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The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  690 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
The Irish potato famine of the 1840s, perhaps the most appalling event of the Victorian era, killed over a million people and drove as many more to emigrate to America. It may not have been the result of deliberate government policy, yet British ‘obtuseness, short-sightedness and ignorance’ – and stubborn commitment to laissez-faire ‘solutions’ – largely caused the disaste ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published May 30th 1991 by Penguin (first published 1962)
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Mar 20, 2013 DoctorM rated it really liked it
A fine introduction to one of the great disasters of the modern world--- the Irish Famine of the mid and late 1840s. Woodham-Smith tells the tale with both compassion for a land where perhaps a quarter of the population was destitute even in good years and with a subtle, icy coldness for the administrators in London who refused to take any of the steps that seem so obvious today. (Yes, I'm New Orleans-born, and my thought while reading "The Great Hunger" was that the relief efforts undertaken in ...more
Jan 04, 2011 Leslie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 19th-century, history
This is an older history of the famine (first published 1962), a good example of well-written general history. Its subject is, of course, thoroughly horrifying. What struck me as I read was how much history repeats itself and how little some learn from it. The Irish died not really because of the potato blight but because of insanely stupid laws governing land ownership and tenancy that were set up to benefit a tiny few and to exploit and degrade the many and were subsequently defended, even at ...more
Nov 10, 2011 Arwen rated it really liked it
I picked this book up at a time when I am researching my family history and at the moment in particular my 3 x great grandparents Hugh and Catherine who came from Roscommon, Ireland, to England in 1852. They would have been teenagers at the time of the great famine.. Having read the book, I'm surprised they or anyone else lived to emigrate. I know my ancestors were humble people who couldn't read or write, and I really wonder how they survived, and how many of their families perished.
It's easy h
Oct 21, 2009 Louise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
After reading this book I'm amazed my Irish ancestors survived long enough to be able to emigrate to England and for that I am truly thankful or I wouldn't be here to write this review. Truly harrowing in it's detail of the sufferings of the Irish people and what we now see as their callous treatment by the British government. I also hadn't realised that famine was a regular occurence in Ireland because of their reliance on the potato, although in this case it went way beyond anything that had e ...more
Mark O'hagan
Aug 27, 2012 Mark O'hagan rated it really liked it
It was only after visiting the Famine museum in Strokestown House that I felt compelled to investigate the full story of the famine. This book is an outstanding piece of research into Ireland's darkest hour and should be considered as essential reading for every student of Irish history
Phillip Kay
Jan 02, 2013 Phillip Kay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How equipped are our governments to deal with emergencies? Supposing a worldwide epidemic, which many scientists forecast, or even a tornado, were to strike, would there be an effective support system with adequate funds to spring immediately into action? Do we want this to happen? Have we learnt anything from the past?

Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote a book in 1962 called The Great Hunger which implicitly asks these question. She had shown how slow the British Government was to learn from the mistakes
Mar 10, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ireland-history
This is the best book I have ever read in my life. It is extraordinarily informative, gripping and horrifying. The catastrophe developed after centuries of colonialism, where the bountiful agricultural resources were extracted from Ireland while the Irish people were reduced to barely subsistence level lives: diet of one staple (in spite of the variety of exports they raised), starvation every year before the potato crop was ready, work to pay rent with hardly any currency exchanged, education a ...more
Feb 21, 2013 Viola rated it really liked it
'Is Britain’s cover-up of its 1845-1850 holocaust in Ireland the most successful Big Lie in all of history?

The cover-up is accomplished by the same British terrorism and bribery that perpetrated the genocide.
Consider: why does Irish President Mary Robinson call it “Ireland’s greatest natural disaster” while she conceals the British army’s role?

Potato blight, “phytophthora infestans”, did spread from America to Europe in 1844, to England and then Ireland in 1845 but it didn’t cause famine anywh
Niall Fitzpatrick
Jan 05, 2017 Niall Fitzpatrick rated it it was amazing
Having learned about the great famine during school in Ireland I was always aware of Britain's maltreatment but the potato crop failure seemed to be highlighted as the main culprit. The evil truth was always going to be too much for innocent young minds to fathom.

