispered around decades later when our author first hears the story. What follows becomes an obsession and somewhat of a salvation or so it seemed to me..the intricate nature of this story is stunning in its complexity, past and present intertwined, sitting at the heart of it a young woman who with every revelation becomes more and more enigmatic as well as vividly real. At the end I still hadn’t fully grasped who Jane Britton WAS but I felt her loss – not, of course, in the same way as the people who surrounded her at the time of her death, but still.. Feminism, misogyny, power and memory all play into the authors discoveries. Her sense of self wraps around the story in a way that is utterly compelling and oft melancholy, she digs deep into everyone who may have relevant information and breathes life into them for the reader who will want an answer as much as she does. I won’t tell you where this ends because in a lot of ways it never will, I will tell you that I didn’t think I’d read another true crime narrative that would sink into my soul like I’ll Be Gone In The Dark and Hell In The Heartland but here it is. I read it fast and late into the night, devouring each page and not wanting to sleep. I highly recommend it. I’ll leave you with a quote that will stay with me, it being a truth known to women everywhere… “It’s just the most recent iteration of the same damn story”
Eleanor RichardsS Ri
I appreciate the scope of this true crime book, and I admire the author for diving so deeply into this mystery, but the book really could have benefited from an editor or close reader who was more hands on. The timeline is really hard to follow, and it's difficult to parse reality from fiction. Sometimes the book veers into magical realism, but not in a sophisticated way, which is disappointing and just causes more confusion. I wish it were tighter, and that all of the meandering led to some place that you can't already google to cut to the chase.

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