An assumption-rattling landmark in modern Irish historical writing.



If Ireland is now the Celtic Tiger, a marvel of the modern world economy, it’s no thanks to many of the nation’s institutions over the past century.

“Wherever we go we celebrate the land that makes us refugees,” runs an Irish pop song, but Dublin-born historian Ferriter is disinclined to laud his homeland unduly. Indeed, he opens his massive survey by announcing uncomfortable themes, many touching on areas of life that have impeded progress and have contributed to a long legacy of misery, such as the apparent unwillingness of government and the wealthy to do anything about poverty. Though not iconoclastic, Ferriter, like his contemporary Roy Foster, demolishes or demotes cherished legends; the supposedly internecine struggle that led to independence, for example, was surely dislocating and terrible, but much less so than previous histories have it. Devotion to mythologized history (and to exaggeration) is by no means exclusive to the Irish, but it plays so strongly that certain realities go ignored; that England was a longstanding enemy did not keep some 70,000 citizens of the officially neutral Irish Republic from joining the Allied forces during WWII, though “it was not until 1995 that an Irish government formally sponsored a memorial to those who had participated,” and of course Irish Catholics have witnessed scandals involving rogue priests that rival those across the water, though that has not stopped young Irish people from being “the most spiritual in Europe,” with 48 percent professing a belief in God, as compared to only 8 percent of their French peers. Even in the wealthy high-tech Ireland of today, Ferriter notes, poverty remains widespread and largely unaddressed, as are other social problems—though, he allows, many improvements have taken hold in the last few years.

An assumption-rattling landmark in modern Irish historical writing.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-58567-681-0

Page Count: 884

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2005

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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