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Heroic Failure

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,447 ratings  ·  177 reviews
England's favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s If , says that triumph and disaster are the same thing. It also enjoins the English to “lose, and start again at your beginnings/ And never breathe a word about your loss.” Most modern English heroics are screw-ups, retreats or disasters: the charge of the Light Brigade, the doomed Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passag ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published April 4th 2019 by Head of Zeus (first published November 22nd 2018)
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Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is written by an Irishman about Brexit – I don’t know if Gaelic has its own version of the German ‘Schadenfreude’, but if not ‘Brexit’ would be as good a contender as any other. “I won’t lie to you, I was delighted when Mary fall on her arse – it was a total Brexit”.

I had thought that this book was going to be a history of Brexit. For the past five years or so two stories have dominated the world but at the same time seemed so bizarre that I’ve come very close to not believing the news
Rory Harden
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are, say, a liberal-leaning American, and you want to know what the heck is the matter with England, then this is the book to which you should turn.

The writer is, happily and necessarily, Irish.

Here you will find the disease known as ‘Brexit’ fully described and diagnosed. The prospect of a cure, however, remains contingent and – dare one say? – nebulous, having to do with the downfall of neo-liberalism. Wish us all luck with that one.

O’Toole doesn’t have much to say about Trump, but one
Manuel Antão
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

School Bully: "Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain" by Fintan O'Toole

I’ve pointed out previously that the main reason for Brexit is because Britain (or rather England) simply does not understand what the EU is about.

Johnson’s jokes about the EU and, Germany’s, and his expansionist plans, captures the general sense of distrust in England. I think the obsession with centralised power is really at the heart of Brexit and the B
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have to admit that at times the book was hard for me to understand, as the author's target group seems to be readers from either within GB or the Commonwealth. I haven't heard about a lot of books or movies he mentioned. Nevertheless, I understood what he was bringing across and gosh, things are much clearer for me now. Nationalism and Sado-Populism (the later a word I never heard before), are two of the major roots for Brexit... and if I was living in Scotland or Norther-Ireland I would hate ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Provides excellent cultural and historical context to Brexit. Contains fantastic sentences such as this: The political erotics of imaginary domination and imaginary submission are the deep pulse of the Brexit psychodrama. Sounds like something out of a penny dreadful, which I appreciate because it certainly fits the wtfery of the whole thing.
Brendan Monroe
This is a great primer on Brexit for those who may not know very much about it. By "those", I mean me.

While I've tried my best to keep up with what's been happening with our neighbors across the pond, the view from the New World has of late been obscured by our own social and political crisis, for which I blame ... English nationalism.

Did I say English? I meant American. Although anyone who reads Fintan O'Toole's "Heroic Failure" will likely be struck by the astonishing similarity between the t
Peter Beck
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: published-2019
I am still trying to understand why the Brits would inflict so much economic harm on themselves by leaving the EU. In this quick and insightful read, Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole argues that we must look to literary greats like Orwell and Kipling, the British psyche, and a latent English nationalism that has blossomed since Scottish devolution in 1999.

O’Toole writes as a friendly but concerned neighbor rather than a historic enemy of Great Britain. He notes, “When a neighbor is going mad, it i
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
109th book for 2019.

Written by a prominent Irish theater critic this analysis of the cultural background motivations for Brexit—think lost empire, the nightmare of the colonizer being colonized, a white England forever—is excellent.

The book—published in late 2018—is perhaps a little dated now but the analysis remains very much on point. For anyone who is mystified by why Britain—or more accurately England minus London— wants to leave the EU this book offers a useful set of frames by which to vi
MJ Nicholls
Senryu Review:

A trenchant takedown
of English psychodrama
poised to bankrupt Brits
Tom Richards
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Having lived with Brexit for three years, I never really understood it until now. There seemed to be literally no benefit to leaving the EU. All the supposed advantages: taking back control of our borders; repatriating powers from the ECJ; £350 million per week for the NHS; signing free trade deals with other countries- these all vanished upon closer inspection. As a rational individual, I couldn’t understand why we would participate in such an enormous act of national self-harm.

Fintan O’Toole
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, nonfiction
In Heroic Failure, Fintan O'Toole undertakes a kind of cultural history of Brexit, arguing that the roots of this ongoing fiasco are far more complex and thoroughly embedded in the English national psyche than has generally been appreciated. I use the term 'English' here deliberately, since O'Toole argues that Brexit is essentially an English phenomenon. It's driven by a thwarted sense of English superiority in a post-Empire age and by the increasing failure of 'English' to remain an easy defaul ...more
Neil Fox
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fintan O'Toole, Ireland's premier political and social commentator who wickedly satirized the ludicrous excesses of the Celtic Tiger for years and most memorably compiled his writings on that subject in 'Ship of fools', has in recent times made commentary on Brexit his forte. In 'Heroic failure' he pointedly turns his sharp intellect and razor wit onto that great topic of our times.

Heroic Failure is no political commentary or analysis of Brexit, nor is it a chronological detailing of the events
Thomas Harte
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What I particularly liked about this book is that firstly it was written by an Irishman who very eloquently tore asunder the misinformation and warped thinking at the heart of Brexit. It was also a book that touches on the collateral damage Brexit will cause to Ireland. It is also a book that examines Englishness and delves into the psychology of Brexit and the thinking of those behind this process. A very welcome addition to the debate.
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Fintan O’Toole is a terrific journalist with the Irish Times and has a long record of penetrating and biting reporting. I became a fan on reading his account of the 2008 financial crash- “Ship of Fools” – and this exploration of the background to Brexit is no less insightful. He places the Brexit debate unequivocally in the context of the continuing progress of extreme neoliberalism: “It is not possible simultaneously to ask people to trust the state and to tell them that the state has no busine ...more
Lena B
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
one of the strangest books I've read ngl ...more
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Kinda rambles and is undirected. O'Toole has written many excellent OpEds about Brexit, but this form doesn't work.

