Rogues and Redeemers: When Politics Was King in Irish Boston

Rogues and Redeemers: When Politics Was King in Irish Boston

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by Gerard O'Neill

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From the bestselling coauthor of Black Mass, a behind-the-scenes portrait of the Irish power brokers who forged and fractured twentieth-century Boston.
Rogues and Redeemers tells the hidden story of Boston politics--the cold-blooded ward bosses, the smoke-filled rooms, the larger-than-life pols who became national figures: Honey


From the bestselling coauthor of Black Mass, a behind-the-scenes portrait of the Irish power brokers who forged and fractured twentieth-century Boston.
Rogues and Redeemers tells the hidden story of Boston politics--the cold-blooded ward bosses, the smoke-filled rooms, the larger-than-life pols who became national figures: Honey Fitz, the crafty stage Irishman and grandfather to a president; the pugilistic Rascal King, Michael Curley; the hectored Kevin White who tried to hold the city together during the busing crisis; and Ray Flynn, the Southie charmer who was truly the last hurrah for Irish-American politics in the city.
     For almost a century, the Irish dominated Boston politics with their own unique, clannish brand of coercion and shaped its future for good and ill. Former Boston Globe investigative reporter Gerard O'Neill takes the reader through the entire journey from the famine ships arriving in Massachusetts Bay to the wresting of power away from the Brahmins of Beacon Hill to the Title I wars of attrition over housing to the rending of the city over busing to the Boston of today--which somehow through it all became a modern, revitalized city, albeit with a growing divide between the haves and have-nots.
     Sweeping in its history and intimate in its details, Rogues and Redeemers echoes all the great themes of The Power Broker and Common Ground and should take its place on that esteemed shelf as a classic, definitive epic of a city.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher
 “…a lively and highly readable study of the political figures who shaped and then reshaped the city in the 20th century.”--The Boston Globe

 "In Rogues and Redeemers, Gerard O'Neill brings his native knowledge and wit to bear on a regional political tradition as wily -- and felonious -- as any in U.S. history. From Honey Fitz to Curley to Ray Flynn -- they're all here, in a tight, entertaining narrative filled with triumph and tragedy."-- T.J. English, author of The Savage City and Paddy Whacked
“Gerry O’Neill’s entertaining and instructive book about the role of the Irish in Boston politics combines important insights about the role of ethnicity in American society, and a refreshingly positive discussion of the role that politics plays in our democracy. It’s an excellent antidote to those who would either sanitize or demonize both subjects.”—Barney Frank
"Gerard O'Neill brings Boston magnificently to life as the true star of its own saga - a tragic hero to be sure, full of hubris and waste. But also, as the title suggest, rife with redemption. O'Neill has written this generation's Last Hurrah."--James Carroll, Author of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
"The great Gerry O'Neill, Irish America's premier investigative reporter, gives a wry but unvarnished account of the crooks and misfits - and, yes, the redeemers - of his clan. This is a soaring tale, across a century, of how the Irish employed politics to escape the urban ghettoes, how their excess helped lead to Boston's plunge into hatred and decay, until a few rugged sons discarded the crutches of corruption and resentment, and joined others in building the world class city we know today." –John A. Farrell author of Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century
“Rogues and Redeemers is a joy to read. The author's colorful prose keeps the reader riveted as the history of Boston politics unfolds from the reign of the rascal king, James Michael Curley, to Ed Logue's grand design for urban renewal and Judge Garrity's flawed plan to integrate the city's school. Certain to become a classic, it is one of the best histories of Boston ever written.”--Jay P. Dolan, Author of The Irish Americans: A History

Kirkus Reviews
A gritty, down-and-dirty saga about the Irish politicos who "ruled Boston for nearly a century," from 1902 to 1993. Pulitzer Prize–winning ex–Boston Globe investigative reporter O'Neill provides a candid look at the political machinations that built, and destroyed, a legendary American city. He begins with the famine ships that arrived with the "bedraggled [Irish] newcomers" who became the scourge of Yankee Boston. These immigrants quickly learned that the only way they could lay claim to "jobs, education [and] religious tolerance" would be through bare-knuckle politics. Boston elected its first Irish mayor in 1884, but O'Neill begins with a portrait of the shrewd and magnetic John "Honey" Fitzgerald, maternal grandfather of John F. Kennedy, who served as mayor from 1906 to 1908 and again from 1910 to 1914. By this time, other ambitious Irishmen, such as the infamous Ward 8 boss Martin Lomasney and the combative Boston Common Councilman (and later four-time mayor) James Michael Curley, were also on the scene. All engaged in cloak-and-dagger political schemes to enhance their power, while Curley unabashedly used his position to enrich himself at the city's expense. As Machiavellian as they were charming, these men brought Boston into the modern era--and to the brink of bankruptcy. Mid-century redeemers such as Mayors John Hynes and John Collins and urban planner Ed Logue brought the city back through programs that renewed parts of the city at the expense of creating enmity between numerous social and ethnic groups. They left Mayor Kevin White the unenviable task of guiding Boston through the desegregation crisis of the 1970s. Eager to put the city's tumultuous past behind him, White focused on making Boston "world-class," while the last "mayoral mick," Ray Flynn, attempted to make a city now increasingly divided between rich and poor livable for all. A splendidly detailed great American epic.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.86(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

GERARD O'NEILL was editor of the Boston Globe's investigative team for 25 years before retiring to teach graduate courses in journalism at Boston University. With Dick Lehr, he coauthored The Underboss in 1989 and  Black Mass in 2000. Black Mass was a New York Times bestseller and number one on the Globe's bestseller list for a year. He has won several regional and national reporting awards over several decades, including the Pulitzer; the Associated Press Managing Editors Award in 1977 and 1998; the Loeb Awards for business reporting in 1991; and was a Pulitzer finalist in 1997. He holds a master's in journalism from Boston University and lives in Back Bay with his wife, Janet. He has two sons.

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Rogues and Redeemers: When Politics Was King in Irish Boston 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
JTO1 More than 1 year ago
so well done. agree with thomas o'connor - this will be the next great history of boston classic. great writing, learned a lot, couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago