The Rascal King

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The name of James Michael Curley is synonymous with the heyday of “bossism” in American politics, the period when large cities and states were governed largely through the whimsical though resourceful political intelligence of one man. The greatest example of the phenomenon is the career of Huey Long, governor of Louisiana during the late 1920’s. It was in such cities as Boston, New York and Chicago, however, that bossism first evolved and lasted longest.

Although Curley served as a congressman for, and governor of, Massachusetts, it was as mayor of Boston that he attainted significance as a historical figure. That significance is part of the overall history of the United States in the interwar period, and not the least interesting aspect of THE RASCAL KING is the manner in which it links Curley’s rise from economic rags to political riches to larger demographic and sociological shifts in American urban reality. In particular, the ethnic element in Curley’s career, and the fact that many of the bosses of his generation shared Curley’s shanty-Irish origins, adds further piquancy and vitality to his story, as well as providing instructive insights into the brand of populism through which the bosses rose to power. Even Curley’s eventual disgrace has a larger exemplary interest.

Drawing on a variety of oral and printed sources, and told with a sympathetic though not uncritical feel for the raucousness and color of the period, THE RASCAL KING offers angles of interest to a wide variety of readers. Students of the Kennedy family, and even fans of Spencer Tracy (who portrayed a fictionalized Curley in the film THE LAST HURRAH), will not want to miss this political saga.