In September 2017, a mainstream publisher, Pegasus Books, released a massive volume on Yale's secret societies entitled "Skulls and Keys: The Hidden History of Yale's Secret Societies." Written by David Alan Richards, one of America's top real estate attorneys, it is the most comprehensive work yet written on Yale's senior secret societies.
With 821 pages and 1135 footnotes, it is also the most detailed work on the subject available. The book is particularly significant because David Alan Richards is a member of Skull and Bones. Plus, Richards, according to the New York Times, personally tapped George W. Bush for Skull and Bones.Richards does not mention his Bones membership in the book. That may indicate he did not want to focus undue attention on himself, out of modesty.
This well written work is more than just about Yale history. Richards' extensive undertaking took years to complete. In it he offers a detailed history on the origins of Skull and Bones, as well as Scroll and Key and Wolf's Head – the other two major senior societies at Yale.The thorough indexes, listing many important members at the end of several chapters, is, alone, worth the price of the book. Informed sources tell us that Yale University Press turned down the opportunity to publish Richards' book because they feared doing so, for unstated reasons. What makes that refusal more amazing is that Richards, an avid book collector, donated $1.5 million worth of rare books to Yale over several years (now closer to $2 million).
This book was written by a true insider. Skull and Bones was founded by William Huntington Russell at Yale in November 1832. Richards reminds us that Russell was close friends with radical abolitionist John Brown and was one of the trustees of his will. Richards recounts how Confederate President Jefferson Davis had ties to Skull and Bones member, John Perkins. Perkins chaired the Louisiana Secession Convention, and became Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Richards describes Perkins as Davis' "oldest and best friend." Davis was captured and arrested on May 10, 1865 in Irwinville, Georgia, along with top aides and a few dozen troops. In a footnote, Richards notes that two Skull and Bones members were captured along with Davis. Some historians report that Davis had committed treason because the Confederate States had no Constitutional right to secede. But, Davis's prosecutor released him from Union custody. That prosecutor was a Skull and Bones member. All this, and more, is chronicled in Richards' book.
Lastly, if you are interested in secret societies, Yale history, or elite higher education, you cannot go wrong buying this book written by someone who is intimately familiar with its subject matter. For those who appreciate the scholarship of Carroll Quigley's "Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in Our Time" and James Billington's "Fire in the Minds of Men" will appreciate this book.