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Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power Paperback – September 4, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Robbins (Quarterlife Crisis) begins by setting readers up with the ridiculous myth of Yale's Skull and Bones, an exclusive society whose powerful members including both presidents Bush are sworn to secrecy for life about the club's activities: the myth says that the society's members form a clique that rules the world. Robbins then proposes demystifying the group. On the one hand, she propagates the myth, spelling out how Bonesmen have promoted one another in enormously successful political and business careers; they presided over the creation of the atomic bomb as well as the CIA, she says. On the other hand, Robbins turns up much that is prosaic, as she traces the society's origins back to 1832, when William Russell founded it as retribution for a classmate's having been passed over by Phi Beta Kappa; she discovers that the club's cryptic iconography is derived from German university societies. She reveals the inventory of the Tomb (an evocative name for what is essentially a frat house) and details about the group's oddly juvenile fraternal ritual. The narrative never gets more dramatic than Robbins staking out the Tomb for President George W. Bush during Yale's tercentennial celebrations in 2002, and while she relies heavily on the testimony of many Bonesmen, she never names names. While the book may demystify Skull and Bones, it also imparts the sense that Robbins, herself a Yale graduate and member of a rival society, believes in Yalies' elitist entitlement to power and prestige.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Robbins, herself a Yale graduate and secret society member, aims to debunk the myth of one of the oldest secret societies, Skull and Bones. She begins with a superstitious, melodramatic account that suggests the society is both immensely rich and so powerful that it influenced politics. What follows is an extremely detailed account that traces the history of Yale and that of secret societies in general and that of Bones in particular, founded in 1832. Fifteen initiates, who are often among the smartest and most talented in their class, are tapped their junior year. They are initiated in the tomb (the Bones headquarters) and taken on a retreat to Bones-owned Deer Island, off the coast of New York. Much like a fraternity, Bones has many secret rituals and traditions. Robbins reveals some of these--special "Bones" names, the Bonesmen's theft of the bones of Geronimo. She also names some of the members, including both George Bush and George W. Bush. An interesting study, though the casual reader might find it too detailed. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316735612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316735612
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

* Find me on Facebook for new character updates, contests to win free books, to give feedback, etc. *Twitter @AlexndraRobbins

New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Robbins's last book was Goodreads' BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR ("The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth" - also a Books for a Better Life winner).

Robbins was the 2014 recipient of the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, given by the Medill School of Journalism. She also won the 2014 Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2014 June Roth Award for Medical Journalism, and the 2014 Robert D.G. Lewis Watchdog Award, the top prize in the Society of Professional Journalists Washington, D.C. Dateline Awards.

Robbins has written for several publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Forbes, and regularly appears in the national media on shows such as "Oprah," "The Today Show," "60 Minutes," "The View," and "The Colbert Report." Robbins frequently lectures about her books and is currently touring. To view topics or book a lecture, please visit

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Michael Moore on November 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
Let me make this clear, I bought this book not to read more conspiracy theory nonsense, but rather to 1) hear about the rational explanations of the popular conspiracy theories, why they are perhaps wrong, what their basis in truth might be, as well as 2) to hear interesting stories about the lengths to which Skull and Bones members protect their secrets and serve the purposes of its members. I went to her website and read the book's excerpt, which was a copy of the first chapter in which she starts off doing exactly what I was looking for.

Unfortunatly after buying the book, I was dissapointed to discover that the interesting topics which she uses to seduce the reader into a purchase are discussed no further. The reader must first painstakingly work through a miserable history of Yale's traditions, societies, etc. for the first 77 pages of the book--not only boring, but not what I paid for. When she finally does decide to discuss the actual topic of her book, it is dissapointing, to be nice. In a decently thourough manner, she describes the choosing of and ritualistic initiation of new members. She then goes on to describe the rise of power of some of the more powerful Skull and Bones run organizations and families. Um...great (sarcastically).

To be clear, the info she provides on the Skull and Bones society is mildly interesting, seems somewhat objective (with one major exception noted below), is refreshingly realistic given most of the pure conspiracy weirdos tackling S&B, and would have its valid place in a more thourough book on the subject. However, what she provides can by no means be an adequate basis for an entire novel. Or, rather, I should say, a good novel. It seemed as though she was trying to fit 10 good pages of interesting info into a 200 page novel.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful By S. A. Felton on May 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I heard the author on a national radio show some time ago,
and she sounded well-informed, articulate, and intelligent. I
only recently got around to reading the book, which I was
interested in because, indeed, I very much buy into conspiracy
theories. Based on the interview, in which she claimed to have
been harrassed by Skull and Bones (SaB) members, a claim
repeated at the outset of the book, I expected a full expose'
of Skull and Bones.
While the book does provide an expose', about 80% of the
writing that provides background about the so-called Yale
(and Harvard) "mystique," along with staggering amounts of details
about the goings on at Yale, bored me no end, and I found myself
skimming constantly. By the time I got to page 100, half-way
through, I simply could not believe that an editor didn't make
drastic cuts/changes to the contents of the book. It's easy to
understand why the author would be interested in all this "gossip,"
for she was a member of another secret society at Yale, she was
"in" as she wrote. Maybe the editors were too. I can't imagine
who else would want to read this material, except perhaps in brief
outline as background.

Here are some examples. The first 3 pages of Chapter 3, "Inside
Headquarters," is a very boring poem called "The Brown Jug." Pp. 104 -
106 is yet another soporific excerpt from a novel about "Tap Day," which
the author describes in great detail in not one, but two sections of the
book. On p. 130 we are treated to SaB's dinner menu - the chapter is
called "The Secrets of the Skull and Bones!
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64 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Ataraxia Legend Report on December 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
Disinformation at its finest. Skull & Bones realized the media dam was breaking and that they could no longer keep the existance of their influential little Satanic private club hidden from the greater public, and so lo and behold! - a naive young writer - herself a member of a Yale secret society - is asked to write a book for a mainstream publisher in hopes to "soften the blow" to Joe Schmoe. There is enough valid information in here so as to not insult the reader's intelligence, but it never really cuts to the heart of the matter, preferring to linger on irrelevant details and on the experiences of inactive members of the group who never really got to know what it was all about in the first place (and who, for all the author knows, might've been feeding *her* disinformation). The idea is that anyone who has enough interest in Skull & Bones to read a book about them, will pick this up at their local bookstore, will have their curiousity assuaged, and, being satisfied that Skull & Bones isn't as lurid as some have made it out to be, will investigate the matter no more. Simply put, this book was released as a form of damage control. Anyone seriously researching Skull & Bones should pick up a copy of Antony Sutton's book, "America's Secret Establishment", in addition to this one, and if you're only planning to read one book on the subject, I recommend Sutton's book over this one (FYI, Sutton was the first researcher to really blow the lid off Skull & Bones, back in the 1980's, when few people had ever even heard of it).
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