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Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League and the Hidden Paths of Power

liked it 3.0  ·  Rating Details ·  636 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
This is an expose of one of the world's most secretive & feared organizations: Yale University's nearly 200-year-old secret society, Skull & Bones. Through society documents & interviews with dozens of members, Robbins explains why this old-boy product of another time still thrives today. Includes photos.
The legend of the Skull & Bones
1. Pomp & circumst
Published September 6th 2002 by Little, Brown and Company
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Community Reviews

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Jan 06, 2016 Jill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay so things I learned from this book:
1) Yale is kinda the worst??
2) I mean it's probably fine.
3) But if you have no experience of it and only read this book, it seems like basically the worst. Elitist, conservative, snobbish, bratty, academically disinclined. Alexandra Robbins doesn't do well by her alma mater.
4) Skull & Bones is the worst of these worsts.
5) The patriarchs had hissy fits in the 70s when the current members wanted to include women. wtf. Also Yale only became coed in the 60
Apr 24, 2009 Hillary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a disappointing read. I was a big fan of "Overachievers," and while "Pledged" was not as interesting, it was still a decent read. The latest book from Robbins, however, was a huge let down. It was almost painful to read, carrying on for pages and pages about Yale history, reciting old poems, and other stories only peripherally relating to the Skull and Bones society. It seemed like she didn't have enough relevant info for a book, so she added a ton of unnecessary filler to stretch it ou ...more
May 30, 2008 Hilary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Read this book in a day, skimming some parts. Definitely find it interesting how a club that takes only 15 members a year has "produced" 3 US Presidents (Taft, Bush 1 & 2 - plus John Kerry), Secretaries of State and Defense, members of the CIA, heads of every major bank, and a laundry list of employees in both Bush White Houses. Definitely confirms what an "old boys club/old money club" our country and our political system really is in many respects. In short doesn't sound like there's much ...more
Dec 13, 2008 Cwn_annwn_13 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of interesting stuff in this but you have to ask yourself how much the information in it can be trusted because for one the author gets a good portion of it from anonymous Skull & Bones members who talked because they claimed they were tired of hearing so much weird speculation about them. So for one, how can you be sure what they told her was accurate and not intentional disinformation. For another even if what they gave her was true, its still information that they chose to ...more
Dec 30, 2008 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Eh, just ok. It gets long-in-the-tooth in many places when discussing the history of Yale, much of it not related to the society. I decided to read the book because of the publicity about the society during the Kerry/Bush campaign. With all the discussion about what may or may not happen to members who talk, I find it curious if not unbelievable that the author would have access to members who so openly spill the beans--even if she was a member of another secret society. Why on earth would membe ...more
Robbins' Secrets of the Tomb has a wonderful thesis but the reader won't be quite sure what that is exactly until the book's last three pages. Therefore, the work is extremely unorganized and confusing. Had Robbins reorganized her work and offered the reader better guidance, Robbins really could have written something very profound by capitalizing off of the power of imagery and running with it. Instead, the book comes off as a hodgepodge of questionable statements and out-of-place personal expe ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 26, 2015 Erik Graff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: secret society fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
This book was a disappointment, mostly because Skull and Bones turns out, in her exposition, to be nothing more than an association of spoiled kids with silly rites and little social significance beyond serving as one means by which the rich and the powerful network to their own advantage. However, if you hate members of the Bush and the Walker families, all of them, this book with add fuel to the fire.
Nov 22, 2007 Jenn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I hated this book! I had previously read one of the author's book and enjoyed that book. But this book was a real let down. I felt led on, that I was going to find out all these secrets! I think I learned more from the movie "The Skulls". Big disappointment for me!
I have enjoyed Robbins other books, so I was surprised to find this one to be such a painful read. Parts of the book were great; but the rest I had to force myself to read.
Mar 24, 2007 Josh rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book read like a term paper, and was just as interesting.
Nov 15, 2016 Art rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rare peak inside Yale University’s secret senior society known as Skull & Bones. This small society has produced a great number of powerful and successful people, including several past U.S. Presidents. Some famous members include William F. Buckley, Jr., David McCullough, John Kerry, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Paul Giamatti, and William Howard Taft. Although some have argued the society is a breeding ground for an international cabal with designs on using the international system t ...more
Glen Weissenberger
Having attended Harvard Law School, I admit to a longtime fascination with these undergraduate "clubs," with reputations and putative activities that are the stuff of legend. This was a fun peek. Still want more.
Oct 18, 2011 Patrick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 26, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t know that this qualifies as an exposé; certainly this isn’t really a revelation of the “truth” as stated in the book description above. In my mind this is more an historical positioning of the famous club within the context of Yale’s sometimes peculiar institutional/social fabric (at least a century-plus back) coupled with various external materializations over the years – “the hidden paths of power” part. In that regard I believe this to be a well-rounded book that justifies what some h ...more
Tracy Jones
Jan 01, 2013 Tracy Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I got this book, I thought the book would be more about the conspiracy theories surrounding this secret society. The book did touch upon these in the intro, some of which were pretty absurd that people would even think to be true! So, after reading those, I was glad for the depth, care, and detail the author went into about the truth behind the society. I really enjoyed the chapter about the birth of secret societies at Yale, tradition there, and other societies that have shone and faded in ...more
Dec 04, 2012 Derek rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Robbins' account of Skull and Bones is less sensationalist exposé than it is historical contextualization of the Bonesmen. Her account thoroughly extrapolates the history of Yale, the establishment of the secret societies, and the beginning of S&B, before outlining the much more interesting facts about the society's practices, including the rooms in the building, the initiation, and the network of its alumni. Robbins reasonably spends much of her effort in grounding her research in oppositio ...more
Jun 10, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I approached this book with having been warned that it wasn't the greatest book of all time. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

'Secrets' is well written and informative. I generally thought it was a fun read and I learned plenty. A main complaint of others is that she goes far into the history of Yale itself, but this was one of my favorite sections. The only part that I felt was a bit much was when she discussed the connections that's Bones opened up and who is in those networks.

