BITA'S BOOK REVIEWS
John William McCormack: A Political Biography
John McCormack worked his way from South Boston’s housing projects to a leading figure in the U.S. Congress, winning 22 consecutive elections from 1928 to 1971. In 1962 he was elected the first Catholic Speaker of the House, serving nine consecutive years, a record later broken by his protégé Tip O’Neill.
Written by Garrison Nelson, Professor of Law, Politics & Political Behavior at the University of Vermont, this book is a masterpiece of research and writing. With a meticulous understanding of government machinations and political culture, Nelson charts McCormack’s career against the 21st century’s major events – from the New Deal to Pearl Harbor to the Kennedy assassination.
Originally from Lynn, Massachusetts, Nelson also reveals a keen appreciation of the intricate, clannish Boston Irish, in all their ambition and spite. As such, John McCormack stands as a major contribution to the literature of the Boston Irish.
Bloomsbury | $40.00 HC | 928 pages| March 2017
Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights
and the Flaws that Affect Us Today
Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
Written for children and young adults, Fault Lines in the Constitution is a wonderful introduction to one of the world’s enduring documents. The husband-wife team features Professor Sanford Levinson, a Harvard Law constitutional scholar and his wife Cynthia, a well-known writer of children’s literature. Together they trace the origins of the document, and the process by which the framers of the constitution hashed out details in an atmosphere of heated debate, ongoing negotiations, and finally, a spirit of compromise. The main characters are fascinating historical figures – Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin - who argue vigorously for their beliefs. There are sections on states' rights, presidential term limits, the electoral college, and the thorny question of amending the constitution. A great book for young readers and adults too.
peachtree-online.com | $19.95 HC | 204 pages | April 2017
Her Name is Rose: A Novel
Christine Breen has written a beautifully-rendered first novel that takes readers on an odyssey from Dublin and County Clare to Boston and New York and back. In 1990, an American girl studying in Dublin gets pregnant and gives up her baby Rose for adoption to an Irish couple who raise the child with love and devotion. Nineteen years later, circumstances force the mother to travel to Boston to track down the birth mother, unleashing secrets and regrets that lay dormant in everyone’s hearts. Boston readers will enjoy the evocative sketches of St. Botolph Street, concerts at Titus Sparrow Park and the Mapparium at the Christian Science Building. A long-time resident of County Clare herself, Breen perfectly captures the daily routines and inflections of the Irish countryside. Her characters - Irish and American alike – display a gentle wisdom in accepting the unforeseen twists and turns of life.
St. Martin's Griffin Press | $15.99 PB | 290 pages | April 2015
Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice
Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland
Mary Robinson has been a voice of fairness, justice and change throughout her llustrious career, and one of the most influential public figures in contemporary Ireland. As first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), she spoke forcibly for women’s contraception and equal rights. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), she brought worldwide attention to human rights violations around the world.
The title of her memoir itself, Everybody Matters, embodies the principles and convictions that Robinson acted upon her entire life, challenging elitism, abuse of power and marginalization of vulnerable groups in our society.
In her book, Robinson describes making “115 trips to more than seventy countries during five years, almost always with the idea of helping to amplify the voices of victims, helping them feel that somebody was listening. It brought home to me the power of the act of bearing witness.”
A frequent visitor to Massachusetts since her days at Harvard University, Robinson has spoken strongly in Boston on behalf of undocumented Irish immigrants, for peace and justice in Northern Ireland, and for victims of modern day famines as a result of war and climate change.
Bloomsbury US | $26 cloth |366 pages | March 2013 | ISBN: 978-0-8027-1801-3
The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’
Television, Conflict and Northern Ireland
Robert J. Savage
Rob Savage, professor of history at Boston College, has done extensive academic research on 20th century Irish politics and media, especially film and television. His newest book, The BBC’s Irish Troubles, combines his expertise in both areas with a nuanced, detailed examination of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s role in reporting on Northern Ireland from 1968 through 1988.
As with many accounts of Northern Ireland, the story is replete with the dreary, heavy-handed bullying, favoritism, ineptitude and deceit practiced by British and Northern Ireland officials during this period.
“Refusing to inform viewers fully of what was taking place in Northern Ireland,” the BBC coverage became dictated by “Government-imposed censorship, together with self-censorship practiced by anxious broadcasters.” The result was often a fabricated, self-serving narrative that did little to solve the legitimate social unrest. The heroes in the saga were a handful of intrepid reporters and news editors who tried to resist BBC censorship, as well as ordinary citizens who continued to press for change.
