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All Souls: A Family Story from Southie

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  10,515 ratings  ·  819 reviews
Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in "the best place in the world"--the Irish-American Old Colony projects of South Boston--where 85% of the residents collect welfare in an area with the highest concentration of impoverished whites in the U.S.

In All Souls, MacDonald takes us deep into the secret heart of Southie. With radiant insight, he opens up a contradictory world,
Paperback, 263 pages
Published October 3rd 2000 by Ballantine Books (first published September 25th 1999)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  10,515 ratings  ·  819 reviews

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Jul 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
So many people told me I was going to love this book. Most of them were amazed that I had never read it, having taught at Boston Collegiate Charter School, which was founded in the late 90's as a response to the alarming death rate among Southie teens. Most of my Collegiate students were from Southie, and they had Southie pride, through and through. I think that, in many ways, we misunderstood each other -- and I did most of the misunderstanding. I had only an inkling of an idea why my students ...more
May 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
It actually took me quite awhile to finish this book. Not because it was bad, but because the stark reality of it was something that I found so emotional that I found myself feeling a bit lost. He wrote so emotionally about his family, giving the reader a glimpse into a world that most of us have could never imagine. But I found that I was relating my own life to those events that Mr. MacDonald experienced. I remember the busing problems in South Boston and the evolution of our generation. The ...more
I initially read this book when it came out, probably 10 years ago. After seeing the film Black Mass, I decided to listen to the audiobook. The book is very effectively narrated by the author. To hear this story in his voice, his soft Southie accent (an accent which is not always gentle), he tells the story of his family who survived (although several of his siblings did not) living in one of Southie's most notorious housing projects, Old Colony. This was a place that ambulances and fire trucks ...more
May 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
a sad, yet engrossing, memoir of a guy who grew up in southie (the poor irish neighborhood in south boston) during the busing riots of the 1970's. i've lived in the boston area for most of the past 6 1/2 years, but i really didn't know much about southie other than that it was poor, white, and not the best place to be after dark. one of the things i loved about this book was that it showed the community that exists behind and beyond that stereotype.

what this book really showed me was how a
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was a strange roller coaster. The first chapter had me riveted, then I slogged through subsequent chapters like a kid taking bitter medicine. I knew it was good for me but my soul felt like it had cramps. I learned a ton from this book about the complexities of the Southie identity, and the history of the busing movement in Boston, and the book's ending was fascinating (and redeeming). I cannot imagine having such a story to tell, and I appreciate that it has been told.

However, having
Elizabeth K.
Aug 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008-new-reads
This book made me realize that one of the reasons I like memoirs so much is that I enjoy reading about other people's lives and then being judgmental about all the things they are doing wrong. On the plus side, I liked the personal view on what was going on in urban Boston in the 1970s, especially the personal accounts of the busing riots. (I vaguely remember when that was in the news, and I was too young to quite get what it was all about.) The author is passionate about the neighborhood where ...more
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book completely blew me away. I rarely give anything 5 stars but there was no question in this case. This is the true story of a poor white Irish-American family living in the projects in Southie. The writer was the 9th of 11 children and came of age during the seventies, right in the middle of busing and forced integration of housing projects. His story is unquestionably the most frightening story of urban poverty I've ever read, only in part because it's a true story. The fear this family ...more
Jun 06, 2007 added it

If you are a person that lives in an area like Jamaica plain, Southie, Dorchester or hyde park, this is a good book for you to read. This book is about how life was around those places a while ago. At first when you look at the books cover, you will think you will not like it because it as pictures of little kids and you might think its about the life of some little kids. But once you read it, you will like it because its about how life was in those places before before and if you lie reading
Jessica Haider
A very gripping and powerful memoir about MacDonald's experiences growing up in the Southie neighborhood of Boston in the 1970's. The neighborhood was one of the poorest in the nation and was the home of the Irish Mob and the school-bussing riots. Definitely an eye-opener!
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was born and raised in New England and I have heard at one point that Southie is pretty tough, but I never really cared enough to think about it. It was usually mentioned by guys that bragged about being from that area and I just don't find violence impressive.
I think it is great that Michael MacDonald overcame so many obstacles to have found a positive role in such an ugly place. He's well educated and an activist for safety in Boston suburbs.
While I'm all about anti violence I think people
May 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
This was one of those books that you ought to read if you are from South Boston ("Southie") and that you should read if you are not from Southie. A touching memoir, at times sad, horrific, and even traumatizing but ultimately leaving the reader with hope for the future.
I had to read this book for school so it was the first non-Chick Lit book I've read in a long while. As you mihgt imagine, what a change! It actually took me a little bit to get into this book; I think mostly because this book
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english-class
WOW, first of all.

