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

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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: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

More About the Author

June marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

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

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Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.
Anne Baronner
Bruce Watson's impeccable, full-blown account of the Sacco & Vanzetti case is a chilling read.
Thus, I appreciate Mr. Watson doing such a superb job in detailing this important drama.
Shocker Fan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 33 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By JasparLamarCrabb on February 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
Emphasis on the "Judgment of Mankind" portion of the subtitle. Bruce Watson's impeccable, full-blown account of the Sacco & Vanzetti case is a chilling read. In 1920, two known Italian anarchists are arrested and charged with the murder of two payroll clerks in Braintree, MA. What could easily have been presented as a staid dissertation is in Watson's hands a riveting, even suspenseful story (despite knowing the outcome). Relying on court records, FBI files, and the words of Sacco & Vanzetti themselves, Watson thoroughly reviews the facts while exposing what is undoubtedly the most high profile case of injustice in Massachusetts history (perhaps even the US). Going beyond the simple facts of the case, the author captures the tensions of the times as well as the bigotry and close mindedness of an old world America not willing to accept anything even remotely questioning the American way of life. Were Sacco & Vanzetti innocent scapegoats or hell-raising radicals? Watson makes no overt claim that they were innocent of the crime, but shows enough evidence to prove that they were at least entitled to a second trial: evidence tampering; a jury hand selected at night; myriad versions of the same story told by the same people; affidavits proclaiming these men where elsewhere on the day of the crime; SIX years of appeals. If nothing else, it's difficult to believe that police solved this heinous crime in a mere twenty days!

There are insightful takes on the case by the likes of Oliver Wendall Holmes (who, in what is probably the most jarring quote in the book, tell his secretary that in the US, "We practice law, not 'justice'"), Edna St. Vincent Millay, Fiorella La Guardia, and Dorothy Parker. A great take on a case that has rightly been likened to Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Walsh VINE VOICE on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Watson has put together a thorough study of the men and the global phenomenon surrounding their trial, appeals and eventual execution. I give him a lot of credit, for while he takes a pretty dim view of the trial judge and prosecutor (as well as S&Z's early defense team) he is objective about the question of their actual guilt and innocence.

Watson spends the early part of the book with an introduction to the accused, some family history and laying the political groundwork; but, the real yeoman's work in the book is done in his methodical trip through the appellate review (if it can be called that given that no judge other than the trial judge ever ruled on any element of the appeals - including the trial judge's potential bias). Watson's research shines through in what is a narrative heavily reliant on sources ranging from personal letters to court records and past first person and scholarly work.

Similarly, there are some really eye-opening sequences in which Watson recounts the global fervor that arose around the accusation, incarceration, trial and execution of these two world-famous criminals. As he notes, in many ways, nothing has ever risen to the level that this case and these men did as global political discourse.

Finally, as others have noted, there are some important constitutional, and legal issues brimming just below the surface of Watson's narrative that I think he - correctly - alludes to but nevers indulges in himself. contemporary Guantanamo Bay, the mid-century transformation in criminal trial practice around evidence, the Red Scares, etc. He truly keeps his eye on the ball here in delivering a definitive history not of these men, or their politics; but, of the events surrounding the "judgment of mankind."

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