Peter Gray,
The Irish Famine
(Harry N. Abrams/Thames & Hudson, 1995)

The 1845 potato famine in Ireland had a devastating effect on the nation and the people who lived there. One in eight people died, while many more fled the poverty-stricken landscape for new frontiers, especially in the United States. It is one of the single most catastrophic events in Ireland's history, and its impact redefined its future.

But the famine is a tough subject to swallow whole. Peter Gray, in this compact, gorgeously illustrated book, breaks the history into small, easily digestible pieces.

Unlike many texts, which provide a gray, unforgiving narrative of the history and related mind-numbing statistics, Gray has divided the story into nuggets, brief chapters and sidebars that make the overall picture easier to see. The presentation in article form prevents the story from overwhelming the reader, while the bite-sized pieces are easy to absorb and understand.

The book is illustrated beautifully, making the reading experience even better. The pages are overflowing with painted and photographic images, large and small, that give The Irish Famine a more personal side, a recognizable face, making this devastating story even more emotionally affecting.

An appendix to the book includes various articles, letters and other documents from the time, as well as more recent research on the famine and its place in modern literature.

All told, this book presents the famine in a remarkably accessible package. Anyone interested in this period of Irish history should read it.

by Tom Knapp
17 March 2006

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