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Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  242 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
The riveting true story of one of the nations most infamous trials and executions

When the state of Massachusetts electrocuted Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti on August 23, 1927, it concluded one of the most controversial legal cases in American history. In the eight decades since, debate has raged over what was probably a miscarriage of justice.

In the first full-l
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published August 16th 2007 by Viking Adult (first published August 1st 2007)
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Dec 13, 2008 Rose rated it it was amazing
In August 1927, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts electrocuted Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for an April 1920 payroll robbery that ended in murder. During the intervening years between their arrests and executions, the two Italian immigrants became a worldwide cause celebre. Public figures like Dr. Felix Frankfurter, who became Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and socialist poet Edna St. Vincent Millay argued that both men, who were active anarchists, were condemned ...more
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 con

Chickens McShiterson
Dec 01, 2014 Chickens McShiterson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
"To the anarchist, all defects in society and human nature spring from an oppressive class system protected by government, sanctioned by the church, and enforced by militias" (Watson 26).

Yup. Truer words were never written. Welcome to the flawless oligarchy. The state cannot afford to admit wrong-doing, cannot acquiesce to such pedestrian notions as logic and reason- to do so would mire her in a cloud of fallibility, thus providing the hoi polloi with a micrometer of dignity and a titch of
Nov 06, 2008 Florence rated it really liked it
The facts are murky and unproven. Capital punishment can never be undone and should be abolished.
Jan 22, 2012 Bap rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, italy, crime
On April 15, 1920 in the town of Braintree, mass. Just outside of Boston a payroll clerk with a strong box and a guard,were approaching several shoe factories to deliver the weekly payroll. A large car with four or five occupants came along side the pair, who were both murdered and the cash stolen. Months later two Italian immigrants, both of them Anarchists, came up to a garage holding a large car that might have been used in the hold-up and were arrested, tried and convicted. Seven years later ...more
May 11, 2009 Lauren rated it liked it
The story of two men who were not treated well by the Massachusetts court system, it is a cautionary tale. You know how "they" say, "if you're not guilty, you have nothing to be afraid of"? This story shows us that you do, indeed have something to fear: and it is not just fear itself!

The author plays an even hand and shows how the politicization of the trial prevented the men from a just outcome, which would have been a second trial under an impartial judge. One side claims that the trial was fa
Patrick Sprunger
John Dos Passos astutely wrote that Americans are two people: those capable of contextualizing what they read and hear with their republican values and those hopelessly distracted by base prejudice at the expense of good citizenship. Dos Passos's quote is repeated two or three times in Sacco and Vanzetti and is the base of the book itself.

I find it interesting that one could also say about Bruce Watson's monograph that Sacco and Vanzetti is two books: one that contextualizes the trial with Amer
Dec 25, 2014 Alex rated it liked it
The crowds said, when Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of murder, "We will not forget!" Yet it seems we have forgotten. You don't convict people of murder simply because "you know they did it". You have to prove it with REAL evidence. Not made up evidence.

I was reminded of this during the Zimmerman Trial which prompted this review. Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder. Regardless of what people may think of his guilt or innocence, if you are going to convict someone for murder you must P
Jan 22, 2016 Fishface rated it liked it
An excellent, wide-ranging study not only of the arrest, trial and execution of the two anarchists, but of the temper of the times. The author makes a good case for his position that the two men are extremely unlikely to have committed the crime they were executed for. He even says the bullets in the victims don't match their gun -- but we happen to know from the police that this is untrue. Overall, though, he helped me understand why people doubt their guilt no matter how many years go by.
Billie Mulcahy
May 30, 2011 Billie Mulcahy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boston, history, politics
This is a wonderful telling of the Sacco and Vanzetti case that describes the ordeal of these two men and the social factors, both in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole, that led to this gross miscarriage of justice. I found it interesting that there was more support for the two defendants in Europe than in the US. At the time of the trial, 1920, Italians were the newest immigrants in a state that was still reeling from its adjustment to the earlier Irish immigrants. Furthermore, the ...more
Nov 12, 2011 Yvonne rated it it was amazing
Although it to a bit to get through this, because my interests tend to wander, I admire the effort that went into this piece of work. Nearly 27 years ago I wrote a history paper on this particular case and there didn't seem to be more than a vague paragraph or two readily available is easily obtainable print. Even with the abundance of information available now and after finalizing my reading of this book the question still remains unequivocally unanswered in the positive or the negative as to t ...more
Erin Hamilton
Jan 13, 2008 Erin Hamilton rated it it was amazing
Although nothing new is revealed here, this is an excellent survey of a very complex and confusing legal railroading in 1920s Boston. Like the Haymarket anarchists before them, Sacco & Vanzetti were convicted more for their beliefs and associations than deeds.

The Watson book did make clearer the culpability of Judge Webster Thayer, as opposed to the jury--many of whom seem to have genuinely believed the perplexing ballistics "evidence."

Previously, I had thought that one or both may have be
Feb 21, 2016 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well written and balanced account of the Sacco and Vanzetti's ordeal and the worldwide reaction. While the author never makes a definite statement as to their guilt or innocence, he makes it clear that there were enough problems with the trial that resulted in their conviction that it should have been overturned.
Jul 22, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok
I finally finished this! I thought this book would be much more entertaining and fast paced than it was because I heard the author on NPR and he seemed really interesting. In fact, I had a really, really hard time getting through this and made myself read it. The legal aspects of the case weren't as interesting or well presented as the social context was. I thought it was really interesting learning about anti-immigrant (especially anti-Italian) sentimentality, the red scare, hyper-Americanism a ...more
Feb 04, 2008 JoeM rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-08
The book is well thought out although a bit confusing (which may be more of how I read than how it was presented). The author presents the information as clear as possible through the lens of history and is able to demonstrate that these two men were innocent of the crimes they were executed for. 70+ years after the state-sanctioned murder, I felt my own anger at the result as if I knew the two people. I find it hard to believe that to this day, people are still up in arms when this is mentioned ...more
Even though I already knew how the ending would be, this was a very sad story. Even after 84 years since Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, there is still doubt as to their guilt or innocence (no spoilers, actually - read the epilogue carefully).