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Drugs, Gangs, Mobs, Murder

You want to talk about violence, drugs, and death in Urban Cities, then you need to be talking about All Souls. Southie, an all Irish neighborhood in South Boston, is ran by a man whose name you've heard in conjunction with the FBI's Most Wanted List: Whitey Bulger. I had never heard his name before picking up this book. Early on in the book, I had completely underestimated his involvement, but one should never underestimate
Mark Mortensen
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobiography
I love autobiographies as no two lives are ever alike. Pride comes from within and Michael Patrick McDonald born in 1966 tells his tale of family roots, which run deep in the white poverty stricken terrain of South Boston known to all as “Southie”. Tough mothers ruled fatherless homes, while organized crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger Jr. (the same Bulger who in the 21st Century after publication of this book would become #2 on the FBI world most wanted list behind Osama bin Laden) ruled the ...more
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In his book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” Thomas Sowell explains how black ghetto culture is traceable to redneck culture in the South, which in turn is traceable to the Scotch-Irish peasantry which settled the region. In “All Souls,” Michael Patrick MacDonald’s sociologically important memoir of growing up in South Boston, we get a vivid look at the type of “Shanty Irish” culture that has more in common with Compton than Connecticut. The setting is a gritty cityscape of gangsters, unwed ...more
Debra Anne
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Even when we want to say their names, we sometimes get confused about who's dead and who's alive in my family." This sentence in the first paragraph hooked me.

The MacDonald family is gloriously dysfunctional, brought up by a single mother whose wisdom is matched only by her wildness. But MacDonald leaves us no doubt that his guitar-playing, man-loving mother loves her children, against all the odds of poverty and violence and failed romance.

This memoir is set in Southie, the community in Boston
Jul 27, 2015 rated it liked it
It's a tough, mean story and not dissimilar to other public housing tales of large metropolis urban poor from my own experience in Marquette Park, Garfield Ridge, Ashburn areas of Chicago. And in nearly similar years, as well. It's told in a rather strange mood, IMHO, by Michael Patrick. But it does thoroughly grab your throat with the overall staggering loss and the ever present turmoil and chaos. It's his personal history. The story of his birth family- his Mother and 9 siblings.