The final chapter, “Margaret Thatcher, the IRA and the Oxygen of Publicity” offers disturbing examples of how politicians willingly sabotage the free press for shortterm political positioning.
Relying on primary source material, Professor Savage’s The BBC’s ‘Irish Troubles’ is an accomplished work of historical scholarship that contributes enormously to literature of Northern Ireland. On another level, it is a cautionary tale about the complicated dynamic between government and a free press in democratic societies.
Manchester University Press | $95 cloth / 288 pages / May 2015
The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar:
Essays on Poets and Poetry
For those who cherish great literature and the writers who create it, Helen Vendler’s new collection of essays, book reviews and auto-biographical prose is a treasure. The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar contains over two decades of thoughtful and exquisite interpretations of American writers like Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop as well as Irish writers like William B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. She reveals to readers the profound value that literature offers to the human experience, and leaves us uplifted by poetry’s possibilities.
The introductory essay that opens the book is inspiring. Raised in 1950s Boston in “an exaggeratedly observant Catholic household,” Helen Hennessy found her love of books from her parents, who were both teachers. But as a female, she was discouraged from pursuing literature, and ended up studying chemistry. Eventually she made her way back, finding encouragement from teachers like John Kelleher, head of Harvard’s Celtic Studies Department, who she writes, “never forgot the link between literature and life.”
Harvard University Press
$35 cloth / 464 pages / May 2015
Models for Movers:
Irish Women's Emigration To America
Íde B. O’Carroll
Oral historian and writer Dr. Íde O’Carroll has conducted ground-breaking research on the lives of immigrant Irish women who came to the United States in the 1920s, 1950s and 1980s. Born in Ireland, O’Carroll lived in Boston in the 1980s, interviewing many of the women whose lives are chronicled here. She pays generous tribute to her mentors, such as the late Professor Ruth-Ann Harris, while providing a rich account of important figures in Boston’s Irish community like Sister Lena Deevy.
First published by Attic Press in 1991, Cork University Press has issued this 25th anniversary edition of the book. A new Foreword by Dr. Breda Gray at University of Limerick, and an Introduction by O’Carroll, places the book in an historical context and underscores its enduring value. Currently a visiting scholar at the Glucksman Ireland House at NYU, O’Carroll divides her time between Amherst, Massachusetts and Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland.
Attic Press / $21 paper / 200 pages
Cork University Press July 2015
Tales from the Emerald Isle and Other Green Shores
Classic Irish Stories
Edited by Michael Quinlin
First published in 2005, this 10th anniversary edition includes 20 short stories and excerpts from a variety of master short story writers. In his Introduction, Michael Quinlin writes, “While other nations have cultivated visual arts, architecture or even cuisine to define their civilizations this race of storytellers has always used language to express the deepest dimension s of their cultural identity.” The writers in this volume include: Liam O'Flaherty, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Butler Yeats, Sarah Orne Jewett, George Moore, Frank Mathew, Samuel Lover, Bram Stoker, Katharine Tynan, Ellis N. Myles, Finley Peter Dunne, T. Crofton Croker, William Larminie, Lady Gregory, William M. Thackeray, Alexander Young, John McElgun, George A. Birmingham and Kate Douglas Wiggin.
Globe Pequot Press | An Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield
$14.95 paperback / $13.95 eBook / 280 pages / March 2015
The Business of Naming Things
Michael Coffey’s first collection of short stories is a masterpiece of exquisite writing and daring revelations. His characters are overwhelmed by their inherited circumstances, poor life choices and lingering regrets, which they somehow rally to accept with poise and even grim humor. Lonely priests, rakish cognoscenti, and troubled teenagers frequent the pages, but the best stories delve into the fragile, explosive relationships between fathers and sons, filled with hopes and failures. The final story, Finishing Ulysses, is a brilliant imaginative journey that recasts Joyce’s Dublin excursion into Philadelphia, with shades of William Kennedy’s novel, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game. Set in post-war 1947, Bob Doherty and his pal Jimmy Curran race through Philly’s rainy nightlife, chasing shots of whiskey as trumpet great Clifford Brown blasts out Night in Tunisia. They are enraptured by the elusive poetry of life that is wrapped up in music, literature, adventure, and the seemingly infinite possibilities of youth.
