Book Review: Boston Riots by Jack Tager

Author: Jack Tager
Title: Boston Riots
Publication Info: Boston : Northeastern University Press, c2001.
ISBN: 1555534600

It’s hard to believe that a book on rioting can be dull, but Tager pulls it off.  First, he relies strictly on the high school essay formula of stating objectives, writing about them, and then summarizing.  Like every paragraph. Secondly, it’s not until the most recent riots of the twentieth century that he calls upon primary sources in a great amount to liven up the stories of these riots.  Finally, he also made the odd decision to exclude the riots leading up to the American Revolution (Stamp Act riots, Boston Massacre, and Boston Tea Party) on the grounds that they were political and crossed class boundaries.  This is something he would not claim if the United States had failed to gain independence and I think the book would be improved by their inclusion in the comprehensive survey of three centuries of Boston riots.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to learn about the different things that lead to civil disturbance over the course of history.  In the 18th century people rioted over the lack of food, against customs duties, impressment and the rule of the elite, as well as in “celebration” of Pope’s Day.  The next century saw rioting to enforce norms (ex. – closing down brothels), race and anti-Catholic riots (such as the Ursuline Convent and Broad Street), and riots both for and against abolition.  The twentieth century saw fewer riots but were bigger in size and effect: the 1919 Police Strike, the ghetto riots of the late 1960s, and the anti-busing riots of the 1970s.

The book is probably not worth reading unless for academic study or for those devoted to the history of Boston.
Favorite Passages:

Boston white ethnics and their leaders had certainly fostered segregation.  The plan imposed upon them had nothing to do with promoting educational quality — only integration.  It exempted the well-to-do who had fled the city, exacerbated already high racial tensions, and recalled old class warfare  between the Yankees and the Irish.  On this occasion, however, people of Irish descent were on both sides of the controversy. – p. 192

Recommended books: The Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City, 1763-1834 by Paul A. Gilje
Rating: **1/2

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