SACCO AND VANZETTI: THE MEN, THE MURDERS AND THE JUDGMENT OF MANKIND by Bruce Watson (Viking), 433 pages, $32.50 cloth. Rating: NNNN
To their supporters around the world they were "the good shoemaker" and the "poor fish peddler," judicially murdered by the capitalist state because they were foreigners and anarchists.
To law enforcement reps, politicians and many ordinary Americans at the time, Nicola Sacco and Bartolo-meo Vanzetti were thugs who murdered two men in broad daylight and got what they deserved.
Now, on the 80th anniversary of their execution, the tragic tale of the two Italian anarchists is retold by Bruce Watson in his detailed new book.
The robbery that took place in Braintree, Massachusetts, in April 1920 was unremarkable as far as heists go. Two employees of a shoe factory were gunned down, the payroll was snatched, and the killers sped away.
But this brutal crime took place in the shadow of a nationwide bombing campaign carried out by an Italian anarchist terrorist network. Sacco and Vanzetti, both Italian-born, were members of this underground movement.
At the time of their arrest, both men were armed with handguns. The police quickly worked to tie them to the murders.
The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti was known even at the time to have been a mockery of justice. The judge was squarely on the side of the prosecution and called the two men in his court "anarchistic bastards."
The witnesses for the prosecution were suspect, some with shady and criminal pasts. And the evidence, all conceded, had been tampered with. For leftists everywhere, saving Sacco and Vanzetti became an obsession.
Watson does a masterful job of recreating the tension that gripped Boston as the anarchists moved closer to the death house. Their final hours, especially Sacco's goodbye letter to his young son, make for heartbreaking reading.
Eight decades later, the ghosts of Sacco and Vanzetti still haunt the American conscience.