BITA'S BOOK REVIEWS
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. These future Americans needed a friend in government, not an enemy. Tammany Hall is typically defined by its worst leaders - William M. Tweed and Richard Croker – but Golway contrasts respectable and effective Tammany leaders like presidential candidate and progressive reformer Al Smith, Tom Foley of the Lower East Side, and Charlie Murphy of the Gas House District, men who combined “an enthusiasm for politics and a keen appreciation of human nature.” Tammy Hall existed well before the Irish took it over, Golway notes, but ultimately “the narratives of Tammany and Irish America became one.” The Irish made politics a spectacle through Tammany Hall, but they also built a political system that made people active, engaged citizens. 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. The book is a fascinating investigation of how the Irish interact with each other, over generations, and how they respond to the larger issues of race, class, law and order, and assimilation in America.
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. The novel is based on an actual “never-quite-solved murder of frog catcher Jenny Bonnet” that Donoghue happened upon in a book called Wild Women. Much of the action in Frog Music is set in grimy saloons and shanty housing packed with desperados. There is a crime mystery element that propels the story, and makes readers root for the two women, even though their fate seems to be sealed from the very beginning.
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 storyteller, 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.
The JFK Library has an exhibit entitled In Her Voice: Jacqueline Kennedy, The White House Years, with highlights from the interviews. The book, which also includes eight CDs of the interviews, is available for sale in the JFK Library bookshop.
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