American Treasures

The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.

On December 26, 1941, Secret Service Agent Harry E. Neal stood on a platform at Washington’s Union Station, watching a train chug off into the dark and feeling at once relieved and inexorably anxious. These were dire times. Hitler’s armies were plowing across Europe, seizing or destroying the Continent’s historic artifacts at will, and three weeks earlier Japan unleashed its devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. American officials now feared an enemy attack on Washington, D.C.

So, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set about hiding the country’s valuables. On the train speeding away from Neal sat four plain-wrapped cases containing the documentary history of America – including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address – guarded by a battery of agents and bound for safekeeping in the nation’s most impenetrable hiding place.

American Treasures charts the creation and little-known journeys of these priceless American documents. From the risky and audacious adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to our modern Fourth of July celebrations,  shows how the ideas captured in these documents underscore the nation’s strengths and hopes, and embody its fundamental values of liberty and equality. Stephen Puleo weaves exciting stories of freedom under fire—from the smuggling of the Declaration and Constitution out of Washington days before the British burned the capital in 1814, to their covert relocation during WWII—crafting a sweeping history of a nation united to preserve its democracy and the values embodied in its founding documents.

A City So Grand

The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900

The second half of the nineteenth century is, quite simply, a breathtaking period in Boston’s history. Unlike the frustrations of our modern era, in which the notion of accomplishing great things often appears overwhelming or even impossible, Boston distinguished itself between 1850 and 1900 by proving it could tackle and overcome the most arduous of challenges and obstacles with repeated, and often resounding, success.

A City So Grand chronicles this breathtaking period in Boston’s history for the first time. Readers will experience the abolitionist movement of the 1850s, the 35-year engineering and city-planning feat of the Back Bay project, the arrival of the Irish that transformed Boston demographically, the Great Fire of 1872 and the subsequent rebuilding of downtown, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in Boston, and the many contributions Boston made to shaping transportation, including the Great Railroad Jubilee of 1851 and the grand opening of America’s first subway. These stories and many more paint an extraordinary portrait of a half-century of progress, leadership, and influence that redefined Boston as a world-class city.

The Boston Italians

A Story of Pride, Perseverance and Paesani, from the Years of the Great Immigration to the Present Day

This story of the Boston Italians begins with their earliest years, when a largely illiterate and impoverished people in a strange land recreated the bonds of village and region in the cramped quarters of the North End.

Focusing on this first and crucial Italian enclave, The Boston Italians describes the experience of Boston’s Italian immigrants as they battled poverty, illiteracy, and prejudice (Italians were lynched more often than members of any other ethnic group except African Americans); explains their transformation into Italian Americans during the Depression and World War II; and chronicles their rich history in Boston up to the present day.

Much of the story is told from the perspective of the Italian leaders who guided and fought for their people’s progress, reacquainting readers with pivotal historical figures like James V. Donnaruma, founder of the key North End newspaper La Gazzetta del Massachusetts, now the English-language Post Gazette, and politician George A. Scigliano.

The book’s final section is devoted to interviews with today’s influential Boston Italian Americans, including Thomas M. Menino, the city’s first Italian American mayor. The story of the Boston Italians is among America’s most important, vibrant, and colorful sagas, and necessary reading for anyone seeking to understand the heritage of this ethnic group.

The Caning

The Assault That Drove America to Civil War

A Turning Point in American History, the Beating of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner and the Beginning of the War Over Slavery

Early in the afternoon of May 22, 1856, ardent pro-slavery Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina strode into the United States Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C., and began beating renowned anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a gold-topped walking cane. Brooks struck again and again—more than thirty times across Sumner’s head, face, and shoulders—until his cane splintered into pieces and the helpless Massachusetts senator, having nearly wrenched his desk from its fixed base, lay unconscious and covered in blood. It was a retaliatory attack. Forty-eight hours earlier, Sumner had concluded a speech on the Senate floor that had spanned two days, during which he vilified Southern slaveowners for violence occurring in Kansas, called Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal,” and famously charged Brooks’s second cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, as having “a mistress. . . who ugly to others, is always lovely to him. . . . I mean, the harlot, Slavery.” Brooks not only shattered his cane during the beating, but also destroyed any pretense of civility between North and South.

One of the most shocking and provocative events in American history, the caning convinced each side that the gulf between them was unbridgeable and that they could no longer discuss their vast differences of opinion regarding slavery on any reasonable level. The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War tells the incredible story of this transformative event. While Sumner eventually recovered after a lengthy convalescence, compromise had suffered a mortal blow. Moderate voices were drowned out completely; extremist views accelerated, became intractable, and locked both sides on a tragic collision course.

The caning had an enormous impact on the events that followed over the next four years: the meteoric rise of the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln; the Dred Scott decision; the increasing militancy of abolitionists, notably John Brown’s actions; and the secession of the Southern states and the founding of the Confederacy. As a result of the caning, the country was pushed, inexorably and unstoppably, to war. Many factors conspired to cause the Civil War, but it was the caning that made conflict and disunion unavoidable five years later.

Dark Tide

The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

Shortly after noon on January 15, 1919, a 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses collapsed on Boston’s waterfront, disgorging its contents in a 15-foot-high wave of molasses that traveled at 35 miles per hour. The Great Boston Molasses Flood claimed the lives of 21 people and caused widespread destruction. For the first time, the story of the flood is told here in its full historical context, from the tank’s construction in 1915 through the multiyear lawsuit that followed the disaster. Dark Tide uses the gripping drama of the flood to examine the sweeping changes brought about by World War I, Prohibition, the anarchist movement, immigration, and the expanding role of big business in society. It’s also a chronicle of the courage of ordinary people, from the firemen caught in an unimaginable catastrophe to the soldier-lawyer who presided over the lawsuit with heroic impartiality.

Due to Enemy Action

The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56

This World War II story, which spans generations and straddles two centuries, begins with the dramatic Battle of the Atlantic in the 1940s and doesn’t conclude until 57 years later. Told in the same character-driven narrative nonfiction style asDark Tide, it is a saga of the courageous survival of ordinary sailors after their ship was torpedoed, and the memories that haunted them after the U.S. Navy buried the truth at war’s end. Based on previously classified government documents, military records, personal interviews with widows and survivors, and letters between crew members and their families, Due to Enemy Action is the story of a small subchaser, the Eagle 56, caught in the crosshairs of a German U-boat, whose brazen commander doomed his own 55-man crew. It also describes the final chapter in the Battle of the Atlantic, tracing the epic struggle that began with shocking U-boat attacks against defenseless merchant ships off American shores and ends with the last sinking of an American warship — the Eagle 56 — by a German submarine.