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Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover. That’s certainly the case with former Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust’s new memoir, Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury. The last thing Faust wants her readers to care about is what she is best known for—being the first woman to lead Harvard.
The front cover of Necessary Trouble is a close-up of Faust at 19, lying on the lawn at Bryn Mawr College looking intently through oversize glasses at whoever is photographing her. The picture is from the period in Faust’s life when she was shedding her identity as a young woman from a wealthy Virginia family and becoming a political activist who in the 1960s would define herself by her participation in the decade’s civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.
Becoming Harvard’s 28th president and presiding over the university’s dramatic expansion during an administration that went from 2007 to 2018 may be a story Faust tells in a future book, but what matters to her in Necessary Trouble is explaining why her privileged background and her education at Concord Academy and Bryn Mawr College did not lead her to the conventional life she was expected to embrace.