From the many sources used in this important book it is amazing that to this day the systematic policies of privation that kept Gaelic Ireland restrained in a constant precarious state of cyclical starvation have never been acknowledge
Oct 07, 2012 Suzanne rated it liked it
Recommends it for: serious students of European history
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Well , that wasn’t pretty. Well-researched, informative, and educational, but definitely not pretty.

I’d always wondered how the Irish potato famine happened, how a country could depend so heavily on one crop, one food source so completely, that its failure could have the kind of devastating effect this one did. The Great Hunger explains the perfect storm of conditions and forces that resulted in starvation for millions of people, emigration for hundreds of thousands more. At the time, all of Ir
Aug 11, 2011 Jo rated it really liked it
This is excellent, a really comprehensive account of the famine. The digression about the life of the Irish emigrants in New York is too long, but on the other hand there's a good explanation of contemporary theories about the cause of the potato blight, and of the discovery of the real cause in the 20th century.
Katy Walters
May 15, 2011 Katy Walters rated it it was amazing
This is such a heartbreaking and emotional read. It is also full of history, politics of the time and an indepth soul searching account of the suffering of the Irish people.It is a book that I keep close as my family suffered in that period.
Matthew Bartlett
Jun 10, 2013 Matthew Bartlett rated it it was amazing
A heart breaking, step by step retelling of how the Great Famine afflicted Ireland, causing a mass exodus by the population. It reveals a poor response to the famine as well as what diseases resulted and what happened to many who tried to flee and survive.
Frank Inserra
Jan 18, 2017 Frank Inserra rated it it was amazing
It is impossible to understand the Irish in America without an appreciation for their travails in their home country. Detailed and horrifying. Buckle up.
Jay Callahan
Oct 02, 2016 Jay Callahan rated it it was amazing
A well-researched, passionate, skillfully-written account that cares more about humanity than academic fashions.

It's just slightly episodic, so it misses one or two important themes and developments, and it ends before the Famine did, but a very important book for all that.

Information has become more readily available since this was written, and the understanding of the structure of Irish society is more solid now than then. The Famine was an industry for a few years around 1996, so there are
Mark Oconnor
Aug 06, 2013 Mark Oconnor rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
An amazing account of the events from 1845-1849 of the Irish Famine. The amount of correspondence that survived from that era is impressive, and the author is very thorough at establishing the conditions immediately preceding the famine that provided the perfect storm for this tragedy. Trevelyan comes out as the chief villain for his utter callousness towards the Irish, with his lieutenant Charles Woods coming in at a close second during the second half of the book. The author also spends a grea ...more
Molly Ewing
Wow! This detailed, careful examination of the causes and effects of the potato blight known as the Irish Famine, is a tour de force. Woodham-Smith was the first scholar to study what she very deliberately calls a "hunger" rather than "famine (because there was plenty of food throughout Ireland even in the worst of the famine years (those that starved or emigrated did so because that food was unavailable to them) from British, Irish, Canadian, and United States sources.
Reading this in the spring
Timothy Riley
Jan 02, 2012 Timothy Riley rated it liked it
I had always wanted to know more about this sad topic. One of the things I learned was how complicated it all was. Lots of people unilaterally blame the british, but it was more complicated than that. It as caused by centuries of british repression that caused huge land ownership problems and dependence on one crop because the people were so poor and treated so badly by the landlords who were mostly british or scottish protestants. Trevelyan was the biggest bastard of all the british bureaucrats ...more
A terrible but good book. About the patato-famine in Ireland. The book explains how it could happen and what the awful consequences were. A great part is about politics, that part was hard for me to understand (probably because in general I am not interested in politics). But the other part was about the irish people and how they lived in the country. This part is terrible, because people were so poor they only possessed a pig and a dungheap and patatoes. Even before the famine many people did l ...more
Dec 20, 2009 Bernadette rated it it was amazing
I've had this book on my shelves for too many years now but for some reason decided to take it on hols to Ireland in October. For a serious work on a tragic period in Irish history, it was a very accessible read. What was fascinating for me was that the reasons for what happened during 45-49 were many and complex - far more subtle in some cases than simply a failure of the potato crop and cruelty by UK politicians. But the consequences of a failure of nature and of people who should care was bre ...more
Jun 25, 2007 Grumpus rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This really explained the Irish Potato famine. What led up to it and the British response to it. I never knew the politics and political structure behind it and how that exacerbated the situation there.

