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The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865

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A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States In the vaunted annals of America's founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary "city upon a hill" and the "cradle of liberty" for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States In the vaunted annals of America's founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary "city upon a hill" and the "cradle of liberty" for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center from these misleading, tired clich�s, The City-State of Boston highlights Boston's overlooked past as an autonomous city-state, and in doing so, offers a pathbreaking and brilliant new history of early America. Following Boston's development over three centuries, Mark Peterson discusses how this self-governing Atlantic trading center began as a refuge from Britain's Stuart monarchs and how--through its bargain with slavery and ratification of the Constitution--it would tragically lose integrity and autonomy as it became incorporated into the greater United States. Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston's origins in sixteenth-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain's empire. After the cataclysmic Revolutionary War, "Bostoners" aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston's regional reign. The fateful decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state's vision of a common good for all. Peeling away the layers of myth surrounding a revered city, The City-State of Boston offers a startlingly fresh understanding of America's history.


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A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States In the vaunted annals of America's founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary "city upon a hill" and the "cradle of liberty" for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States In the vaunted annals of America's founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary "city upon a hill" and the "cradle of liberty" for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center from these misleading, tired clich�s, The City-State of Boston highlights Boston's overlooked past as an autonomous city-state, and in doing so, offers a pathbreaking and brilliant new history of early America. Following Boston's development over three centuries, Mark Peterson discusses how this self-governing Atlantic trading center began as a refuge from Britain's Stuart monarchs and how--through its bargain with slavery and ratification of the Constitution--it would tragically lose integrity and autonomy as it became incorporated into the greater United States. Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston's origins in sixteenth-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain's empire. After the cataclysmic Revolutionary War, "Bostoners" aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston's regional reign. The fateful decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state's vision of a common good for all. Peeling away the layers of myth surrounding a revered city, The City-State of Boston offers a startlingly fresh understanding of America's history.

53 review for The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jacopo Quercia

    'The City-State of Boston' surprised me in the best of ways. While essentially an urban history comparable to 'Gotham' or 'A Shopkeeper's Millennium,' "Boston," writes Yale University professor Mark Peterson, was "a slave society, but one where most of the enslaved labor toiled elsewhere, sustaining the illusion of Boston in New England as an inclusive republic devoted to the common good." If this description reads more like something out of 'The Hunger Games,' then I say: "good." Peterson drama 'The City-State of Boston' surprised me in the best of ways. While essentially an urban history comparable to 'Gotham' or 'A Shopkeeper's Millennium,' "Boston," writes Yale University professor Mark Peterson, was "a slave society, but one where most of the enslaved labor toiled elsewhere, sustaining the illusion of Boston in New England as an inclusive republic devoted to the common good." If this description reads more like something out of 'The Hunger Games,' then I say: "good." Peterson dramatic retelling of Boston's rise and fall more closely resembles Edward Gibbons' 'History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' than any book I've read this century. 'The City-State of Boston' is a work of extensive research that unfolds like a Greek tragedy about an Atlantic power analogous to the Italian republics of Genoa and Venice. I found this approach to the city's history refreshingly original since it freed both its author and its audience from a more encyclopedic treatment that, in my opinion, would have added hundreds of unnecessary pages to this text. Dr. Peterson's focus is the city-state of Boston, which we examine through the lives and writings of some of its most prominent residents, among them Samuel Sewall, Phillis Wheatley, and John Adams. The result is a masterful reexamination of one of the most influential cities in modern history, a welcome addition to any library, and a work of scholarship that injects some welcome artistry to academia. I'll never look at Boston or the United States the same way again. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Konet

    This was a great synopsis of the history and how the state of Massachusetts came to be. This is a great book for any American history fan or someone interested in learning about the history of different cities. It was well written and I actually like how it was divided up; the different time frames helped to discuss what was happening at the time in the world and what was going on in Boston. I don’t understand the lower ratings because I liked this. A must read for any fan of Boston.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Moynihan

