A remarkably rich and valuable anthology which samples over three centuries of observation and speculation, formal to happily frivolous, concerning Boston's transitions and plateaus, citizens and visitors. What results is not only a prismatic illumination of Boston past and obliquely, present, but the outlying areas as well -- such as the rest of America. And there is also some elegant prose from historians and chroniclers of all eras: Carl Becker, for example, who contrasts the careers and concepts of ""liberty"" of Samuel Adams and Governor Thomas Hutchinson; or Hutchinson himself on a 1747 Boston riot; or an amusing essay by William Dean Howells in which Oliver Wendell Holmes tags Nathaniel Hawthorne as ""a dim room with a little taper of personality burning on the corner of the mantel."" And there are bright, brief glimpses of personages minor and major (including a Pepys-like account of a 1720 courtship) and informational asides on social, political, religious, and scientific theories and practices, as well as excerpts from fiction and poetry. Admirable throughout, especially in the editors' enthusiasm and respect for all those many voices past and present -- from Winthrop to the Kennedys; from Cotton Mather to James Michael Curley -- at the heart of the paradox and distinction of Boston.