Work and Love
TRIUMPHS OF EXPERIENCE:
The Men of the Harvard Grant Study.
By George E. Vaillant.
Harvard Univ. Press. 457 pp. $27.95
When the psychiatrist George Vaillant was a teenager, he received in the mail his father’s 25th Harvard class reunion book, which detailed in short paragraphs the activities of classmates who were by then in their late forties. Young George found the twisting narratives fascinating, and pored over them obsessively. The very arrival of this book must have been extremely difficult for him, as a few years earlier, George’s father, a privileged and successful man with no overt signs of depression or distress, had fatally shot himself in his backyard after a nap. George, then 10 years old, was the last to see his father alive.
Drawing upon the resilience that characterizes the themes of Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant has presided for the last five decades over the ultimate class reunion book, the Grant Study. Named after its patron, the variety-store magnate W. T. Grant, the study began tracking 268 Harvard students, most members of the classes of 1942, ’43, and ’44, in 1938. Vaillant inherited the project in the 1960s, directed it for over 30 years beginning in 1972, and remains a co-director. Exact criteria for selection to the study remain obscure—the original investigators declined Norman Mailer and Leonard Bernstein, but included John F. Kennedy. Sixty-eight members of the original cohort, now in their nineties, are still living.
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Charles Barber is a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Connection Institute for Innovative Practice, dedicated to the study of the narratives of people recovering from mental illness. He is the author of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (2008).more from this author >>