The Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre by Hiller B. Zobel

publication date: 1970
pages (including back matter): 372
SBN: 393-05376-8

As we all learned in school, the subject of this book, the Boston Massacre, occurred when several British soldiers supposedly gunned down unsuspecting and unarmed citizens of Boston, adding another spark to the Revolutionary fire.

Zobel would disagree with that well-known, simplistic, and inaccurate telling. In The Boston Massacre, Zobel took an objective and research-based look at the years leading up to what we now call a “massacre,” the event itself, and the subsequent infamous trials against the British soldiers, who were defended by John Adams himself. Zobel’s motivation seemed to be simply illuminating the causes and effects of the Boston Massacre, both in America and abroad. Beyond that, any theme he attempted to convey revolved around the mythological significance the Boston Massacre has in our collective American history and, further, the dubiousness of that mythology considering the prolonged harassment of the British soldiers in the Colonies and the lack of solid facts surrounding what actually happened the night of the massacre. In Zobel’s own words:

[I]t seems fitting that an event so historically inevitable and yet so basically insignificant should have taken place on a moonlit night, before scores of people, without leaving any two witnesses able to give the same account of what happened.

Although I found the subject matter interesting and Zobel was clearly passionate about this aspect of American history, the book was dull. Especially tiresome was the first half, containing the years leading up to the Boston Massacre. Zobel included excessive detail, like this discussion of British troops first landing in Boston:

The sergeants, too, wore silver-laced hats and swords. Their sashes were crimson and buff or (for the Twenty-ninth) crimson and yellow; they carried long-shafted ornamental battle axes called halberds.

Do I really need all that information? Further confusing things, Zobel assumed knowledge about 1760s New England that I didn’t have. Nonetheless, I would much prefer Zobel’s zealous attention to fact and detail than read through a nonfiction book full of exaggerations, opinions, and invective. (Under the Banner of Heaven, as an example.)

This book was recommended to me as a particularly relevant historical account, considering all the gun violence on civilians recently in the news. As I was reading, I was struck by the slowness and hesitation people of that time seemed to have concerning discharging any gun, including the British soldiers who were taunted and harassed for months and then mobbed for hours the night of the massacre before firing a single shot. This is in contrast to media reports today, where George Zimmerman can legally fatally shoot a teenager without so much as a quarrel. However, was the past any different than today, considering the fact that the soldiers involved in the massacre, much like Zimmerman, were found not guilty of murder?

Whether The Boston Massacre has relevance to today, it is a useful historical account of a storied part of our history.

4/6: worth reading

I couldn’t find any lengthy reviews of this book online, but there are a few more summary reviews:


Book Review Year-in-Review

One year ago today, I posted my first book review.  I want to thank you all for reading about and discussing the 30 books I reviewed over the past year.  I thought it would be fun to share some information with you about this blog’s first 365 days.

5 Most Popular Posts:

1.  King Dork
2.  Urbanism Without Effort
3.  Artemis Fowl
4.  Why We Broke Up
5.  The Watch that Ends the Night

Best-Reviewed Category (with at least 2 reviews)

classic fiction, with an average review of 4.6

Worst-Reviewed Category (with at least 2 reviews)

history, with an average review of 2.5

13 non-fiction books reviewed

17 fiction books reviewed

And here is my ranking of the books I read this past year, from bad to life-changing:

30.  The Force of Reason
29.  The Wealth and Poverty of Nations
28.  Under the Banner of Heaven
27.  Artemis Fowl
26.  Annie John
25.  I Remember
24.  The Name of the Wind
23.  Skin Game and After the Dark
22.  Beautiful Creatures
21.  Disgrace
20.  The Mansion of Happiness
19.  The Host
18.  Between Women
17.  The Man Who Knew Too Much
16.  Why We Broke Up
15.  Life Itself
14.  Their Eyes Were Watching God
13.  To the Lighthouse
12.  Urbanism Without Effort
11.  Cannery Row
10.  King Dork
9.  Mortal Instruments
8.  Me Before You
7.  The White Album
6.  The Watch that Ends the Night
5.  Cum Laude
4.  You Remind Me of You
3.  Mrs. Bridge
2.  Sense and Sensibility
1.  Boys and Girls