We Keep the Dead Close: Book summary and reviews of We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

We Keep the Dead Close

A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence

by Becky Cooper

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper X
We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2020
    512 pages
    Genre: True Crime

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Book Summary

For readers gripped by In Cold Blood and I'll Be Gone in the Dark, We Keep the Dead Close is both a haunting true crime narrative of an unsolved 1969 murder at a prestigious institution and a lyrical memoir 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 23-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.

(Cover photo by Don Mitchell.)

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Interspersed throughout with photos and riveting plot twists, this book succeeds as both a true-crime story and a powerful portrait of a young woman's remarkable quest for justice. An intricately crafted and suspenseful book sure to please any fan of true crime—and plenty of readers beyond." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[M]esmerizing...Cooper does a superior job of alternating her present-day investigation with flashbacks depicting Britton's life and the initial police inquiries. In addition to presenting a tense narrative, she delves into the phenomenon and morality of true crime fandom. This twist-filled whodunit is a nonfiction page-turner." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Cooper's suspenseful, intensely intimate work casts a critical lens on institutional misogyny. Sure to appeal to true crime readers, especially fans of Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark." - Library Journal

"A mournful and philosophical dive into a university culture that set the stage for a heinous crime, and a lyrical entry in the new subgenre of victim-focused true crime." - CrimeReads

"We Keep the Dead Close is part true crime, part memoir, part re-creation of the vast, compelling, disappointing investigative process... While the book is wide-ranging, there are no purposeless tangents. Instead, we are given a portrait of the kind of world Jane lived and died in, granting us both an understanding of Jane and the myths that her murder created." - Shelf Awareness

"[A] fascinating, haunting book, which Cooper has been working toward writing for the last 10 years, sifting through old documents, debunking baseless rumors, and compiling a picture of an academic world that is ruled by an archaic and highly gendered code of conduct, one that prioritizes ambitious men, and punishes similar women." - Refinery29

"We Keep the Dead Close is part true crime, part memoir, part re-creation of the vast, compelling, disappointing investigative process... While the book is wide-ranging, there are no purposeless tangents. Instead, we are given a portrait of the kind of world Jane lived and died in, granting us both an understanding of Jane and the myths that her murder created." - Shelf Awareness

"[Becky's] book is at once a mystery, a memoir, and a look at women's experiences in hallowed halls and seems poised to become required reading in Cambridge and far beyond." - Town & Country

"We Keep the Dead Close is the most amazing true crime book I have read where the identity of the person responsible was not revealed until the end. It's the true crime story everyone will be talking about next year." - BookRiot

"I defy any reader to resist the hypnotic power of this Harvard whodunit. In a tour de force of investigative reporting, Becky Cooper guides us through a maze of academic politics and personal intrigue, her sleuthing laced with uncommon sensitivity and insight. Even as it engages us emotionally, this stirring narrative, with its heart-stopping finale, forces us to ponder the very nature of historical truth. A stunning achievement." - Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

"A brilliantly constructed, wholly captivating investigation of an unsolved 1969 murder. We Keep The Dead Close has it all: Cats, capes, Ivy League politics, archeological excavation, an ax in the turtle tank. Best of all it has at its center a subtle, stubborn sleuth who reminds us not to confuse our facts with our stories. Stories are dangerous, Becky Cooper warns us, as well she should: This one is going to cost you at least one night's sleep." - Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Witches

This information about We Keep the Dead Close shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Becky Cooper

Becky Cooper is a former New Yorker editorial staff member and Senior Fellow at Brandeis's Schuster Institute for Investigative Reporting. Her undergraduate thesis, a literary biography of David Foster Wallace, won Harvard's Hoopes Prize, the highest undergraduate award for research and writing. Research for this book was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the International Women's Media Foundation's Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists. She is also the author of Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers (Abrams, 2013).

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