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Book Review: The Brothers Bulger


The same review also appears on Lokvani

Book Review: The Brothers Bulger

Author: Howie Carr

Publisher: Warner Books

464 Pages, paperback

‘The Brothers Bulger’ is one of the best true crime/non-fiction books I have read recently. Fast passed in narrative, the book covers the History of one of the most well-known siblings to dominate the Boston landscape in politics and crime. Carr’s narrative is fascinating, spellbinding and packed with crackling wit and was a page turner despite the reason that many of the facts of this story are well-known.

The Bulgers came from the most modest of families in the projects of South Boston and were of Irish heritage. While his brother, Whitey, climbed the infamous ranks of America’s most wanted, second only to Bin Laden, William Bulger grew in Beacon Hill to become the president of the senate. He then moved on to become the de facto head of the University of Massachusetts.

The book traces the early lives of the siblings. Whitey makes an early entry into the world of criminal enterprise, by moving from larceny to assault and battery, robbery and then to murder. Billy, his brother struggles through Boston College High School, and then through BC Law School to subsequently enter politics.

The tale of the two brothers has been almost romanticized for decades, particularly people in Massachusetts. ‘How could one brother, through perseverance reach the presidency of the Senate while his own older brother reaches the zenith of the criminal underworld through deeds of atrocity?’ many of us wonder. This book casts serious aspersions on this folklore.

Carr alleges that the brothers had more in common in their strategies to land them at the top of their respective trades. Each of them also had a series of lucky breaks that he worked deviously to his own advantage.

The GI bill for instance helped Billy, an average student make it through Law School. Backing 1960 senate winner Joe Moakley would subsequently get him into the Senate. A disastrous attempt by the federal courts to integrate Boston’s school system would be Billy’s much needed catalyst to land him the senate presidency.

Whitey’s early bank robbery attempt would send him to Alcatraz for almost a decade between the mid fifties and sixties. This sentence would actually serve as a boon to Whitey. Irish hoodlums that operated in Boston would kill each other in gang wars leaving the coast clear for Whitey to assert his leadership and graduate into more illegal dealings like Jai Alai, racketeering, murder and extortion. An outrageous deal that Whitey and his criminal accomplice Steve Flemmi would make with the FBI would enable Whitey get away with the most heinous of crimes.

Carr alleges that the FBI could have avoided making deals with Whitey as they could have got all their information from Flemmi. The only reason that FBI agent Zip Connolly struck a deal with Whitey was to ensure himself a decent job after his term in the FBI. Whitey’s brother Billy would ultimately help Zip with a senior job at Boston Edison.

Carr alleges that Billy’s reign in the senate was marked with unethical tactics that involved terrorizing his adversaries and through unholy alliances with politicians with power. He also ensured that his allies were strategically placed or promoted to positions of power in Beacon Hill. Billy would ultimately leave the senate for his tenure as the president of the University of Massachusetts where he would continue his tactics to promote and reward his friends and antagonize his enemies.

The book also recounts Billy’s fall from grace, his infamous and humiliating senate hearings, his gigantic golden parachute after his forced resignation. It also covers Whitey’s disappearance and several events that marked the rise and the fall of the Bulgers of Massachusetts. Many prominent figures in politics like Tom Menino, Governors Weld, Swift, Celluci, Dukarkis, the Bushes, John Kerry and Mitt Romney make appearances in this book. Particular noteworthy and humorous are the ridiculous rituals of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations organized and headed by Billy Bulger. This book is an informative and enjoyable read that would enthrall the political geek and the curious reader alike. ‘Certainly worth a read’, is my verdict.

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