Recommended Reading


This is an excellent book, very well written. I’m halfway through and it’s an eye opener.

Back in school we were told that the Irish potato famine happened just because, and then a bunch of refugees came to America.

The book makes clear that the Irish dependence on a single crop for sustenance was the result of England’s colonization, which, at gunpoint (and with a little help from the Anglican church) expropriated land and created a system whereby the agricultural wealth of Ireland, and its livestock, were siphoned off by England, by its navy, and by its colonies. Even at the height of the famine.

When the potato famine broke out the Irish had already been severed from the land. Their indigenous, more natural systems of production and distribution had been destroyed. Their country had become a commodity, and its people had become feudal serfs. Ireland was never paradise, but it became vulnerable to deterioration in the 18th and 19th centuries, because of English policies.

Then, when the famine gathered steam, the English used the crisis to accelarate land theft, push people out of villages, and turn much of the country over to sheep, goats and cows: the people be damned.

Of course there were individuals in England who dissented with the system, as there always are. Even a small portion of the elite hived off from the dominant narrative, as they always do.

In the main, however, the famine in Ireland exposed the ugly core of English economics, politics and society, revealing this system to be unrelentingly ruthless.

No wonder generations of Irish harbored such resentment against English colonization… It’s understandable.

My mother’s side of the family, half of them, came from Ireland. The Kingsleys. I think I have some genetic memory of the famine, if my dreams are any indication. My paternal ancestors came from England, Leicester, but they left the place several generations before the American Revolution, and then fought in the war against England. (But I have no dreams of the American Revolution…)

Maybe it’s for these family history reasons the book strikes a chord, but most people will be shocked by just how bad the famine was (killing well more than a million people) and equally shocked by England’s response.


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