Death of an Empire: The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, America's Richest City
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Death of an Empire: The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, America's Richest City

3.07 of 5 stars 3.07  ·  rating details  ·  57 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Most readers know Salem only for the city’s notorious witch trials. But years later it became a very different city, one that produced America’s first millionaire (still one of history’s 75 wealthiest men) and boasted a maritime trade that made it the country’s richest city. Westward expansion and the industrial revolution would eventually erode Salem’s political importanc...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 16th 2011 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published June 21st 2011)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Death of an Empire, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Death of an Empire

Mortal Remains by Henry ScammellIn His Garden by Leo DamoreA Death in Belmont by Sebastian JungerA Rose for Mary by Casey ShermanGoodbye Lizzie Borden by Robert Sullivan
Massachusetts Murders
30th out of 67 books — 3 voters
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine HoweThe Crucible by Arthur MillerSalem Possessed by Paul BoyerIn the Devil's Snare by Mary Beth NortonThe Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol F. Karlsen
83rd out of 105 books — 14 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 158)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
OK, the copy on this jacket grabbed me at the library. Reading it after some seafaring melodrama by O'Brien and Forester, I was fascinated by the detail of commercial shipping from Salem. Then, when the American and global economy sours, a conspiracy among old monied family members sours, too. The true crime story is less compelling than the presentation of global seafaring. The particular presentation of Daniel Webster as bought and paid for by the protagonist is particularly compelling.
So completely disappointed by this book. The subject matter is (to me, at least) completely fascinating but it's absolutely squandered on some incredibly awkward and just clunky writing. Booth somehow managed to find the least graceful way of writing almost every sentence and after the first chapter (which closes with "indivisible, with slavery, Indian clearances, industrial development, and manifest destiny for all" which was such a tormented cliche I could barf), I just gave up.
Melanie Guerra
this book is great in the fact that it sheds light on a period of new england history that is both vital and often largely overlooked. salem has become trivialized by the exploitation of the witch trials of the 17th century, but its history is far more vibrant, exciting and important. there is much to be learned in these pages about the 19th century shipping industry, the beginnings of the industrial revolution and its impact on commerce, the society who thrived there and eventually brought thei...more
So, when I said “The Lace Reader” (which takes place in Salem, MA) had some redeeming aspects, one is that it made me turn to this book, which is a history of Salem's glory days and decline in the late 1700s and first decades of the 1800s. I'd had no idea just how rich and powerful a city Salem was, and progressive and cultured as well – nor how inevitable a decline it endured as commerce and shipping changed dramatically throughout the 19th century. What's more, a murder of a prestigious citize...more
Margaret Sankey
Salem, better known to us for the 1692 witch trials, was, for a time, the richest city in America--its harbor launching privateers and trading vessels that took advantage of the Napoleonic wars to profit from the spice trade. Booth, a longtime head of the Salem historical society and curator of several of the key mansions, narrates the slow fall of the city as tariffs and technology shifted profits from trading to manufacturing (around Boston) and trading to whaling (Nantucket). He unnecessarily...more
Scott Smith
Excerpt from my Kenosha News ‘Off the Shelf’ column - In “Death of an Empire, the Rise and Murderous Fall of Salam, America’s Richest City” by Robert Booth examines the little know and over-shadowed history of Salam, Massachusetts. Beyond the famous witch trials 100 years before, Salem of the mid-1700’s was the richest city in the republic. For decades, Salem connected America with the rest of the world, through a large fleet of tall ships and commerce and as a result becoming a model of interna...more
This book wasn't perfect, but I would still recommend it to anyone interested in New England history. It is one of the only books out there that I know of about Salem's history that does NOT deal with the witch trials. And the witch trials, let's face it, are played out. They are very interesting and all that, but come on...Salem has centuries of history to delve into, including a period around 1790 when it was one of the ten biggest cities in the country and fabulously wealthy, and sent ships a...more
This man is a five-star teller of anecdotes and a one-star writer of history. First the good: the anecdotes are superb. Full disclosure: I am a Salem native and grew up hearing the names of the historical figures in the book both as people and names of streets, etc. It might have been more riveting for someone in my position to read about these people behind the names; it's hard to determine this. I'll certainly never look at the Salem Common in the same way again.

