Attorney digs deep into Boston history in new book


By Matt Robinson, Contributing Writer

“Boston has the most important history of any American city,” says attorney and author Dan Dain.
“Boston has the most important history of any American city,” says attorney and author Dan Dain.

BOSTON – Each July, people come from all over the world to visit Boston in order to experience Independence Day in the city that spawned it. And attorney and author Dan Dain knows a lot more about Boston than the average resident.

As co-founder and chairman of the commercial real estate law firm Dain, Torpy, Le Ray, Wiest & Garner, PC, Dain sees Boston as a series of properties. His understanding of and appreciation for the city go much deeper, however. In fact, they go far below the landfill that makes up so much of the city to the primordial plates that first shaped the city that has itself shaped so much of history. 

A passion for his hometown

In his book “A History of Boston,” Dain shares his passion for his hometown through nearly 800 pages of lovingly-researched information and insights about the Athens of America and the ideas and people that shaped it and allowed and encouraged it to shape so many other people and places.

“I think you can make a compelling argument…that Boston has the most important history of any American city,” Dain maintained. 

While he admits that Boston may no longer truly be what has come to be paraphrased from Oliver Wendell Holmes as the “Hub of the Universe,” Dain is keen to point out that Boston was and remains a leader in many realms. From the Industrial Revolution to abolition and civil rights to the scientific breakthroughs for which it is known today, Boston has been at the forefront of many of the movements that have moved the country and the world.

So many important events happened in Boston,” he suggested, “that I think it deserves its place as the city with the most important history in the United States.”

In addition to being knowledgeable about Boston, Dain is also passionate.

“It’s a city I have always loved,” he affirmed. “I love the history!” When asked what encouraged him to turn his passion into a book, Dain cites his professional life.

Ups and downs

“My law practice represents real estate developers in the city,” he explained. “When my clients make investments in the city, they’re betting on the fact that the city is going to remain a place where people will still want to live, work, play, study, shop, and be.”

And while Boston may be “flying high” today, Dain cautions that this was not always the case. “When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s,” he recalled, “the best term to describe Boston was ‘basket case.’”

Citing what he calls an era of “stagnation” that lasted the better part of 70 years, Dain says that he was inspired to dig deeper into the city’s history to see what made the city “swing between these eras of success and failure.”

In the process of researching that question, Dain eventually realized that he had amassed sufficient materials to not only clarify the situation for himself but to also explain it (and the larger scope of the city) to others.

Writing the book

Dan Dain’s book about Boston history, at nearly 800 pages, goes from the formation of the area’s land mass millions of years ago to the present day.Photos/Submitted
Dan Dain’s book about Boston history, at nearly 800 pages, goes from the formation of the area’s land mass millions of years ago to the present day.

“It was really only a few years in that I thought I might take all these notes and put them into a book,” he said. While his research is evident, Dain poses his book as a “collection of stories” about Boston history that all have to do with what makes cities successful…or not.

Speaking of stories, Dain recalls reading over 250 books in the process of compiling his own. “I really wanted to learn the history,” he explained. Though many of his fellow researchers and Boston-philes suggested various starting and ending points for the narrative, Dain decided to go as far back and as far forward as possible.

“I start 580 million years ago with the formation of what is called the Avalonia Belt,” he said, citing the land mass that shaped the one we live on today. When asked how he decided to end it, Dain recalled adding information from every day’s newspaper until he finally decided that the election of Mayor Michelle Wu would be a good place to stop. 

“I needed an end-point,” he admitted, “and thought that the election of the first woman and the first person of color to be elected the mayor was a good way to end the book.”

Challenges remain

While the presence of a new face in the corner office is refreshing and important, Dain says that Boston has a lot of work to do and that, as was true when the city was founded, others are watching.

“I’m concerned about the challenges that the city faces today,” he said, noting that the book has taken him to many other cities not just around the region but across the country. “I wanted to look to the past to learn lessons…that other cities can learn.”

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