Book Review: A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo

Author: Stephen Puleo
Title: A city so grand : the rise of an American metropolis, Boston 1850-1900
Publication Info: Boston : Beacon Press, 2010.
ISBN: 9780807050439

Previously read by the same author: Dark Tide


I looked forward to reading this book with great anticipation and was not disappointed.  With a certain amount of civic pride, I enjoyed this history of Boston’s many municipal accomplishments during the period 1850-1900.

Boston’s greatest hits of the half-century include:

  • Leadership in the abolition movement and opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law.
  • The Great Railroad Jubilee celebrating rail connections to Montreal & port improvements for ships to Europe as well.
  • Waves of immigration from Ireland and Italy and the perseverance of the new residents on the city.
  • The filling of Back Bay and development of a new upscale neighborhood.
  • Bostonians in the Civil War.
  • Emancipation and black regiments in the Civil War.
  • The National Peace Jubilee featuring a specially designed Great Coliseum in Copley Square and 1000-member choir and orchestra.
  • Expansion of Boston through immigration and annexation.
  • The Great Fire of 1872, recovery, and innovation of new fire prevention techniques.
  • The first subway in the United States going underground in 1897.

Other interesting tidbits I learned from this book include:

* At one time the Boston Archdiocese required English-only confessions in the Italian North End.

* On the day of Alexander Graham Bell’s burial all telephone service in the United States was suspended for one minute (I wonder what will happen when Tim Berners-Lee dies).

* Walter Dodd is the real-life Good Will Hunting going from janitor to physician experimenting with x-rays.

This is a great book for anyone who loves Boston and an uplifting history of what a community can accomplish through perseverance and direction.

Recommended books: Boston’s Back Bay: The Story of America’s Greatest Nineteenth-Century Landfill Project by William Newman, Change at Park Street Under;: The story of Boston’s subways by Brian J. Cudahy, Eminent Bostonians by Thomas H. O’Connor, A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant by Bill Felber, Local Attachments: The Making of an American Urban Neighborhood, 1850 to 1920 by Alexander Von Hoffman.
Rating: ****

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