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Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind Hardcover – August 16, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are among the most famous political martyrs of 20th-century America, convicted of murder by a Massachusetts jury and executed in 1929. Watson (Bread and Roses) expertly runs through the facts of the case and the basic legal injustices perpetrated against the two men, beginning with their arrest on suspicion of a payroll robbery up to their electrocution, without agitating for either end of the political spectrum. He carefully establishes the context of anarchist terrorism that stirred public sentiment against the two admittedly radical defendants—including the judge at their trial, who made numerous prejudicial remarks outside the courtroom. Fellow radicals (and many moderate liberals) were outraged by the proceedings, but Watson observes that most Americans were too caught up in the amusement park mentality of the 1920s to care about them—a conclusion slightly at odds with the passionate debate to this day over their guilt. Watson quotes extensively from Sacco and Vanzetti's letters, with their imperfect English, to flesh out their personalities (he has also written an introduction to a new Penguin Classics edition of the correspondence). 16 pages of b&w photos. (Aug. 20)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Even after 80 years, claims Bruce Watson, the prejudice and injustice that sentenced Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to death "haunt American history." Though he presents no new evidence, Watson uses extensive research to offer a judicious and compelling description of the trial and its far-reaching aftermath. Only the Wall Street Journal, which nevertheless described Watson's narrative as "vivid" and "smoothly written," complained that he distorted or ignored facts to suit his "liberal conscience"; other critics considered Sacco and Vanzetti an honest account that neither romanticizes nor vilifies the duo. Watson clearly sympathizes with his subjects, and one gets the feeling that he believes in their innocence. Still, he doesn't dismiss the questions raised by the evidence.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (August 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670063533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670063536
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Last June marked the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Suddenly, from out of America's past came white-haired veterans, locking arms, singing, swaying, remembering the summer that changed America and changed their lives.

What made that summer stand out from other events of the Civil Rights Movement? Freedom Summer was unique neither for its violence nor its daring. Freedom Summer stands out because of its spirit. Some 700 volunteers, who had no personal stake in the freedom of blacks in Mississippi, came to the state. They lived on the "black side" of towns. They taught in Freedom Schools, urging kids to ask questions Mississippi had trained them to fear. And despite hundreds of arrests, dozens of beatings, and three murders, the volunteers prevailed. They did not change Mississippi overnight, but in their own language, they "cracked" it. The next year, the Voting Rights Act was signed. Within six months, 60 percent of blacks in Mississippi could vote, up from just seven percent before Freedom Summer.

We need to remember Freedom Summer, but also to feel it, to tap its spirit, to live by its faith in democracy. Freedom Summer brought out the best (and worst) in America but the best won the day.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on September 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are certain events in our history that still create a disproportionate emotional response. Partly because, as a society, we do not agree on what occurred, we still debate who killed JFK and why. The extent of Julias and Ethel Rosenberg's treachery and the justice of their execution evoke a range of feelings. And the worldwide reaction to the trial, conviction and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti for alleged participation in a robbery and murder in April of 1920 carries its own legacy forward.

Bruce Watson does an outstanding job of creating the historical context in which an anarchist shoemaker and fish peddler become the unlikely basis of a worldwide cause. He covers the investigation, trial, incarceration and aftermath concisely and with telling detail. The portraits of the two Italian anarchists are nuanced and haunting. The oft-vilified Judge Webster Thayer comes alive under the author's pen as do the attorneys for both defense and prosecution.

It is no mean accomplishment by the author to tell much of this story without letting the reader know upon which side his sympathies lie. Watson's respect for the character, if not the innocence, of the accused is obvious, however, when he quotes Vanzetti: "Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man as we now do by dying...That last moment belongs to us - that agony is our triumph."

I found the book riveting and finished it in three days. It demonstrates the challenge of balancing social order and individual justice during an emotional era. In so doing, the book carries a valuable set of lessons for our own times.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Battleship on October 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
Bruce Watson gave detailed analysis of Sacco and Vanzetti, two anarchists who were charged with murder in a cause celebre case that resonates to the present day. The author provides pertinent facts about the lives of the men. The men were devoted to their radical ideology, but neither man was proven to be guilty of the resulting murder that gripped the nation.

Watson gives balanced coverage of the men. He does not present them as faultless martyrs. Both men may have skirted the law at various times of revolutionary activity. However, neither was a cold-blooded murderer and the prosecution had no real evidence of the culpability of the men. Watson presents the facts in accurate detail. The testimony of witnesses was inaccurate and unreliable. Despite the lack of consistent testimony, the men were convicted by prosecutors who were determined to find a scapegoat and a jury who was inclined to believe the worst about the men.

Watson covered the happenings and the actions of the men right before the arrest. I was surprised to find out that the men were in Bridgewater, Massachusetts right before they were arrested. They also spent time in the prison in Bridgewater. As a former resident of the town, I was surprised to realize how close the key happenings of the case took place to where I used to live.

Watson does a good job of placing the Sacco and Vanzetti case in the context of the Red Scare of the teens and twenties. It brings up the interesting case of whether a person should be judged for ideological reasons instead of what the person actually does. Sacco and Vanzetti did advocate violence in certain cases, but not cold-blooded murder for personal gain. The book is outstanding as it presents deatiled analysis and combines it with a general outline of the civil liberties issue at stake in their case.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Termagant on May 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti was a case that divided America, defined politics, and sent shockwaves around the world in the early 1920s.

I knew nothing about it. I remember some faint mention of it in history class, but...holy crap.

Watson paints an adept picture of a fearful and uncertain America after the ravages of WWI and the flu epidemic that sets the stage for the trial. After introducing us to the world, the country, and the men themselves, Watson launches into a detailed and entertaining description of the events--the payroll murders, the investigation, the trial, the appeals, and finally, the executions. The detail he uses speaks to the excellent research, and the writing, though at times a bit liberal with hyperbolic flourishes, draws the reader in. He entertains, informs, and awakens a great sense of shame and injustice in the reader, as well he should.

Watson shows the men for what, as far as anyone can tell, they were: militant anarchists and hardworking men, one a bookish intellectual and the other a devoted family man. Very likely innocent in the crimes they were executed for, but undeniably involved in a terrorist organization, they were neither angels or demons--just men who believed in something. He shows that no one can really know what the two were involved in, but that, without a doubt, justice failed. The trials were riddled with prejudices, the law bent towards a verdict that was determined without influence of the evidence.

In short, the book is well-written, engaging, and for the non-scholars and somewhat ignorant (me), quite enlightening.
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