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.
840 Pages, 6 x 9
Formats: Paperback, Cloth, eBook
"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
"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"Brad Patterson
"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
"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
"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
“You will be tickled and lashed all the way from the stone-age god-kings of Knowth, circa 3000 BC, to Billy Graham at a Nixon White House prayer breakfast.” John Leonard, Harper’s Magazine
“Great fun, terrifically written, and down to earth: scholarship and the Irish diaspora as you have never seen them before!” Marianne Elliott, The Irish Times
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. 1
Donald Harman Akenson
Table of Contents
BOOK ONE DOWNPATRICK IS THE BUTTERFLY CAPITAL OF THE UNIVERSE
The Discus Throwers 16-400 CE 5
The Rope Braiders 150-400 CE 27
The Book of the Conquests of Ireland 3000 BCE-493 CE 57
Who Spreadest Out the Heavens 493-1493 103
New Worlds Seduce the Old 1488-1610 135
Misplaced Files 1610-1660 175
The Empire of the Obscure: The West Indies 1620-1667 195
The Mainland Colonies 1584-1690 243
The Empire of the Ambiguous: The West Indies 1668-1690 265
Glory in Some Fashion 1690-1785 301
The Devil’s Sugar Plantation: The West Indies 1690-1785 333
Thirteen Is a Lucky Number 1690-1785 355
BOOK TWO KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIERS?
Off Their Knees. Ireland 1785-1830 391
Cry Not for Cook’s Wake 1768-1793 423
Measuring the Land of Resentment. Australia 1785-1830 445
The Long White Shroud. New Zealand 1792-1830 493
Albion, Hibernia’s Bent Old Darling 1715-1830 511
St. Paul Comes to Polynesia 1795-1830 527
The Canadas 1770-1830 551
The American Evolution 1785-1830 587
The Edge. Ireland 1830-1845 613
Regarding the Crown Jewel. India 1785-1845 623
Not the Darkest of Continents. Africa 1805-1845 635
The End of Easy Money. The West Indies 1800-1865 655
Advance Australia Fair, or Foul 1830-45 663
Treaty Negotiations? New Zealand 1830-1845 695
Pebbles in God’s Hand. Polynesia 1830-1845 727
Neighbour. England 1830-1845 741
Upper Canada. Ireland’s Cold Dominion 1830-1845 753
Compression and Expansion. The United States 1830-1845 781
Index: Personal Names 805
Story Titles 821