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Making Sense of the Troubles: a History of the Northern Ireland Conflict

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,695 ratings  ·  154 reviews
First published ten years ago, Making Sense of the Troubles is widely regarded as the most comprehensive, considered and compassionate history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Written by a distinguished journalist and a teacher of history in Northern Ireland, it surveys the roots of the problems from 1921 onwards, the descent into violence in the late sixties, and the ...more
Paperback, Fully revised and updated, 404 pages
Published August 30th 2012 by Penguin (first published October 1st 2000)
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Paul Bryant
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-history
In 1972 a total of 498 people were killed in Northern Ireland, which had a small population of around 1.5 million. It was a very violent place. The total body count of The Troubles is 3,739 between 1966 and 2012 (but the murders have not been in double figures since 2004.) Now – can anyone tell me how many people have died in Iraq’s complex internal wars since 2003? Is anyone counting? And that’s just one example. How long have you got?

Really, as civil wars go, it was not much to write home abou
Peter Colclasure
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Catholics and Protestants kill each other for several decades. Then they stop.

This is the fourth book I've read about the Troubles since an Irish history class in college piqued my interest. Occasionally, in bars, I'll try to engage my fellow Americans in a discussion of this conflict, only to watch their eyes glaze over in boredom. Here's why you, as an American, should care about a convoluted war on the rainy edge of Europe that ended 15 years ago:

1. It proves that racism has nothing to do wi
This is exactly what I was after: a concise and easy to follow summary of the Troubles. I was born in the 90s and I've always felt that this was massive gap in my knowledge; I've grown up knowing how huge the impact of the Troubles have been and still are, but never feeling I had any understanding of it all. Too young to remember it at all, and too old (it seems) to have been told much about or informed in other ways. So I turned to this book, hoping for an informative introduction. In some ways ...more
Allan Leonard
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
Emma Jayne
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should be in the NI curriculum. Very even handed + well written.
Rob Adey
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like the Gaddis Cold War book, this is a great history primer: it explains what happened clearly and carefully, covers the key figures and what they did etc., without the mass of detail that might overwhelm the reader who – shamefully – saw all this stuff on the news for decades but had a minimal idea of the context. ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hard to see how it could be improved. Despite the grimness and forbidding complexity of the topic, a page-turner. Well balanced between analysis of political developments and bald descriptions of atrocities, with the occasional stories of individual victims all the more powerful for their relative sparseness. Objective perspective on the psychology of both sides without ever offering any apology for paramilitary violence.
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, urbanism
Arwen Greenwood
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Born in 1999, into a post-troubles heavily Protestant east Antrim, there was a lot of my upbringing that I never questioned or considered.

I went to Protestant churches, schools and groups. I didn’t understand what Catholicism was or why there was one primary school with children we were discouraged from playing with, until high school when I found out a friend in my year was catholic, and later asked my parents about it. Politics was not discussed.

I never questioned my British Nationality, (Pri
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a chronological summary of more than 100 years of the troubles of Northern Ireland. In essence, "This is what happened in the 1920s, this is what happened in the 1960s, etc."

The chronology can be summed up like this: sectarian violence, despair, hope for peace, distrust of the peace process, sectarian violence... cycle repeats ad nauseum with a rotating cast of characters through the decades.

I felt the book would have been much improved had it opened with a scene far in the future,
Apr 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book started out slow, but then it picked up about halfway through. It provides important information for understanding the troubles in Northern Ireland. I learned so much about this part of Northern Ireland's history. I will definitely keep what I learned in mind when I am visiting Northern Ireland this month. ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was looking for a clear, concise and easy-to-read history of the Northern Ireland Troubles, and Making Sense of the Troubles definitely delivered on that point. The book is as unconvoluted as a history of such a turbulent, eventful period can be. It covers a timespan of roughly 90 years, describing how the conflict came about and how decades of tension eventually escalated into a civil war that lasted for the better part of a century. Very informative for someone who only has a layman's knowle ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew very little about the troubles. After visiting Belfast and taking a black taxi tour, I wanted to learn more. This book was fantastic: comprehensive, not overwhelming, and the perfect length. I highly recommend it.
Apr 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I finished this book, 'The Two Towers' was on in the background:
"It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Thos
Mac McCormick III
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I am a complete novice when it comes to the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland, so I come to the subject with an open mind and as a book with blank pages waiting to be filled in. I was born just a few years after the “The Troubles” began and while conscious that they were occurring, I never really knew much more about them than the violence that was reported on the evening news. I knew that there were problems but I didn’t know what those problems were. Throughout my education, mentions of ...more
Apr 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Making Sense Of The Troubles is a very good place to start if your knowledge of the events in Northern Ireland is poor or scattered like mine was. The text is easy to understand and follow. Essential reading at the moment when tensions are once again on the rise in NI. It was exactly what I was looking for to help me understand what took place. The authors also I thought managed to provide a very fair and neutral picture of the events.