I was always curious about why the Irish were always so hated in America around the turn of the century. Many of the Irish were shipped to America with disease and were the illiterate poor that were "kicked to the curb" by being offered free passage to American and Canada. There they were held in
Feb 24, 2008 Bap rated it really liked it
Shelves: ireland, non-fiction
It was the worst of all possible worlds. The potato crop, the mainstay for th e Irish underclass, fails not once but repeatedly. The English are hobbled by their antipathy for the Irish and their devotion to unvarnished capitalism and millions die and millions emigrate at a time when the Ireland is actually producing a surplus of food that is exported the England. Any possibility of a continuation of unification with England is extinquished by this four year period and its aftermath even though ...more
William Dearth
Sep 24, 2014 William Dearth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish
Horrific is an oft overused term today but it is the perfect word to describe this extraordinary account of the Irish famine. I guarantee that it was a much more complex set of circumstances responsible than is generally known.

It explains a lot about the historic relationship of England and Ireland as well as the Irish impact on Canada and the United States.

The last 100 pages or so begins to lose some of the fervor of the 1st 350 pages, but it is a compelling and a necessary read if you wish to
Dec 02, 2012 Kath rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An informative account of tragic human suffering and a government that could have prevented a good portion of that suffering but chose not to. It's still difficult for me to grasp how deeply the Irish were despised, both at home and abroad. And this book as well as several others I've read makes me wonder if immigrants stopped thinking of America as "the land of opportunity" as soon as they hit our shores. We didn't welcome them at all!
Mar 12, 2016 Karen rated it it was amazing
I have learned so much from this book about Ireland and it's history. A little heavy reading for me, but I like this type of book, even if it's a bit over my head at times. My eyes have been opened with regards to the misconceptions surrounding the Irish potato famine. Reading a historian's perspective is so enjoyable because you are reading a well researched historical account, and this author writes in a style that I can grasp. I would highly recommend it, really interesting!!
Feb 28, 2012 Echo rated it really liked it
This is one of the books I used when I was researching for my senior thesis in college. The writing style is easy to read, but the subject matter is absolutely devastating. I've read criticism that the author places too much blame on the English government, and I can certainly see where there's some bias in the writing. But it gives a pretty detailed account of the famine, and there's plenty of information that makes it worth reading.
Jul 28, 2014 Debbie rated it it was amazing
People interested in immigration issues should read this book.
I knew of the Irish Famine, I had no idea 2 million people disappeared.
So many Irish people were lost, went to Canada and poured over the borders to America.
England did not handle this famine well at all, even though there were scientists who knew about the problem and how to solve it.
I learned so much about what does not work as immigration policies.
Mary Ellyn Cain
Feb 21, 2015 Mary Ellyn Cain rated it really liked it
This is the first book I read concerning the Great Hunger. I have to say it radicalized me, shocked me, made me very angry. For years I took it as proof of attempted wholesale slaughter of the Irish by the English. I often quoted "during the famine years enough beef and grain were exported from Ireland to feed the population 2X over," which I now know is not really true, and has many more nuances and historical facts. I recommend James S. Donnelly's The Great Irish Potato Famine, instead.
Kevin Keating
Nov 26, 2015 Kevin Keating rated it it was amazing
This was my second reading of this book. It is extremely interesting - the chronicle of a genocide really. The British (Trevelyan mostly) let the Irish starve right under their noses. The book shows how several unfortunate factors and extremely bad luck contributed to the famine, but the incompetence of the British at the time, augmented by a general dislike of the Irish people made it worse.

It's a very good book. It vsn be dry and confusing at times, but worth the time.
Mar 30, 2013 Englisharchaeologist rated it did not like it
Shelves: worst-books-ever
honestly? I'm a Brit, and all this portrays us as is evil, short sighted lunatics. Britain didn't control Ireland in the Victorian era. this is racist to Brits and extremely convinced that the Irish are a superior race. Bet you the guy who wrote this was Irish! PLEASE, FOR YOUR SAKE, NEVER READ THIS BOOK!
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Cecil Blanche Woodham-Smith (née Fitzgerald) was a British historian and biographer. She wrote four popular history books, each dealing with a different aspect of the Victorian era.
More about Cecil Woodham-Smith...

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