    Great book. Very original thesis. Phips, Belcher, Mather, Sewall, Hull, Pepperell, Shirley brought to life. Chapter 5 on Acadia heavily reliant on Great and Noble Scheme by John Mack Faragher which I just happened to have read recently. Other than that chapter, it’s very original... Hmm. On p.314 (p. 681, note 2.) author relies on John Demos for the Deerfield Raid which gets the Indian tribe wrong. Most of the raiders were Abenaki from what I’ve read... Page 683 note 4 thro Great book. Very original thesis. Phips, Belcher, Mather, Sewall, Hull, Pepperell, Shirley brought to life. Chapter 5 on Acadia heavily reliant on Great and Noble Scheme by John Mack Faragher which I just happened to have read recently. Other than that chapter, it’s very original... Hmm. On p.314 (p. 681, note 2.) author relies on John Demos for the Deerfield Raid which gets the Indian tribe wrong. Most of the raiders were Abenaki from what I’ve read... Page 683 note 4 throws shade at anyone and everyone (McCullough, Ferling, Wood, Ellis) that ever did an Adams biography. Perhaps the author is correct. Pretty funny. Chapter 11 heavily reliant on Walter Muir Whitehill’s Boston: A Topographical History (p.810 note 19). Was thinking, ‘where have I read this before?’ Sure enough...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Woodman

    I read about this book in the New Yorker, and for some reason, while I read almost entirely fiction, I feel like I have a non-fiction book a week within my reach for the time being. This was a rough way to start, though, because it is an almost 700 page book that is even denser to read than it is to lift. Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston’s origins in sixteenth-cen I read about this book in the New Yorker, and for some reason, while I read almost entirely fiction, I feel like I have a non-fiction book a week within my reach for the time being. This was a rough way to start, though, because it is an almost 700 page book that is even denser to read than it is to lift. Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston’s origins in sixteenth-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. The most interesting and unknown to me part was the 1600's when Boston rose to a powerful and rich city-state through Atlantic trade. They even had their own silver currency! By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain’s empire. After the cataclysmic Revolutionary War, the city aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston’s regional reign. The fateful decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state’s vision of a common good for all. A situation that we are still emerging from as a nation.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura Jordan

    I don't really understand some of the low (one star!) ratings for this book. It's true that it's not exactly a page-turner and Peterson does at times get caught up in some of the minutiae of the period, but overall, it's an incredibly well-researched book with an interesting thesis about the origins of Boston as a political entity and the ways in which its distinct (and at times separate) identity made it struggle within the bonds of the newly-formed United States, particularly over the question I don't really understand some of the low (one star!) ratings for this book. It's true that it's not exactly a page-turner and Peterson does at times get caught up in some of the minutiae of the period, but overall, it's an incredibly well-researched book with an interesting thesis about the origins of Boston as a political entity and the ways in which its distinct (and at times separate) identity made it struggle within the bonds of the newly-formed United States, particularly over the question of slavery.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ari Odinson

    Read this one for grad school, and I felt oddly emotionally invested in the narrative. I hope I'm ready to talk about this in class because I took plenty of extra notes and like it's a pretty giant book. It also helped me remember how much I love focusing on the 18th century then also reminded me how much more I do love learning about the 19th century. So thanks, Mark Peterson, for the read (maybe).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rose Zu

    Highly recommended as an interesting angle from which to understand American history! The thematic and chronological organization helped me keep track of what was going on. The clear language and easy to follow logic made for a surprisingly fast read. The thematic layout also makes it easy for skimming the sections that aren't of personal interest.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sullivan

    Interesting take. Highly recommend it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Meril

  10. 4 out of 5

    Derek A.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joe Bax

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marv

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rich

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steven J. Kaiser

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ron Bailey

  17. 4 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike Ainsworth

  19. 4 out of 5

    James

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex Bauer

  21. 5 out of 5

    Will

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sam Seitz

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

  27. 5 out of 5

    cheryl

  28. 5 out of 5

    Graham

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Hutinett

  30. 5 out of 5

    J.

  31. 4 out of 5

    Marcus Steffanci

  32. 5 out of 5

    Ceil2000

  33. 5 out of 5

    alex guns

  34. 4 out of 5

    megan

  35. 4 out of 5

    Emre Sevinç

  36. 5 out of 5

    Brett

  37. 4 out of 5

    Will

  38. 4 out of 5

    Justin Crane

  39. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

  40. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

  41. 4 out of 5

    Laura Naselli

  42. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kovan

  43. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  44. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

  45. 4 out of 5

    John Purcell

  46. 5 out of 5

    Lucia Bailey

  47. 5 out of 5

    Roger

  48. 4 out of 5

    Mehrdad Kermani

  49. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  50. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Miller

  51. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

  52. 5 out of 5

    Jed

  53. 5 out of 5

    Evan

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