The authors explain from the start that the book can only eve
This is the second book I've read on the Troubles since a television show piqued my interest. Although I've read two books I still don't understand it and I probably never will but that was no fault of the book. It was detailed and I really appreciated the writing being sectioned by eras/dates. I also appreciated the chronology at the end and the charts. I rarely read non-fiction and I NEVER read history. Until now. ...more
Jon Peder Grønsveen Opsahl
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After visiting Belfast I got very interested in learning more about the Troubles. This book gives a good overview of the history. It does not dive too deep into specific events, which I think is a good thing when you wish to get a more general impression. Absolutely recommend if you wish to learn about the history of the Troubles.
Ben Gartland
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic and balanced history of The Troubles. I learned a ton. The authors did a great job of of incorporating historical context into the book so that events of the 70s could be traced back to decisions made back in the 20s. Highly recommend for anyone looking for Irish/UK history.
Ryan Cross
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read. The author is fair to all sides of the conflict, which is impressive considering the topic. This book dispelled quite a few of my incorrect beliefs about the Troubles and helped me gain a better understanding of the conflict.
Jun 27, 2017 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Was looking more for insight into how the troubles started (first 30 or so pages) than a shot by shot of what the troubles were (the other 400 pages).
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Crisp, unbiased, in-depth exploration of the political history of Northern Ireland. Well written, interesting and insightful.
David Brunning
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting read, makes a great job of taking the reader through a really complicated and difficult time.
Shaun Hand
May 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
First thing I've ever read about NI history, and it's a clear, fair, concise, no-bullshit introduction to a fascinating, complicated, and highly emotive subject. If only all history books were this objective! ...more
May 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't grow up in Northern Ireland, but I have lived here for the last 19 years.

I wanted to learn about its history, and I've found it pretty hard to find something that was unbiased. I feel like this book has done a pretty good job at giving a balanced view of the troubles, I'd recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about it history.
May 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Concisely and coherently written with an almost balanced view of the political situation. The book glosses over the IRA border campaign, knowledge of which is essential to understanding the subsequent unionist / loyalist actions.
This book was published in 2001 and covers a large part of The Troubles. The book encompasses the cease fire agreements and the Good Friday Agreement but I think it was written too soon to include the aftereffects and, hence, unable to give us a historical context.

The best part of the book is McKittrick’s last chapter, “Perspectives”. In this section McKittrick steps away from citing specific details. On, and around, page 240 is a good synopsis comparing the motives and leadership styles of unio
Nicholas Whyte
http://nhw.livejournal.com/191637.html[return][return]First off, this is one of the best books that I've read about the Troubles. It combines - not quite effortlessly, but at least effectively - at least three genres: i) the technocratic concentration on big picture processes that you get in Flackes and Elliott, Bew and Gillespie, and even (I must admit) my own website; ii) the inside account of the Republican movement and the "armed struggle", drawing on Tim Pat Coogan and to an extent the insi ...more
Vanessa Meachen
Growing up on the other side of the world from Northern Ireland, IRA bombings and shootings were regularly reported, in such a way that I always worried that if I ever went to England, the IRA would get me. The reporting was very one-sided - the words "sectarian violence" were used frequently but there was very little reporting of any violence carried out by the loyalist factions and not a lot of background of any kind. It makes me wonder whether, if the IRA had not been active in England, we wo ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this one in anticipation of visiting Belfast over the weekend. Overall it’s a solid historical account of the troubles, although it trends at times into a “one d*** thing after another” type history book, which I commend for its thoroughness, but wouldn’t recommend if you’re looking for a more dynamic historical review. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter, I can see why the authors went with this type of format, and the sheer quantity of one terrible event after another lends its ...more
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