Bellevue Literary Press
$15.95 paper / 208 pages / January 2015
Boston’s Cycling Craze 1880-1900
A Story of Race, Sport and Society
Lorenz J. Finison
This well-researched, well-written book traces the emergence of competitive and leisurely cycling, which was prompted by mass production of bicycles and the growth of sports in American life in the late 19th century. In Boston, African-Americans, Irish, Italians, Jews and old line New Englanders all took to the roads, strengthening ethnic and racial social ties while also competing against each other against a backdrop of immigration restrictions and fears. The Irish dimension is rich and well-researched, citing leaders like John Boyle O’Reilly and John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, as well as the less famous champion cyclist Eddie McDuffee.
University of Massachusetts Press
$24.95 paperback / 312 pages / May 2014
The History & Culture of a People
William E. Watson and Eugene J. Halus, Jr., Editors
A broad collection of Irish-American achievement, this volume is divided into four categories: Irish-American emigration; political and economic life; cultural and religious life; and literature, the arts, and popular culture. It strives to balance historical and contemporary figures. Many Boston Irish names are included: President John F. Kennedy, Ray Flynn, Conan O’Brien, Irish Micky Ward, Christa McAuliffe – while others are oddly missing: Senator Edward M. Kennedy, athlete James B. Connolly and writer George V. Higgins.
$100 hardcover / 512 pages / March 2015
The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia
Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr / Foreward: Dolly Parton
Wayfaring Strangers is a treasure of a book, a publishing delight. Readers will be enthralled with this well-conceived, well-written and well-produced history about how music from Scotland and Ulster got to America, and how it flourished by reinventing itself while staying true to its roots. The authors are passionate, knowledgeable and insightful about their topic. The book comes with a well-produced CD of twenty songs that compliment the narrative. Among the musicians: Dolly Parton, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Altan, Patrick Street, Len Graham, Pete Seger, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson and Anais Mitchell.
University of North Carolina Press
$39.95 hardcover / 448 pages / 64 color and 60 b&w images
The Spinning Heart / The Thing About December
Tipperary-born novelist Donal Ryan’s novels offer insights into today’s Ireland, in the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger. The story-lines aren’t always pleasant, with recurring themes of government ineptitude and greedy, wily connivers, bullies and losers somehow made bolder by the Celtic Tiger myth that money buys happiness, or class. But while the writing is unflinching and unsentimental, Ryan also shows empathy for the victims and even for some of the perpetrators.
$15 paper / 160 pages / 208 pages
An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War
Author Dr. Patrick Taylor, born in Bangor County Down and now living in British Columbia, has written over a dozen popular novels that take place in the colorful Irish village Buckyballybo. It’s old time storytelling, where the characters share the joys, complications and sorrows of village life. In this tale, World War II brings Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly from Buckyballybo to the front lines, where he tends to the horrors of war and also seeks to stay true to his beloved Deirdre.
$24.95 hardcover / 420 pages
Rose Kennedy's Family Album:
From the Fitzgerald Kennedy Private Collection, 1878-1946
Foreward: Caroline Kennedy
Think of this exquisite coffee-table book literally as a family album, with photos, snippets from letters, humorous asides and personal reflections. But it’s a family album that chronicles one of America’s most famous families. The 300 plus photographs, overwhelmingly black & white, were lovingly saved and preserved by Rose, who in many ways kept the family narrative intact over so many decades.
Arranged and Edited by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
Hachette Books / 368 pages / $45.00 / October 2013
Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of
Modern American Politics
Noted author, journalist and academic scholar Terry Golway has steadily built up a lasting literature on the Irish perspective and role in American history and politics. He is especially animated and astute when discussing his beloved New York, a topic immense and unwieldy like the city itself. Golway’s latest book, Machine Made, offers an engaging, insightful portrait of Tammany Hall, not as a den of iniquity and corruption, but as an ally to the immigrant classes pouring into New York City. Tammany helped the Irish, along with Italians, Jews and other newcomers, “feel like New Yorkers – and Americans,” giving them a sense of participation and connection that is missing today.
