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Harvard Square

An Illustrated History Since 1950

By Mo Lotman

With additional commentary by John Updike, Tom Rush,, Bill Weld, and others 

What do Barack Obama, Samuel Beckett, Fidel Castro, Joan Baez, Conan O’Brien, Natalie Portman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower have in common? Their footsteps have all crossed paths in Harvard Square. This well-trod patch of Cambridge turf, in the backyard of Harvard University, has long been a crossroads where poetry, retailing, politics, design, performance, and every other cultural endeavor intersect.

Here is a street-by-street, pop-culture time capsule of this famous neighborhood where world leaders, intellectuals, punks, and panhandlers have rubbed elbows over generations. Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 features over 500 vintage and contemporary photographs and short chapter introductions by famous denizens including John Updike, who called the book “a priceless assemblage.” It was a top-ten local hardcover nonfiction bestseller after release and the #1 Massachusetts travel book on Amazon for several months. (Peek inside!)

From the Square’s tweedy aspect in the 1950s through its many transformations in the ’60s, ’70s, and beyond, author Mo Lotman gives a decade-by-decade account of Harvard Square’s history, traditions, and lore. The bookstores, the billiard parlors, the barbershops, the booze and burger joints: they’re all here. Based on interviews with more than a hundred of the Square’s denizens, illustrated with archival photographs, and graced with texts by John Updike, Bill McKibben, Governor Bill Weld, and others, Harvard Square brings “the smartest urban space in America” to vivid life.

Mo Lotman is a freelance writer and publisher of The Technoskeptic, and speaks publicly on the topic of technology and society. Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 is his first book. A professional voice talent whose underwriting announcements can be heard on Boston’s local public radio 89.7, Mo wrote and voiced his own radio piece about Harvard Square for NPR’s All Things Considered. For more about Mo, visit molotman.com.


“A self-described ‘quirky individualist,’ Mo Lotman has done all sorts of things: writing, acting, music, even comedy. This makes the Somerville resident an ideal chronicler of Harvard Square, a very quirky place defined by all sorts of things. Lotman spent 4½ years researching and writing Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950, [and his] profusely illustrated book shows a commercial district—a state of mind, really—in which continuity and change go together like ivy and brick.” —Mark Feeney, Boston Globe

“The coffee-table book is both cornucopia and palimpsest. The beloved businesses are all here: second-hand bookshops, cafés, cafeterias, delis and restaurants; folk-music clubs, stereo stores, haberdasheries, bars, bakeries, boîtes, bicycle shops and newsstands; movie houses, tobacconists, and, at one time, five gas stations. … The book is filled with long-gone venues like Design Research, Pangloss Bookshop, Krackerjack’s, and Elsie’s (now the site of a Bank of America ATM kiosk). The street musicians, chess masters, and protestors are all here, too. Older readers may mist up with nostalgia for an earthier, more bohemian, and more engaging Square. Younger ones will find layers of unsuspected history beneath today’s cityscape, learning that the Boloco burrito-chain outlet was once Saks Fifth Avenue, and that Kinko’s Copies formerly housed a dark, underground, sangria-soaked music club called The Idler. The book, filled with mini-essays, reads like a series of short magazine sidebars. In addition to Lotman’s main text, the likes of William S. Weld ’66, J.D. ’70, Tom Rush ’63, and the late John Updike ’54, Litt.D. ’92, contributed reminiscences.” —Craig Lambert, Harvard magazine

Read more of the massive buzz on Harvard Square.

Harvard Square
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Abrams / Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009

Visit HarvardSquareBook.com

Harvard Coop

Harvard Book Store

Recommended on WGBH’s Greater Boston with Emily Rooney

(Novelist Laura Zigman sings its praises @ minute 8:45)

Take Harvard magazine’s trivia quiz about the Square!

Hear Mo on “All Things Considered”!