The bad: while the author does...more
The author was very knowledgeable and really enthusiastic about his subject. His structure though was confusing; there were a lot of characters, often with the same names (Jrs. and Srs.) and he kind of jumped amongst them.

It would have been helpful to have one of the footnotes included in the actual text. I had no idea that "tons" with sailing ships of that time referred to volume, not weight, until I read the footnote afterwards. Also he used the phrase "burthen" repeatedly. I had to look it up...more
Lauren Albert
The title of the book is misleading since the murder referenced in it was not in any way related to the fall of Salem though it happened during its downward economic spiral. The failure of Salem was due to a combination of political and economic issues (tariffs on one hand and the move to manufacturing on the other). I just didn't see the murder as symbolic in any way of the "fall" of Salem.

I found the author's tendency towards omniscience overdone--he takes liberties. He tells the reader how t...more
Jun 10, 2012 Susanne added it
Shelves: bibliograhy
This is a pet subject of mine, so my reading experience of it was: fact, fact, that bit's made up, fact, fact, omg total fiction alert, fact, that bit's wrong, fact rinse and repeat.

It seems like the author was forced to throw in the murder to "spice up" the book - Make Age of Sail more marketable! Blood!

Marketing is also probably the mindset behind the embellishment--and even complete fictionalization in some parts--of what people are thinking/feeling/doing when there is no actual record, or...more
Kelly Kilcrease
I enjoyed the mercantile analysis of Salem and how it was once a great trading city. However, the book was a bit choppy in places with a number of names coming and going throughout. I would have like to learn more about the trial (especially with the influence of Daniel Webster). Further, could the murder and trial have had a more clearer symbolic meaning toward the death of Salem? If so, the author needed to clearly show this.
John Vibber
I was surprised by this tale of Salem’s heyday and decline, but my greatest enjoyment came from Robert Booth’s skillful creation of a little-known era: a time when the central dynamic of American history wasn’t our North/South divide. Then it was East versus West, Federalist versus Republican, and Jacksonian versus Whig. Here is a grand battle that waged conflicting dreams against vested interests.
M. Mangan
The commercial history of Salem is not the one that usually comes to mind when you hear the name of this city. But it was a worthy look at a classic boom + bust period in a time of a greatly changing country. It was definitely something I haven't seen covered from this perspective before, about a favorite local spot of mine. Enjoyed it overall.
I love history and seeing this title just took hold of me. Although the writer seems to have a good grasp on the history of Salem, I found it a really dry read to the point my attention kept wavering. I also found the moments he was describing very confusing, times seemed to be switching back & forth with not much sense.
Ironically the fall of Salem was due, in part, to lack of wind or water to power mill buildings. We now have a nuclear reactor of our very own.
Kaitlin O'brien
Great read about the trading empire that financially solidified Massachusetts as a leading powerhouse in the 1700s.
Slow to start. After the introduction, the pace of the book picked up.
May 05, 2013 S added it
What a great history of Salem MA.
Good, quick read.
Aimee Truchan
Aimee Truchan marked it as to-read
Aug 16, 2014
Brian marked it as to-read
Jul 19, 2014
Jess marked it as to-read
Jul 16, 2014
Steve Marzelli
Steve Marzelli marked it as to-read
Jul 05, 2014
William Wilson
William Wilson is currently reading it
Jun 26, 2014
Linnea marked it as to-read
Jun 25, 2014
Mike Cunha
Mike Cunha marked it as to-read
Jun 04, 2014
Sophia Beaumont
Sophia Beaumont marked it as to-read
May 31, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
Boston's Freedom Trail, 6th: A Souvenir Guide Boston's Freedom Trail, 7th: A Souvenir Guide Death of an Empire: The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, America's Richest City Boston's Freedom Trail, 8th: Trace the Path of American History The Perfect Pafko

Share This Book