Liveright Publishing / W.W. Norton & Company / 372 pages / $27.95 cloth / March 2014
Who’s Your Paddy: Racial Expectations and the
Struggle for Irish American Identity
Jennifer Nugent Duffy
Who’s Your Paddy will cause controversy, disagreement and hopefully enlightened discussion, because the topics – whether racism is “a socially constructed response or an inherited trait?” as well as “the complexities of Irishness” – are always timely and urgent. Nugent Duffy is Associate Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University, and the book is the result of research she did for her master’s degree. Her laboratory was Yonkers, NY, described as “a working class bridge between the towers of Manhattan to the south and the pampered hills of Westchester County to the north.” Duffy defines three categories of Irish for her research: assimilated Irish ethnics from the 19th century; Irish white flighters who emigrated to the Bronx in the 1950s but then moved to Yonkers in the 1970s; and new Irish immigrants who arrived in the early 1990s.
New York University Press / 308 pages / $26.00 paperback / December 2013
Frog Music A Novel
Dublin-born Emma Donoghue, now living in Canada, is an award-winning author of novels and short story collections that cover a range of topics, from convent school life in Ireland and emigration to lesbian fiction and historical novels. Her writing evokes a pleasant combination of Canadian short story master Alice Munro and Irish novelist Roddy Doyle. Her newest novel, Frog Music, is set in San Francisco in 1876, a perfect setting for Donoghue to explore the reckless, dangerous, Wild West era, when young women especially were susceptible to jealous men, arrogant millionaires and crime in the big city. The novel revolves around two women – French burlesque dancer Blanche Beunon, and mysterious, brave Jenny Bonnet – both trying to survive while finding stability, safety and perhaps even love in the process.
Little, Brown and Company / 408 pages / $27.00 cloth / April 2014
The Life & Times of John L. Sullivan,
America’s First Sports Hero
Boston-born John L. Sullivan, the larger-than-life heavyweight boxer who dominated American sports lore in the late 19th century, had a fascinating life as a first generation Irish-American chasing the immigrant dream of success and fame. He achieved both, as author Christopher Klein recounts in this masterful, engaging biography of America’s first sports superstar.
Lyons Press / 356 pages / $27.50 / October 2013
Rogues and Redeemers:
When Politics was King in Irish Boston
The veteran Boston Globe reporter traces the domination of Irish-Americans in 20th century Boston politics. O’Neill’s scope goes from John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the first Irish-American mayor elected in 1906 to Ray Flynn, Boston mayor from 1984-93. Titans like James M. Curley, Kevin White and Bill Bulger are also covered, alongside a fascinating cast of minor characters who tried but never made it to the big stage.
Crown Publishing Group / March 2012 / $26
The Rising at Roxbury Crossing
It is 1919, the year of the infamous Boston Police strike, and rookie cop Willie Dwyer is on the beat at Roxbury Crossing. Dwyer had fled Ballinasloe, Galway a decade earlier, after being caught up in Ireland’s rebellion, and here he is now upholding a civic order that is about to come crashing down.
Redfearn, a former Massachusetts State Trooper, understands the dialogue, customs and mindset of police and of Irish history. His fatherin- law, William E. Mulvey, was a police officer during the strike. Redfearn grew up in Roxbury when it was still an Irish enclave, and has a deft touch for the history of this special neighborhood.
The Rising at Roxbury Crossing introduces a writer with a sound sense of pace, dialogue, drama and insight into history that makes this debut novel so enjoyable to read.
Olde Stoney Brook Publishing / 2012 / 425 pages / $18.95
Canadian author Peter Behrens has written an epic tale of a sprawling Irish family in 20th century America that starts in Quebec and ends in California. Along the way family ambition, betrayal, madness and violence are all examined by beautiful prose and great insight. Publishers Weekly called The O’Briens a work of ‘rough beauty.’
Pantheon Books / March 2012 / $25.95
Cheffin: From Potatoes to Cavier
Irish Master Chef Brendan Cronin has published his first book, Cheffin: From Potatoes to Cavier. It’s a lively, engaging story that begins on a small dairy farm and ends in the finest hotels and restaurants in the world.
Cronin, who teaches hospitality management at Endicott College, attained the prestigious Swiss Culinary title of Chef de Cuisine Diplomé. He provides behind-the-scenes stories about what it takes to become a professional chef in this competitive environment, which took him to some of the world’s finest five-star hotels and restaurants in Europe, Africa and the Far East. The book includes many of Cronin’s own recipes, presented with that same perfection and care that marks Chef Cronin’s illustrious career.
