Review: Making Sense of the Troubles (David McKittrick)

20020202 Making Sense

Good for accuracy, not so good for background

Making Sense stays true to its objective, to tell ‘a straightforward and gripping story … in an accessible way’. It is a straightforward read.

But is it a good read? Yes, if you don’t want to be bogged down with pre-Troubles history (too simplistically outlined in the book) or don’t need to understand the ideologies of unionism and nationalism per se. In this way, Making Sense feels written for a general English/benign foreign audience.

However, if you know some Irish history and/or can appreciate the ethno-nationalist competition in Northern Ireland, then you may very well be let down.

The factual reportage in Making Sense is flawless, but the story told is not neutral. Of course, no account of the Troubles can be. Yet after reading Making Sense, one leaves with a sense that: a) Northern Protestants really don’t like Catholics; b) republican violence stems from a ideological struggle while loyalist violence is just sectarian hatred; c) the British government could have done more from 1921 forward, but were frustrated by intransigent unionists. All entirely acceptable to believe if one wishes, but by no means a neutral or fair position.

Thus, I was disappointed that Making Sense didn’t try harder to place the Troubles in an all-Ireland context. This would require more history, but would help explain some unionist perspective as well as the sometimes variable relationship between the Irish Republican government and Northern nationalists.

For the general reader, I would recommend A Pocket History of Ulster, by Brian Bardon (ISBN 086278428x). For more detail, try A History of Northern Ireland 1920-1996, by Thomas Hennessey (ISBN 0717124002), who has also written a book on the Northern Ireland peace process (ISBN 0717129462).

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