The grace of fiction combined with the power of history.
History is our true novel, says Roy Foster, Ireland's leading historian. In An Irish History of Civilization, the world's foremost scholar of the Irish diaspora, Don Akenson, fuses history and fiction into an iconoclastic narrative of a people and their influence around the globe.
In a sprawling chronicle of civilization through Irish eyes, Akenson takes us from St Patrick to Woodie Guthrie, from Constantine to John F. Kennedy, from India to the Australian outback. In two volumes of masterful storytelling he creates ironic, playful, and acerbic historical miniatures - a quixotic series of reconstructions woven into a helix in which the same historical figures reappear in radically different contexts as their narratives intersect with the larger picture.
An Irish History of Civilization is about the Irish at home and abroad, the great and the small, the noble and the depraved, the wise and the foolish. In vignettes of Irish misery, triumph, folly, and glory, Akenson weaves artful fictions - his hilarious portrait of Victorian Canadian icon Susannnah Moodie, for instance, will outlive a hundred solemn monographs on her literary life and his tales of Irish Protestants and Catholics will leave no doubt about their impact on American life.
Like the archetypal stories in the Talmuds, Akenson's model, the stories in An Irish History of Civilization are universal for big truths require a big canvas. He follows his chosen peoples on their odyssey around the globe in a story like no other, the lines between history and fiction irretrievably lost in the mists of Irish time.
VOLUME 1 takes Irish civilization from its Semitic roots in early Christianity to St Patrick to early Irish conquests in Europe and several New Worlds, and from the eighteenth-century penal laws to the emergence of Irish Catholics as energetic imperializers within the First and Second British Empires.
VOLUME 2 begins with the Great Famine and moves on to show the Irish adapting, improvising, and innovating in Ireland, North America, New Zealand, Australia, Polynesia, and South Africa. Akenson ends by demonstrating conclusively the centrality of both Catholic and Protestant Irish culture to the United States.
704 Pages, 6 x 9
Formats: Paperback, Cloth, eBook
"If James Joyce had studied the Talmud as assiduously as the Odyssey and been as enamoured of Saint Paul and Saint Patrick as he was of Nora Barnacle, he might have produced as overwhelmingly mordant a work as An Irish History of Civilization - but only if he'd had Conor Cruise O'Brien and Roddy Doyle as re-write men. Don Akenson has one-upped Joyce and forged the consciousness of a race." T.F. Rigelhof, Contributing Reviewer, The Globe and Mail
"An Irish History of Civilization is a book like no other." Michael Enright, The Sunday Edition, CBC
"While the breadth of An Irish History of Civilization is impressive, its depth is more so. Each portion deserves to be lingered over, savoured slowly, and allowed to reveal itself before fully moving on to the next." Robert J. Wiersema, Quill & Quire, March 2005
The stories are so absorbing that it was dangerous to begin reading the book late at night. The next thing I knew, it was close to morning and I began to develop what is known as Akenson-lag. I suspect that many other readers will have a similar experience. David Wilson, author of Ireland, a Bicycle, and a Tin Whistle and professor of Celtic studies, St Michael's College, University of Toronto
Deliciously fresh and imaginative and a truly wondrous accomplishment from a unique and profound mind that is too lively and too quick to be bound by the limits of history or fiction. Peter Ward, professor of history, University of British Columbia
"Akenson's astonishing series of vignettes, mini-biographies and running jokes features Irish pirates, missionaries, colonial governors, slaves and slave owners... it mingles history and fiction, the horrifying and the hilarious... This is a very odd book, but a genuinely brilliant achievement." Stephen Howe, The Independent
"Stand by to be ticker-taped by scholarship; by dazzle, wit, and amplitude of knowledge as rare as it's painless and provocative". Tom Adair, The Scotsman
"There is a novel here. In fact, there are thousands... (an) inimitable bricolage of reflection, jokes and mordant ironies. It might not be every historian's cup of tea, but I relished every word." Roy Foster, The Scotsman
" a remarkable achievement that brings together a lifetime of scholarship"William H. Mulligan, Murray State University, Canadian Journal of History
"well written, relentless erudite, yet at the same time humane ... a very considerable achievement"Dr Brad Patterson Director Irish-Scottish Studies Programme Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
"Historian Don Akenson's monumental work begins with Paul in 16 BC and ends with the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 1970: Billy Graham and Richard Nixon. What's between requires four books in two volumes, divided into chapters on particular places and periods, themselves divided into nurmereous brief stories, each with its own point. Iconoclastic, original and eclectic, Akenson has produced a unique opus that is absorbing and entertaining, sometimes exhilarating and occasionally exhausting. The sheer vitality and mulitiplicity of these thousand and one stories produces a cumulative richness of imagery and narrative unmatched in much conventional fiction. It is an extraordinary feat of writing."Peter Hart Globe & Mail
Donald Harman Akenson is Douglas Professor of Canadian and Colonial History at Queen's. He was Beamish Research Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool from 1997-2004 and was named the 1995 Canada Council Molson Laureate in the social sciences and humanities. His book, God's People, won the world's richest non-fiction prize, the Grawemeyer Award, in the category of improving humanity. He is also a past recipient of the Trillium Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
An Irish History of Civilization, Vol. 2
Donald Harman Akenson
Table of Contents
BOOK THREE HALF THE GLOBE’S OUR HOME
God’s Lethal Spur. Famine 1845-1852 1
An Old World Becoming New? Ireland 1852-1900 27
Not Far, But Not Home. England 1845-1900 75
Nearly Normal. Australia 1845-1900 113
Earnest Accommodation. New Zealand and Outer Polynesia 1845-1900 187
Mourn The Wild Colonial Boys? 1845-1900 257
Land of the Terminally Victorian. Upper Canada 1845-1900 291
The Advent of the Belated Irish. The USA 1845-1898 323
BOOK FOUR AMERICA’S CENTURY
The Road Home. Ireland 1900-1923 385
Ever Farther. Australasia and Polynesia 1900-1969 437
Still the Cavaliers Ride 1900-1969 481
The Lord Has Mersey, and Lots More. England 1900-1969 523
So Far, So Fast, So So Far. Ireland 1922-1969 555
The Creation of the American Century 1898-1969 603
Index: Personal Names 673
Story Titles 689