Monday, September 29, 2014
Book Review: Rogues and Redeemers - When Politics Was King in Irish Boston
Gerard O'Neill does a very good job in this look at some of the leading Irish politicians of 20th century Boston. This is less a general history than a story of prominent individuals, chapter by chapter. It would be a story of Irish mayors, but for the chapters on Ed Logue, the BRA Bulldozer, and Judge W. Arthur Garrity. While I would have preferred footnotes, the 'Notes' section at the back does give sources for each chapter.
What I liked about Rogues and Redeemers was that it provided the full sweep of Irish leadership in Boston politics, from Honey Fitz to Ray Flynn. At 375 pages, you get enough information on each era to make sense of the changes that occurred over time. Both John F. Fitzgerald and James Michael Curley have been dealt with in other books, so it's nice to see John Hynes and John Collins get their due here. Collins was the first mayor I remember, and lived a block away from us along Centre street in Jamaica Plain.
Now for the Quibble Department. I was surprised to see Gerard O'Neill get a famous quote wrong. Somehow, Martin Lomasney's much-quoted "Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink" becomes "never write it down if you can talk, and never talk if you can nod." Maybe he knows something I don't, but I've never seen his version of the Lomasney wisdom.
Next, in a very common mistake, more than once he refers to Scollay Square's Cornhill as Cornhill street. Why did Cornhill lack the Street appellation? I dunno - it's just one of those accidents of history that students of Boston history have to know.
Finally, in a puzzler, is this quote: "In a contemptuous slight by the Yankee authorities, the El overshadowed the Holy Cross Cathedral's grand portico while providing nary a stop in the South End." The truth is that the choice of the South End for the Archdiocese's Cathedral was recognized as a poor one long before the Elevated line was erected. If there was going to be an elevated line through the South End, it was going to go down Washington street, as it runs under Washington street downtown. And as to 'nary a stop,' it was a rapid transit line. Too many stops would have made it a not-so-rapid transit line. And in fact, both the south and north sides of the South End were covered, with Northhampton and Dover streets receiving stations.
No, wait... another definite quibble. The treatment of Louise Day Hicks is typical of what we get today - knee-jerk distaste, but I have to call out O'Neill for his language. When Hillary Clinton is criticized for her wardrobe, the Sexist Alarm goes off, but O'Neill feels free to refer to Louise Hicks as 'frumpy.' And feel safe from criticism because, you know, SHE'S RACIST! While there's barely a word on Kevin White's late term scandals. Cause he Had A Vision.
My quibbles took longer to cover here than my praise, but Rogues and Redeemers is definitely a book to read.
Rogues and Redeemers