Watson writes a largely sympathetic account about Sacco and Vanzetti; he includes a history of the anarchist movement in Italy and the US in the 1920s, which was pretty interesting to me. Watson also has some harsh words for the Boston community who trea
Sushud82 Hudson
Oct 23, 2012 Sushud82 Hudson rated it liked it
Picked this book up on a whim from the library after sitting for a mock jury pool for the Sacco & Vanzetti case. I didn't know anything about it until then. This is pretty straightforward non-fiction - not true crime, not creative nonfiction - so it was a bit dry at times. The author presents a case casting favorably on Sacco & Vanzetti, which I don't disagree with. It certainly gave me a lot to think about and further solidified my opinion that the death penalty is a dangerous punishmen ...more
Jan 15, 2009 Dru rated it liked it
and a half. I knew nothing of these guys. The account is evenhanded, but it's pretty clear the author believes them innocent. It's really a fascinating piece of history, what with all of the "roaring twenties" atmosphere. There are no real protagonists in this story, just countless flawed human beings caught up in the real world. If I could pick a protagonist, however, I would probably pick Vanzetti. More than anyone else in the book, the reader gets an excellent sense of who he was by the time ...more
Feb 12, 2008 Mike rated it really liked it
this is a cracking good read. probably one of the best accounts you'll find, since it somehow turns a stupid long trial into a real pageturner. watson also avoids the guilt/innocence question (which can only be determined by one's own political prejudice, considering the lack of real evidence and proliferation of rumors) but he still makes it clear that this was one of the worst travesties of justice ever carried out in an american court.
Apr 17, 2012 DJ rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobio-bio, law
I finished the book today, and the overwhelming feeling is of sadness and fury- not only for the injustice and brutality of their execution, but because it feels that so little has changed in the 85 years since. perhaps at some point I'll return with a more substantive review... learning the details of their lives and trial for the first time, it's too stirring, too raw, to find any other words now.
Aug 21, 2014 Bryan rated it did not like it
Read chapter one. Stop reading after that.
Joe Shoenfeld
Dec 28, 2014 Joe Shoenfeld rated it really liked it
I learned a lot about the case from this book and am grateful for it. The writing gets 3 stars, the research gets 5, so thus the 4.
Dec 27, 2007 Kate rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in the law, anarchy, Italian-Americans
Shelves: favoritereads
Very complete and easy-to-read history of the Sacco and Vanzetti case. The author details a lot of information about their lives, the crime they were accused of, the politics and anti-immigrant hysteria of their time (sound familiar?), the unfair trial and the worldwide movement to save them. Very good book.
Sep 03, 2011 Bobbi rated it liked it
If you really want to know every single detail of the Sacco and Vanzetti incident which played out over about 10 years, this is the book for you. It was fascinating for a while, then became repetitive so I skipped to the epilogue. Were they guilty? I don't think we'll ever really know.
Tom Mueller
Aug 03, 2011 Tom Mueller rated it it was amazing
At the very least, Sacco and Vanzetti should have been granted a new trial. Spences Sacco (grandson) stood next to Michael Dukakis in 1977 as Dukasis said "high standards of justice . . . failed Sacco and Vanzetti". See Upton Sinclair's "Boston" and many others.
Dec 10, 2008 Stuart rated it really liked it
This book is a dry, riveting account which addresses the impact of the trials of the two men who may well have been bomb throwing anarchists, but probably weren't in the case for which they were tried. Well
detailed and researched and well worth reading.
Oct 26, 2009 Judy rated it really liked it
After reading this, my judgment is no longer unsure -- I believe that both of these men were unjustly charged and convicted -- Although they believed in the anarchist cause, they did not do anyone any harm -- a true travesty of justice -- they were innocent.
Feb 12, 2008 Adam rated it liked it
Well written, very well researched. But a great example of why I don't read pure non-fiction.

Watson's work is top notch but boring as fuck and I immediately retreated to the loving embrace of Orwell to remind myself why I read.
Dec 21, 2008 CLM marked it as to-read
Shelves: history
A friend of mine just retired from the bench in the very courtroom where Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced. I must admit I couldn't believe it was 90 years ago, and thus concluded I had better improve my knowledge of this very sad event.
Nov 12, 2009 Jackie rated it really liked it
A book good enough to make me drag out my soapbox. A primer on lessons we still have not learned about unequal justice, immigration, and our willingness to sacrifice civil liberties in the face of fear.
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Bruce Watson is the author of "Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age" (Bloomsbury, Feb. 2016). Starting with creation stories and following the trail of luminescence through three millennia, "Light" explores how humanity has worshiped, captured, studied, painted, and finally controlled light. The book's cast of characters includes Plato, Ptolemy, Alhacen, Dante, Leonardo, Rembr ...more
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“Presently we began to have our slices of the national cake,” F. Scott Fitzgerald remembered, “and our idealism only flared up when the newspapers made melodrama out of such stories as Harding and the Ohio Gang or Sacco and Vanzetti.” 0 likes
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