The whole book can be summarised as "The English never got over winning the Second World War"
Ksenia Kulichik
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was like a crash course in British (English?) national identity over the past hundred years with Brexit as the sour culmination of the long dragged on grievances.

It is brief and incisive, digging into the cultural origins and underpinnings of Brexithink, rather than dissecting its political manifestations or charting the timeline. O’Toole attacks the issue from many angles and draws parallels with plenty of historical events and cultural works, painting a multi-dimensional and vivid po
Richard McGeough
Where Fintan O’Toole is good, he’s very good: the concept of sado-populism, the Italian Job analogy, the brilliance of Boris Johnston at spinning trivial inconveniences into compelling narratives. Where he misses, he misses rather embarrassingly: I didn’t find the 50 Shades analogy convincing, while O’Toole’s thesis that if you’re an old punk, you’re up for a bit of anarchy in the name of Brexit was just cringeworthy. I’m glad I read it. The original appeal was to get a distinct Irish perspectiv ...more
Tim Julian
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb dissection of the act of collective madness that is Brexit by one of the astutest political commentators writing today. O'Toole identifies the roots of Brexit in a peculiarly English masochistic fantasy that longs for domination by a cruel master. In the absence of a suitable candidate for the role of dominator, part of the political and media elite seized upon "Brussels" and, naturally, the evil Germans (who, annoyingly, kept refusing to be anything but eminently reasonable) as the cause ...more
Bert Bruins
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A timely book as they say. Fintan O'Toole is an Irish writer and columnist with other books to his name on Ireland and Irish identities. Here he turns his attention to the Brexit referendum and issues around English identity. To his mind anti-EU sentiment is predominantly a symptom of English (rather than British or UK) identity-insecurity that followed from the loss of empire, sharing decision making with equals within the EEC/EU, and the rise of nationalism in Wales and Scotland.

This long essa
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Given that this was written prior to Boris becoming PM and who knows what twists and turns Brexit will take after the December general election, I figured I had best get this read. However, I needn’t have rushed as instead of a blow-by-blow account of the Brexit referendum and subsequent calamity, it explores the English (not British) attitudes and mentalities that have lead us to this point.

I absolutely was not expecting to be reading an analogy of how Brexit relates to 50 Shades of Grey, or h
Dec 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2018
As a remainer I just don't understand the leaver psyche at all. I've been shocked to discover close family and friends who I've considered fairly intelligent and self aware who seem to have fallen for the leave rhetoric in a big way.

The book is good in its way but only plays to the remainer echo chamber and won't impact on the leaver viewpoint. Basically the country is fairly evenly split between the two viewpoints and from my point of view not even basic logic gets through to the adamant leaver
Carlos Martinez
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-politics
A well-written and insightful look at the social psychology of Brexit, and the politics underlying it. O'Toole argues that Brexit is in essence a neoliberal project, designed to free the ultra-rich from regulation, taxation and accountability. Since this isn't a project that people would ordinarily vote for, its proponents have tapped into some of the most vulnerable parts of the national psyche, in particular empire nostalgia, racism and xenophobia.

Repetitive at times, and some parts resonate m
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book has a very interesting thesis and did an excellent job at synthesizing the core issues and ideas that ultimately led to a leave vote in the Brexit referendum. I also liked how O'Toole's Irishness and very obvious English degree shaped this book and brought fresh lenses to something I've read so much about -- it is very rare to find new commentary about Brexit one hasn't read before, but this book did just that.

Overall: Highly recommend.
Ian Cook Westgate
Very smooth read and well written. However, it presupposes a solid prior knowledge of British domestic history/culture that can be occasionally difficult to parse, and the analogies it uses to describe Brexiteers can veer into the ridiculous (for example, a surprising amount of pages are devoted to how "50 Shades of Grey" is a great way to understand how Brexit supporters think of and interact with the European Union). ...more
Cameron Climie
An incredibly well-written, thorough and diverse dive into the many currents of political psychology that underpin Brexit. O'Toole comes at Brexit from a variety of different angles - the resurgence of English nationalism since devolution, the role the EU has played as a substitute for actual invaders since the Second World War, the role of food in driving popular euroscepticism. A number of key figures in the Brexit movement - particularly Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg - come out looking ev ...more
Lorcan Neill
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
The Politics of Pain offers one of the best, and most interesting, takes that I have read on Brexit.

All I can say is that there is a special place in hell for for Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Boris Johnson. As with most great tragedies, the poor will pay for what they have done.
Andrew J Galea
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A flawless dissection of England's masochistic self-destruction. A country once drunk on its own colonial power has long struggled to define itself in the hangover of the Empire's collapse. Brexit is a final, violent, self-immolation. Superbly written, deeply funny, but also completely accurate and profound. ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An eloquent and eminently readable assessment of Brexit as the English Revolution. Using the British predilection for heroic failure - the Charge of the Light Brigade and Scott of the Antarctic - O'Toole sees Brexit as an exercise in hubris and self-pity from a people still reeling from a sense that they lost the peace in the aftermath of the Second World War and became a minor part of an EU dominated by erstwhile enemies and losers. Brexit becomes an exercise in regaining their rightful place i ...more
Matt Pack
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was book #67 of 2018 - it was fantastic. Fintan O'Toole is great. ...more
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Fintan O'Toole is a columnist, assistant editor and drama critic for The Irish Times. O'Toole was born in Dublin and was partly educated at University College Dublin. He has written for the Irish Times since 1988 and was drama critic for the New York Daily News from 1997 to 2001. He is a literary critic, historical writer and political commentator, with generally left-wing views. He was and contin ...more

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