A learned and literate history of the Athens of America.
O’Connor (Civil War Boston, 1997, etc.) offers a straightforward narrative of the city from its founding in the 17th century to the present. The organization is chronological, although O’Connor occasionally skips about to treat important themes such as religion and race and ethnicity. The somewhat old-fashioned year-by-year presentation is by no means stodgy, for the author believes that the history of Boston can be seen as one of conflict—whether between Separatists and Anglicans, Protestants and Irish Catholics, or blacks and whites. In every era, such conflicts have spilled out beyond Boston’s confines to influence the nation as a whole. “The basic tenets of Puritanism,” the author notes, “may have been confined to a relatively tiny segment of the New England seacoast during the first half of the 17th century, but they were to have an impact on American society and culture that would extend far beyond their immediate geographical surroundings.” O’Connor gives attention to topics that have received too little attention in standard histories, including the curious flowering of proto-hippie freethinking sects and cults in the 1820s and ’30s—a many-faceted movement, he notes, that coalesced in abolitionism, much to the chagrin of the city’s conservative ruling class. He downplays the role of “great men” (focusing instead on larger issues of race and class), and he notes that the city’s neighborhoods (and, thanks to busing, its schools) are now populated by a variety of minority groups who constitute a “minority majority” and reflect decades of “white flight” from the urban center.
A fine summation of O’Connor’s long scholarly career that should be of wide interest to students of American history and social issues.