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

3.2  ·  Rating Details ·  83 Ratings  ·  22 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 September 1994)
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Apr 17, 2012 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
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
Jan 19, 2012 Brent rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, business, crime
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.
Dec 15, 2011 Kristen rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 29, 2011 John rated it liked it
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
Melanie Guerra
Feb 03, 2012 Melanie Guerra rated it liked it
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
Margaret Sankey
Sep 17, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
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
Sep 01, 2012 Scott Smith rated it liked it
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
Sep 19, 2013 Anne rated it liked it
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
Nov 21, 2011 Ebirdy rated it liked it
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
Lauren Albert
Sep 03, 2011 Lauren Albert rated it liked it
Shelves: history-american
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
Jun 09, 2012 Susanne added it
Shelves: bibliography
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
Kelly Kilcrease
Dec 25, 2013 Kelly Kilcrease rated it liked it
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
Jan 13, 2013 John Vibber rated it liked it
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
Jan 02, 2012 M. Mangan rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 08, 2012 Lori rated it it was ok
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.
Oct 27, 2014 Jean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: salem-history
Fantastic view of the history of Essex County in the early 1800's (even including a murder), which is an integral part of the history of the United States. I had no idea how important Salem was to the economy of the US. Great history that combines the commerce with the personal histories of the great families of Salem.
Kaitlin O'brien
Oct 03, 2011 Kaitlin O'brien rated it really liked it
Great read about the trading empire that financially solidified Massachusetts as a leading powerhouse in the 1700s.
Jul 31, 2012 Shane rated it it was ok
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.
Nov 07, 2011 Annette rated it liked it
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.
Ronnie rated it liked it
Jan 30, 2013
Ellen rated it really liked it
Dec 03, 2013
Trav S.D.
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Mar 10, 2013
Jeff Koppe
Jeff Koppe rated it liked it
Jun 14, 2012
Peter rated it it was amazing
Apr 20, 2011
Dennis McMahon
Dennis McMahon rated it really liked it
Aug 31, 2011
Katelin rated it it was ok
Jul 16, 2013
Laura rated it did not like it
Sep 17, 2013
Pat rated it it was amazing
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