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"The Great Hunger" is a masterpiece account of the Potato Blight and, in particular, of the British Government's response to it. Woodham-Smith uses a massive amount of primary sources to convey not only what actions the government took (and didn't take), but the author takes us into the inner thoughts of the key players - Robert Peel, John Russell, Charles Wood, Charles Trevelyan, Lord Clarendon - to understand why they made the decisions they made. The book concludes with a thoroughly damning appraisal of the performance of the British government, and particularly of the Russell Parliament's utter incompetence and inability to foresee the likely consequence of any one of its actions. Too, the landlord class in Ireland come off largely as callous barbarians who wrecked the country and themselves through shortsighted selfishness. For all the outrage, Woodham-Smith's tone is remarkably fair and restrained, and in almost all cases, the guilty are condemned by their own words.
My only gripe with this audiobook is the narrator, whose elegantly stuffy English accent and tone (straight out of the House of Lords) is hard to bear in a book that catalogues the sins of Britain against another people. His chronic mispronunciation of Irish names (ex. he pronounces Drogheda as "Dro-GEE-duh", and Thomas Francis Meagher's name is read "MEE-ger") is particularly annoying. Otherwise, the narration itself is competent.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
My husband and I visited Ireland last year and I came back with a need to understand what happened during the potato famine in the 1830's and 40's. This book got pretty good reviews. I should have not more homework. First of all - it is written by a Brit - not the best source. The description says she gives a scathing account of the British - not true. In fact she ignores a good bit of history. The story at times turns into a medical treatise on various diseases - going into such technical detail as to boggle the mind. And is the desire of the British (just read their newspapers today) - they have a fascination with sordid details - seem the same was true back then. Woodham-Smith not only reports the ugly but seems to revel in it.
But here is the really worst of it - the narrator. While he would have been perfect for Masterpiece Theater he is so annoying as to make the story almost intolerable. The British of that ilk (the overly formal and pretentious) sound so sanctimonious, so cloying and so arrogant that it makes a mockery of such a tragedy.
So - the lesson is - listen to the narrator first before buying. And find a better history source for this heartrending story.
12 of 16 people found this review helpful