We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland


Product Details

$32.00  $29.76
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publish Date
6.45 X 9.71 X 1.56 inches | 2.22 pounds

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About the Author

Fintan O'Toole is a columnist with, and assistant editor of The Irish Times. He is adjunct professor at the school of Language, Culture and Communication at the University of Limerick and Leonard Milberg lecturer in Irish Studies at Princeton. He has been drama critic for The Sunday Tribune, The Irish Times and the New York Daily News. His work on political and cultural issues has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and The Guardian. He was presenter of the BBC cultural magazine programme, The Late Show, and Literary Advisor to the Abbey Theatre. His many books include The Ex-Isle of Erin; Shakespeare Is Hard But So Is Life; A Traitor's Kiss: the Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan; White Savage: Sir William Johnson and the Invention of America; The Irish Times Book of the 1916 Rising and Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger.


[S]parkling . . . we encounter O'Toole as a Zelig-like figure with an amusingly personal chain of connections to the great events and characters . . . the quiet heroes of We Don't Know Ourselves are the Irish people, who O'Toole shows to have been ahead of their political and spiritual leaders in being ready to face the contradictions that underpinned national life . . . an uplifting, almost playful read, with suggestive analysis lying beneath skillful vignettes.--Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid "Financial Times"
[M]asterly, fascinating . . . O'Toole, a journalist, historian and academic, is Ireland's pre-eminent public intellectual . . . We Don't Know Ourselves is surely his masterpiece, a long detailed and beautifully executed study . . . O'Toole has a marvelously sharp eye for the illuminating fact, the telling anecdote, the overlooked or forgotten piece of history; but he also has a poet's gift for figurative language.--John Banville "Times Literary Supplement"
A landmark history.... Leavened by the brilliance of O'Toole's insights and wit, and by the story of his own life, which he expertly intertwines into a larger historical narrative... [He] sees the country's shift with an eye that is simultaneously critical and compassionate... O'Toole's is a wildly ambitious project, one that accounts for inevitable partiality precisely through this invocation of the personal. It is a winning gambit.--Claire Messud "Harper's"
Masterful . . . O'Toole's sweeping, intimate book covers a lifetime of Ireland's history . . . Books about modern Ireland abound--the Irish love their words; isn't that what people say? They include magisterial scholarship (the works of R. F. Foster), searing fiction (Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls, John McGahern's The Dark), and episodic recollections with a sharpened edge (John Banville's recent Time Pieces). O'Toole's We Don't Know Ourselves is in a category all its own, a blend of reporting, history, analysis, and argument, explored through the lens of the author's sensibility and experience . . . . We Don't Know Ourselves is astonishing in its range. . . . The chapters move forward chronologically. What unites them all is O'Toole's moral presence and literary voice: throughout, a sly, understated humor; when needed, passion and even anger. In the end, surveying what Ireland has become during his lifetime, he manages an optimistic note, one that is not merely asserted but earned. . . . I came away from We Don't Know Ourselves seeing modern Ireland more convincingly portrayed and explained than ever before. I wish I understood modern America half as well.--Cullen Murphy "The Atlantic"
[O'Toole] develop[s] a narrative swagger as compelling as any novel's. His working-class Dublin background -- his father, Sammy, was a bus conductor and his mother, Mary, worked in a cigarette factory -- opens onto a sort of narrative everywhere. The tiny grows epic. The local becomes universal. We skip from year to year, from story to story, from tile-piece to an eventual mosaic . . . O'Toole writes brilliantly and compellingly of the dark times, but he is graceful enough to know that there is humor and light in the cracks. There is a touch of Eduardo Galeano in the way he can settle on a telling phrase. . . . But the real accomplishment of this book is that it achieves a conscious form of history-telling, a personal hybrid that feels distinctly honest and humble at the same time. O'Toole has not invented the form, but he comes close to perfecting it.--Colum McCann "New York Times Book Review"
This powerful book is a lucid, highly informative amalgam of memoir, national history, economic, social and cultural observation, and behind-the-scenes political intelligence. . . . [O'Toole's] narrative has the color and movement of a novel, with subplots and villains aplenty.--Katherine A. Powers "Minneapolis Star Tribune"
Reading Fintan O'Toole's transporting We Don't Know Ourselves is an experience close to hunger; even at 600-plus pages, there is so much richness here you want to gulp it right down.... It's an epic story that O'Toole tells through both sweeping narratives and intimate detail.... While O'Toole laces into some targets with icy sarcasm, he is overall a generous and sympathetic observer, with an appreciation for human inconsistency. If this was not the case, could he have written so eloquently about the totemic slab of cheese known as Riverdance?--Chris Barsanti "Popmatters"
Splendid... Lively... An aversion to reality is, indeed, a poor prophylactic as Mr. O'Toole's survey of six decades--1958 to 2018--demonstrates... All of which is elucidated with the acuity and sardonic wit that we might expect from this veteran journalist and critic... The overall tone is irreverent, yet never glib... Each episode is also cannily decoded thanks to Mr. O'Toole's appetite for intricacies--personal, political and statistical--and his eye for idiosyncrasy.... For all its weight, this is a buoyant work. And the leavening agent is, to a large extent, Mr. O'Toole's own story, which he relates with novelistic flair.--Anna Mundow "Wall Street Journal"
Engrossing... With deep research, a journalistic eye for detail, and a series of revealing personal anecdotes, he paints a vivid and affecting portrait of Irish life, touching on politics, religion, economics, and pop culture. The result is a comprehensive work of social criticism that tells the story of a country that was once so fixated on maintaining an idealized vision of its past that it almost gave up on the prospect of a better future.... We Don't Know Ourselves is a powerful book, not just for what it says about Ireland, but for what it has to teach us about national identity in general. It's a lesson that feels particularly relevant in the United States today.--Michael Patrick Brady "Boston Globe"
The centenary of Irish independence has inspired a flood of writing. Among the many traditional histories and current political commentaries, this book stands out. It charts the extraordinary economic, social, and political transformation of Ireland since 1958, the year the author was born... The author, perhaps Ireland's foremost public intellectual, employs a unique combination of intimately personal narrative, piquant facts and figures, and sharp (often ironic) commentary to describe the experience of this transformation.--Andrew Moravcsik "Foreign Affairs"
O'Toole unpacks this truth with passion and smouldering rage. Although set an ocean away, the book holds lessons, about national self-delusion and its repercussions, that are relevant here.... We Don't Know Ourselves is a masterpiece of perceptive analysis, made accessible by personal anecdotes and clear, passionate prose.... This timely book reminds us how unknown knowns have a way of eventually becoming known knowns, how buried children often find a way to speak from the grave.--David Dunne "Literary Review of Canada"