Photo courtesy of Bob Durkee ’69

Think you know everything about Princeton? After talking with Bob Durkee ’69, you’ll probably think again. Durkee spent 47 years in Nassau Hall in roles that included vice president and secretary of the University — and he authored The New Princeton Companion, an updated version of the definitive encyclopedia of all things orange and black. As alumni are goin’ back for Reunions 2023, PAW asked Durkee to suggest three more books about the Best Damn Place of All, and he chose these.

If you’d like to hear from Durkee himself, he’ll be discussing some of his book’s hidden gems at Reunions, at 10 a.m. Friday, May 26, in room 010 of East Pyne. Details are here.

Princeton University: The First 250 Years

By Don Oberdorfer ’52

Through the felicitous prose of journalist Don Oberdorfer ’52 and hundreds of images unearthed by the resourceful photographer J.T. Miller ’70, this book traces the University’s history from its founding to its 250th anniversary in 1996. In his foreword, President Harold Shapiro *64 describes it as “a living portrait of Princeton that is honest and warm, familiar and new, thoroughly engaging and eminently readable — a visual as well as verbal feast.” Beautifully designed, handsomely printed, and replete with fascinating anecdotes and asides, it remains Princeton’s quintessential coffee table book.

The Making of Princeton University: From Woodrow Wilson to the Present

By James Axtell

Princeton University Press describes this book as a “warts and all rendering” of Princeton’s evolution over the last century to become the multicultural, multinational research university that it is today — still with an undergraduate college at its heart, but a college very different from the one known for 150 years as the College of New Jersey. Axtell immersed himself in the Princeton archives and produced a carefully researched, heavily footnoted, eminently scholarly work. The author claims a certain objectivity based on his status as a Princeton outsider: His ties are to two of the three American universities that predate Princeton — he taught at the College of William and Mary, and he graduated from Yale. 

Princeton University and Neighboring Institutions

By Robert Spencer Barnett

There are many excellent books about Princeton’s strikingly beautiful campus, including Barksdale Maynard ’88’s Princeton: America’s Campus, but my go-to book about the history of Princeton’s buildings, pathways, and landscapes is this collection of walks through the campus and neighboring institutions published in 2015 by Princeton Architectural Press (no connection to the University). Barnett writes as a perceptive architect, but also as a wise observer of the University’s history and culture. In her preface, former President Shirley Tilghman says the perspectives offered by this volume “range from panoramic to precise,” and in his foreword President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 expresses his hope that readers of the guide will find it to be a “valuable companion as you traverse the paths, examine the architectural marvels, and soak in the spirit of the campus.”