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THE RASCAL KING by Jack Beatty

THE RASCAL KING

The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, 1874-1958

by Jack Beatty

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-201-17599-1
Publisher: Addison-Wesley

 A delightful and shrewd biography of four-time Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, the sinner-saint whose ``shamrock politics'' made his Irish-Catholic supporters cheer and his WASP opponents sputter with rage for half a century. As portrayed by Beatty, a senior editor of The Atlantic, Curley was more complicated than the charmingly roguish big-city mayor of Edwin O'Connor's thinly fictionalized The Last Hurrah. Beatty pays this most colorful of politicians the ultimate tribute by taking his career seriously. To be sure, the author has a full quota of rollicking anecdotes (e.g., Curley's quip that a ramp built by one of his pet contractors had collapsed because of ``an injudicious mixture of sand and cement''). Yet Beatty thinks it a mistake to see Curley as an old-style machine politician. Instead, Curley foreshadowed today's ``entrepreneurial candidate'': A lone- wolf professional politician, he ran in 32 elections, serving as congressman, governor, and Boston's mayor. Moreover, Curley resembled Marion Barry in using his virtuoso talent for playing upon ethnic resentment to fend off outcries against flagrant corruption (Curley served two jail terms, and as governor purged political opponents and paroled and pardoned convicted killers). Beatty's balance sheet on this gifted but flawed politician is detailed and just. On the plus side stood Curley's rococo oratory; his building of such major institutions as the Boston City Hospital; his farsighted advocacy of programs later embodied in the New Deal and the Great Society; and his emphasis on work instead of welfare for constituents. On the other side, his graft; arrogance toward those he claimed to serve as ``Mayor of the Poor''; and responsibility for sending Boston into long-term decline by soaking the city's businesses with taxes to pay for municipal improvements. Funny, fair-minded, and refreshingly novel in finding contemporary relevance in a pol long dismissed as an anachronism of the boss era. (Black-and-white photographs--not seen.)