Book Review | The Paradise of All These Parts

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Heath Robbins

One of my favorite New England writers is John Hanson Mitchell, whose Ceremonial Time (1984) investigated the “deep history” of Scratch Flat, a one-square-mile piece of ground 35 miles northwest of Boston, from the Ice Age to the Digital Age. His new book, The Paradise of All These Parts (Beacon Press; $24.95), attempts the same core sampling, this time of Boston itself, producing an intriguing blend of geology, biology, political science, and personal anecdote. “We all live by myths of one sort or another,” he writes, “and it is stories, after all, that create the reality of a person — or, for that matter, a place.”

Among the subjects of his stories are Katherine Nanny Naylor, whose 17th-century privy produced a treasure trove of artifacts, including a bowling ball; Thomas Blackfish, a self-proclaimed Native American whom Hanson describes as a member of the Wannabe tribe; James Michael Curley, the legendary Irish American mayor who once threatened to sell the Public Garden, just to horrify the Brahmins; and generation after generation of protestors, who fought everything from the Stamp Act to the dismantling of the Citgo sign near Fenway Park — “an odd reaction,” Mitchell points out, “given that there had been a flurry of protest when the sign was first erected.”

It all helps to explain the reaction of one 19th-century Bostonian who, when accused of provincialism, replied, “Why travel when we are already here?”


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