Rogues and Redeemers: When Politics Was King in Irish Boston

Gerard O’Neill. Crown, $26 (416p) ISBN 978-0-307-40536-4
The latest from Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist O’Neill (Black Mass, co-authored with Dick Lehr) is not for the politically faint of heart. In this encyclopedic take on Bostonian elections from the late 19th century to the modern era, and associated scandals, civic issues, and cultural collisions, O’Neill focuses on the city’s Dickensian crop of political figures. Among those brought to vivid life are two dueling mayors, the smooth-talking Honey Fitz and the pugnacious James Michael Curley; the ward boss Martin Lomasney, known as “Mahatma” for his impartial ways; and the corrupt attorney Dan Coakley, a “Merlin of the defense bar,” who specialized in a sexual entrapment scheme known as “the badger game.” Tracing Boston’s development through its mayoral administrations also enables O’Neill to survey hot-button issues, including a revitalization plan that leveled low-income neighborhoods, and forced busing to integrate public schools. The narrative is most dynamic when O’Neill expands the discussion to include the social, economic, and national context, but he too often relies on name-checking and score-keeping—a game that will please political junkies, but be lost on novices. Much of the book reads like stitched-together news articles: the facts are sound and the prose tight, but events are recapped without deeper analysis or reflection. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/09/2012
Release date: 03/13/2012
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