Amazon.com / March 2012
The Emerald Diamond:
How the Irish Transformed America’s Greatest Pastime
Veteran sports writer and author Charley Rosen has pulled together a light-hearted, anecdotal narrative of how Irish-American baseball players shaped the early days of baseball. Some of the best players and most outlandish characters have local connections, like Mike King Kelly, the game’s first superstar, and Connie Mack (Cornelius McGilllicuddy), born in East Brookfield, MA.
Harper Colllins / February 2012 / $25.99
JFK in Ireland:
Four Days that Changed a President
Irish journalist Ryan Tubridy tells the fascinating story of President Kennedy’s famous trip to Ireland in June 1963, which transformed both the president and the Irish people. The book is beautifully designed and printed, which is an extra bonus as a keepsake item. It’s available at the JFK Library gift shop in Boston.
Lyons Press / November 2011 / $27.50
Three Letters to Pine River
This fascinating novel, based on a true story, tells the story of 14 year old Francis Carroll, who overhears a violent confrontation between two farmers – Connors and Ferrigan - that ends in one of them being murdered with an ax. The setting for the novel is a close-knit Canadian-Irish farming settlement north of Quebec City. Francis must testify in court and the whole ordeal has a tragic impact on the community, who are divided between the families of the bereaved and the accused.
Griffin is the author of a short story collection, Fragile Men and Boys.
Borealis Press / October 2011 / 296 pages / $19.95
A Warrior’s Heart:
The True Story of Life Before and After the Fighter
In putting down on paper the story of his hardscrabble life, Lowell boxer Micky Ward tells a tale of glorious victories punctuated by heart-breaking defeats, both in and out of
the ring. It’s a story that could have ended badly, but it did not, thanks to the tremendous
courage and character that is revealed in this autobiography.
Ward’s three epic battles with Arturo Gatti have gone down in boxing lore as some of the
greatest matches of all time. His early years, leading up to the Gotti fights, have been told in the hit Hollywood movie, The Fighter.
Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played Ward in the movie, has written the Foreword to A Warrior’s Heart, in which he expresses his admiration for Ward, as an athlete, and as a humble, determined and ultimately courageous young man.
Berkley / Penguin Press / March 2012 / $25.95
Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero
Political pundit and talk show host Chris Matthews has written an engaging biography of John F. Kennedy. Widely known as a gabber, Matthew is also a gifted writer and story-teller, perhaps inspired by his old boss, Tip O’Neill.
Matthew traces JFK’s ability to judge character and to make tough decisions, even when it meant bucking the status quo of which Kennedy was part. Matthew cites an incident in 1946, when the rookie Congressman refused to sign a petition to release James M. Curley from Danbury federal prison on medical grounds, knowing it was a ruse by Curley for early release. Kennedy refused on moral and political grounds; Curley lived for another 12 years.
Matthew offers real insights about Kennedy’s early illness as a child, his Irish defiance, and his courage in facing enormous decisions throughout his life.
Simon & Schuster / 2011 / $27.50
Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy
Foreword by Caroline Kennedy
Within months of President John F. Kennedy death, Robert F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy agreed to proceed with a scheduled oral history project to give future generations a glimpse of President Kennedy and his White House years.
The seven interviews with Mrs. Kennedy, which began in March 1964, were conducted by noted historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and they provide a candid, insightful and loving look into the Kennedy years at the White House.
In the Foreword to the book, daughter Caroline Kennedy provides an equally loving and candid context for her mother’s frame of mind, love for her family, and courage in the face of tragedy.
Hyperion Publishers / September 2011 / $60.00
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
American historian David McCullough has written a compelling story about Americans who moved to Paris, France in the 19th century, seeking inspiration and experience in one of the world’s great cities. They included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Sumner and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
McCullourh profiles two artists with Boston Irish roots – painter George P.A. Healey and sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens – who blossom as artists while in Paris. He explores their artistic sensibilities and their respective Irish-American roots that nurtured their ambition and fueled their genius.
Simon & Schuster / May 2011 / $37.50
Brady’s Civil War:
A Collection of Memorable Civil War Images
When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Matthew Brady – already an acclaimed New York photographer – wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and received permission to photograph the entire war.
Along with his assistants Timothy O’Sullivan, Scottish immigrant Alexander Gardner and others, Brady spent four years in the rough and ready camps and battlegrounds, documenting the fighting and the grim aftermath.
This coffee-table gift book has beautiful renditions of photographs from Brady’s studio and an intelligent narrative by Civil War expert Webb Garrison.
Globe Pequot Press / March 2011 / $24.95