We Don't Know Ourselves


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Fintan O'Toole – Ireland's leading public intellectual and author of Heroic Failure – tells a history of Ireland in his own time.

About the Author

Fintan O'Toole is the author of Heroic Failure, Ship of Fools, A Traitor's Kiss, White Savage and other acclaimed books. He is a columnist for the Irish Times and the Milberg Professor of Irish Letters at Princeton University. He writes regularly for the Guardian, New York Review of Books, New York Times and other British and American journals.


A clear-eyed, myth-dispelling masterpiece. Engaging, analytical, insightful, fascinating, this is a hugely important book. Rooting the politics in the personal makes a potentially overwhelming read into a book that reads as easily as a novel
*Marian Keyes*

While his sweeping, authoritative and profoundly intelligent book sees modern Ireland through the lens of his own life and that of his family, it also offers sharp and brilliant analysis of what form change took when it arrived in Ireland
*Colm Tóibín, Guardian*

Scintillating... Combines personal with political on a journey to the heart of Irish identity'
*Business Post*

A remarkably original, fluent and absorbing book, with the pace and twists of an enthralling novel and the edge of a fine sword, underpinned by a profound humaneness
*Diarmaid Ferriter, Irish Times*

Our leading public intellectual has written the bible on incorrigible Irish roguery
*Irish Independent*

Fintan is now routinely described as 'Ireland's leading public intellectual'... If we must have a hegemony, the best by a long way is the liberal kind. And to know how it happened here, this is the bible'
*Sunday Independent*

At heart, it's an investigation of the arrival of modernity in Ireland and just how much upheaval it caused

Ireland's past is here painted by Fintan O'Toole mainly through villains, victims, eccentrics and scandals
*BBC History Magazine*

An enthralling, panoramic book, a personal history of six decades of Irish life, from one of the foremost chroniclers of contemporary Ireland. With his customary deep erudition and sly wit, O'Toole weaves together an astonishing array of material... Jostling with anecdotes and arresting statistics, We Don't Know Ourselves is a feast: a deeply absorbing chronicle of the 'known and unknowable' and of the profound transformation of a place'
*Patrick Radden Keefe*

A sweeping thesis about Irish identity... We Don't Know Ourselves may well be the best thing he's ever written'
*Sunday Business Post*

A personal and empathetic account of the social upheavals his country has weathered since 1958... This is an uplifting, almost playful read, with suggestive analysis lying beneath skilful vignettes'
*Financial Times*

An illuminating, provocative and very entertaining look at how Ireland has changed over the author's lifetime, with the massive social, economic and political changes since his birth in 1958 linked to episodes in his own story

There's no shirking the stark reality of postwar Ireland, as Fintan O'Toole takes us on a personal journey that mirrors Ireland's seismic shift to modernity... This book's early chapters are among the best I've read about Ireland in the decades after the Second World War, at once evocative, moving, funny and furious'
*Sunday Times*

Told in beautiful, crisp prose and enlivened by anecdotes from the front line, We Don't Know Ourselves is the story of that victory – with all its ups and downs. Balanced and fearless, it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand modern Ireland – or thinks they already do
*Irish Examiner*

A wonderfully readable account of the Irish State's turbulent coming of age and, to my mind, it is the nearest we will come to making sense of who we are how we got here
*Irish Independent*

This is an essential read for anyone who wishes to understand modern Ireland
*The Clare Champion*

I'm sure we all have books we're looking forward to over Christmas. Fintan O'Toole's We Don't Know Ourselves [...] is top of my stack
*Sunday Independent*

An astonishing book, fresh and passionate. Deeply moving but often funny and wry, a chronicle for our times. The most remarkable Irish nonfiction book I've read in the last 10 years
*David McRedmond, Irish Times*

Truly, this is a book for the ages
*Maria Dickinson, Irish Times*

Masterly, fascinating and frequently horrifying

Only a writer with O'Toole's experience and finesse could pull off a memoir as audacious as this
*Meath Chronicle*

A brilliant interweaving of memories (though this is emphatically not a memoir) and engrossing social and historical narrative... An essential book for anyone who wishes to understand modern Ireland
*Irish Central*

An essential read for anyone who wishes to understand modern Ireland
*The Clare Champion*

It is a mark of O'Toole's intense gaze that while he does cover the northern tragedy by far the greater part of this powerful book is devoted to the Republic in which he grew up in a working-class Dublin family in the late 1950s
*Slugger O'Toole*

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