Sacco and Vanzetti are without doubt the best known radicals featured in Ocean Press's "Rebel Lives" series. Anarchist Italian immigrants, their trial for murder during the frenzy of the first red scare became a cause celebre. Executed and then posthumously pardoned, their case has attracted renewed interest in recent years as anti-immigrant and anti-leftist prejudice and paranoia has again grown in the United States.
"Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives" is a collection of letters, articles, essays, and poems related to the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Editor John Davis opens the volume with a 13-page introduction, with the remaining 110 pages of documents arranged in four sections. The first, "The Shoemaker and the Fish-Peddler", includes 15 letters written by Sacco, Vanzetti, or both, to their supporters, friends, families, and executioners. Part two, "The Cause Celebre", includes eight contemporary articles and statements on their case (all defending Sacco and Vanzetti) by famous commentators including Eugene V. Debs, James P. Cannon, Anatole France, and John Dos Passos.
The third section, "Law versus Justice", presents more technical details of the case and the associated miscarriages of justice, through articles by Felix Frankfurter, H. G. Wells, and others. The final part deals with "The Legacy" of the case, and includes essays by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, and Howard Zinn, along with the text of a speech by Juliet Ucelli commemorating the 75th anniversary of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Each of the four sections opens with a poem about the Sacco and Vanzetti affair, which helps illustrate the profound impact the case has had on art, culture and memory.
Although I found this collection of documents interesting and enlightening, there were a few features of it that grated on me. In the letters by Sacco and Vanzetti, editor John Davis does not correct spelling or grammar, explaining that he wants to give the reader a sense of the frustration Sacco and Vanzetti must have felt trying to communicate in a foreign language. While that may be a laudable goal, I found that the resulting style got exceedingly tedious after a while. Even though Sacco and Vanzetti's innocence is common knowledge, I was annoyed that convincing evidence that they were in fact innocent was not presented until the third part of the book, well after a good deal of rhetoric that takes their innocence for granted.
Despite those criticisms, this volume is a good, slim introduction to primary sources relating to the Sacco and Vanzetti case. As with all the Rebel Lives books, this volume may also be of special interest to teachers looking for primary sources on the case and its victims.