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

3.1 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews

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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: #680,301 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. www.facebook.com/AuthorAlexandraRobbins. *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 alexandrarobbins.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Secrets of the Tomb," Alexandra Robbins repeats, and dismisses, many of the claims made by conspiracy theorists like Anthony Sutton about the Yale University senior society Skull and Bones. She also calls into question the authenticity of Ron Rosenbaum's account of a Skull and Bones initiation, suggesting that it was not authentic, but rather a skit contrived and performed by members who knew that Rosenbaum was eavesdropping on them.
In the stead of such "exposés," she provides a history of early Yale and the peculiar social climate in which this society came to be. The truth is as interesting as any of the fantasies. ... Skull and Bones (as well as several other similar societies) reflect today what was once a much broader system of college clubs that served to reinforce institutional culture. Of course, that culture has changed with the passage of years; the successful (i.e., surviving) societies have adapted to change even as they resisted it.
We don't learn much more about the German connection or the ritual background of Skull and Bones here than we do from Sutton. The German university corps from which the Yale society emanated as a chapter is not identified; Ms. Robbins has not said which German university Gen. Russell visited. If naked mud wrestling or lying in a coffin are not (at least now) parts of the ritual, drinking simulated "blood" out of a skull is, which suggests von Hund's masonic Templars as a ritual source. The presiding officer is named "Uncle Toby," apparently derived from the character in Laurence Sterne's novel "Tristam Shandy," and the mysterious number 322 from the date of Demosthenes' death. The Skull and Bones library contains an Aldine edition of Demosthenes and a first edition of "Tristam Shandy," both great bibliophilic rarities.
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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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