At times it s
Jan 02, 2011 Jhef rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Written by a fellow secret society member, this book was amazingly disappointing. Extremely boring at times, this book says very little while saying quite a bit. I learned next to nothing about Skull & Bones from this book, other than its history, members, and things like 'tap day', and the existence of their island. No REAL secrets are revealed in this book, in fact it does its best to dispell all of the rumors you come across out there. In fact, the author makes the case that the secret fr ...more
Apr 29, 2010 Brandonne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This peculiar book reads a bit like a senior thesis. Ms. Robbins writes either without confidence or imagination, and although the information given is presented factually, I wasn't convinced of its total accuracy. For example, Robbins writes, "The influence of the cabal begins at Yale, where Skull and Bones has appropriated university funds for its own use, leaving the school virtually impoverished." She does not list a source, not even a secrecy-shrouded "well-placed source inside the universi ...more
Aug 07, 2016 Mo rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
So boring I couldn't finish it.
Saw tidbits and the author on tv, thought that it would be fun. So wrong....
It's a history of Yale's Skull and Bones. History includes things like:
-how much ice cream costs at a party
-how juniors have been 'tapped' for the society... since it's inception...
-a detailed account of what the 'tomb' looks like (spoiler, it's a cheap frat house)
... and a multitude of other incidentals. Which is why I skimmed most of it, and then just gave up 40 pages from the end. Fee
Aug 31, 2008 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about Yale's Skull and Bones Society. Subtitled The Ivy League and the Hidden Paths of Power. This book delves inside some of the mysteries of the Skull and Bones Society, the building called the Tomb, where they hold their secretive meetings and their bizarre rituals. Where a Yale degree, power and money is all you need to join, besides total devotion to the society. How George W Bush got in ( a family affair ), his secret name is "Temporary". Many of the Neocons are also Skull a ...more
An interesting one to read after Goat. This book purports to tell the truth as to what really goes on behind the locked doors of the Skull & Bones Society's Tomb. The answer? Not a hell of a lot. Almost all the conspiracy theories are false. In truth, membership in the Gones doesn't entitle you to riches, just a lot of connections. Robbins' description of society life in general and tradition-bound life at Yale is really interesting, but the book overall was kind of, well, boring. I guess I ...more
Oct 01, 2012 Tina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I checked this item out at the library. No money wasted, but I should have read the reviews before committing hours to the book that never got off the ground. Like other reviews stated, I was hooked at the opening scene. It was written like a suspense novel. I settled in with anticipation. Quickly the tone changed and never returned. The review "Mostly filler, with little interesting content," is a perfect review for this book. The book deserves one more star though. Content aside, the writing w ...more
This is very thorough and well-researched. The author had a lot of sources going all the way back through the history of Yale and its Skull and Bones, even in the last 1700's and early 1800's. I confess, though, I wanted more of a spooky conspiracy theory story -- more of a "This secret society is ruling the world, mwah hah hah!" Instead it's just a well-documented history of a group very much like a fraternity that's really good at networking and has as its alums a significant percentage of thi ...more
Jan 29, 2009 Patrick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Patrick by: Nick
A book to skip around in, but certainly an interesting look at Skull and Bones. Robbins' history of Yale seems well researched, but I doubt some of her Skull and Bones sources, especially since they are all unnamed. Secret Societies: Inside the World's Most Notorious Organizations by John Lawrence Reynolds also gives a good overview of Skull and Bones and touches on a few things that Robbins missed.
An unusual history, with a gossipy, Vanity Fair-esque tone. With much about Skull and Bones being truly odd or sensational, I found this book most compelling when it discussed with frankness why members might be willing to participate. The final chapter is the strongest, containing ideas that are common to many voluntary associations of this type. Skull and Bones, like other secret societies, exists in a paradoxical situation of needing to maintain its reputation while also remaining secret.
I can't really rate this book in all fairness because I couldn't get through it. I ended up skimming alot. Very long winded and I found myself drifting everytime I picked it up. Finally had to pass it on. The parts I did read were interesting in the way of who was a member of Skull and Bones and what positions were acquired later in life. Alot of myths debunked.
Jennifer Larson
I always enjoy Alexandra Robbins' books, but this one was not quite as compelling as her others (notably The Overachievers and Pledged). That was mainly due to the lack of one overarching narrative or cast of main characters. It was still a fascinating read, and worth a look, but it just didn't get me as emotionally invested as some of her other work. Still, very interesting.
May 13, 2010 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a book written about the secret Yale society that has produced so many prominent figures, including 3 presidents to date. I had never heard of it at all prior to reading, I am sorry to say. It was interesting, but way more in depth than I needed, and I would have been just as happy reading a magazine article on it and been done.
Lesley Looper
I liked this well enough, as I'm interested in higher ed topics. I must admit that I skimmed parts, but I did enjoy other parts. I liked reading about the rituals (since rituals generally fascinate me--why do people continue rituals of all kinds?), as well as the networking aspects. (High powered people can keep things moving along, eh?!)
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The author of five New York Times bestselling books, author Alexandra Robbins is the recipient of the prestigious 2014 John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism (given by the Medill School of Journalism), a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award (given by the National Women's Political Caucus), and the winner of the 20
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