There is a
Christine Henry
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a gripping portrayal of a family living in the public housing projects of Boston, in the Irish neighborhood called Southie in the 1960s-1980s. Full of insight into the impact that poverty and violence has on the people in his life, Michael MacDonald paints a loving portrait of both his immediate family and his extended family, the community. Repeatedly describing his neighborhood as the best place on earth, he shines light into the corners of adversity and suffering. Drugs, gangs, and ...more
Jenny Becker
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was extremely shocking and pretty disturbing. I love the author's style of narrative and I found myself almost loving Southie, myself. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to throw the book at the wall, and I gawked at the wall sometimes. The way the author just came out and said things exactly as they were was very insightful. I would recommend this book to those who think that the worst of the ghetto neighborhoods are predominantly African American. I now that Southie should be ranked up ...more
Angela Paolantonio
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A powerful memoir of love and loss, strength and surrender. Apropos these times...My view of Boston will never be the same again.
Catherine Bassett
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is the 3rd time I've read this. I love it: everytime I read it I get a little more from
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An amazing account of family life in South Boston in the midst of violence, corruption, drugs, forced busing and more.
Sarah Costello
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
MacDonald, an exemplary storyteller, expertly weaves his passion for social justice into a narrative about his childhood in Southie, creating a believable, emotional memoir.
Liza Fireman
I feel bad for Michael and his family, and anyone else that lived in Southie, one of the higher crime areas in the Boston in the 1960s. Especially, because seeing people trapped in a terrible environment, and unable to get out of, to break the vicious cycle. And each of the people in the story is actively contributing to the violent, full of drugs, toxic neighborhood, and still nothing can be done. Like fate had been sealed for such places (it is very sad how true that is). The simplest example ...more
Jun 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: southie, memoir, boston, class
All Souls was a real eye-opener for me. I decided to read it because of Whitey Bulger's recent arrest, but I took much more from it than I expected to. I'm a somewhat new resident of Boston; I've been here for about six years. This book reminds me that you can live in a city for a long time- forever, maybe- and not genuinely know it. I'm not super familiar with Southie; I've been there a handful of times. I'm not even sure if the Southie described in this book still exists. Even the parts of All ...more
Liz Clappin
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have been dancing around this book for years, people recommended it to me or it was mentioned in conversations, I even recommended it to someone myself when we were talking about Black Mass, though I hadn't read it myself. The author's frank, unapologetic telling of his life's story is at times stark and horrifying but also a beautiful picture of the resilience and underlying ties that bind us all. White poverty is a taboo subject and as someone raised outside of Boston the other side of the ...more
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wow! All I did was look at the inside front cover. There's a list of the 11 kids, their dates of birth (9 btn 1956 and 1966, and 2 in 1975 and 1976), their dates of death (4 of them) and one period of coma ... This is going to be a hell of a story ..

It was an incredible story told in a very credible voice. The death and loss was delivered to the reader more in the sense of a roll call than with great drama. But then, there was so much death and loss, I'm not sure any reader could take it if it
Jan 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Describes the life and times of the MacDonald family in the Old Colony section of South Boston. Ma MacDonald struggles to raise her large brood by living on Welfare, playing the accordion at night in local watering holes, and taking advantage of any opportunity to get more for less. It's a tough area and by the age of six the children have usually been at least one serious brawl to gain the respect of their peers. As they grow the kids learn to lie, steal and run scams at the same time they face ...more
Nov 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed
It was fascinating to see the world of Southie through the eyes of a young Boston Irish boy during the 70s and 80s. We've all heard of the race riots due to busing, but it was very compelling seeing the history not only through the eyes of someone who was there, but also through the eyes of a young, white boy. MacDonald writes well, and my only complaint might have been that a few of his stories felt like they built up well but ended without anything really happening; but one must remember that ...more
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: MaryAlice
I read this book twice and I'd read it again. This is a riveting true story written by a man who grew up in South Boston ("southie") during the turbulent busing years. MacDonald is a talented storyteller, who describes the tragedies, drama and pride of living in southie like no other. Having grown up in a nearby 'burb', I remember reading in the media all about the busing crisis and riots. But I never got an insider's view of what life was truly like in the projects.
This is a great read, will
Jan 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
From the busing riots, to the exploits of Whitey Bulger, to the every day scene of poverty and drugs, my eyes were opened to what life was really like in South Boston in the 60's,70's and 80's. The powerful influence of the Catholic Church and the Irish mob is chronicled along with the damaging effects of the "no snitch" culture of Southie. Although this story is filled with unbelievable tragedy, the author highlights joyful moments and in the end is hopeful for change. This is a great read for ...more
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Michael Patrick MacDonald was born in Boston in 1966 and grew up in South Boston’s Old Colony housing project. He helped launch many of Boston’s anti violence initiatives, including gun-buyback programs and the South Boston Vigil Group which served to give voice to the survivors of violence and the drug trade in that neighborhood. He continues to work nationally with survivor families and young ...more
“I remember hating having to cross over the Broadway Bridge again, having to leave the peninsula neighborhood and go back to my apartment in downtown Boston.” 6 likes
“It’s funny, I thought, how the people who seem the meanest, the people we want nothing to do with, might be in the most pain.” 3 likes
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