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Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain
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Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  303 ratings  ·  35 reviews

'There will not be much political writing in this or any other year that is carried off with such style' The Times.

In exploring the answers to the question: 'why did Britain vote leave?', Fintan O'Toole finds himself discovering how trivial journalistic lies became far from trivial national obsessions; how the pose of indifference to truth and historical fact has come to

Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published November 22nd 2018 by Apollo
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4.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  303 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Rory Harden
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Thomas Harte
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Neil Fox
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Bert Bruins
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction
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
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
Cameron Climie
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Conrad Barwa
One of the best books available on Brexit written by one of the most prescient journalists covering the subject. An essential read no matter where you fall on the issue.
Matt Pack
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was book #67 of 2018 - it was fantastic. Fintan O'Toole is great.
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
rosemary mccay
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very good.

Well written, and very entertaining, overview of aspects underlying the Brexit vote. Especially enjoyed the analysis regarding the hundred years war and the English psyche.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
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"
Peter Ellwood
Feb 05, 2019 rated it liked it
A thoroughly stimulating essay, which seeks to unpick, the English character traits that caused the madness of Brexit, together with a long moan of pain about the fact of Brexit itself. Finton O’Toole has that rare knack of making you think about yourself more deeply (at least, if you’re English). Time and again, I found myself thinking I’d like to sit opposite him over dinner – it would make for such an interesting conversation.

In some ways it’s a game of two halves, as I found the first half
Macy Mckay
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Given the title, this is a book for the converted. Or approximately half the UK and 100% of the Irish population. Bought because we seemed to have reached peak stupidity on the day when the UK parliament voted to both register their opposition to a hard Brexit and, then on the same day, voted against the one measure which would ensure a hard Brexit was avoided.
I heard Fintan O’Toole on a podcast, and was immediately struck by how different the endless arguments here in the UK sound to our neighb
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An urgent, eye-opening and powerful piece of work. Read it to see deeper context for Brexit and want to gouge your eyes out. It's depressing, sobering, scathing and darkly comic, which, I feel, is an appropriate lens with which to view Brexit. And, like the best Irish darkly comic tales (I'm thinking of The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien one of my favourite books), it becomes horror towards the end. To call it a remoaner text is just blatantly wrong; it doesn't plead to stay in the EU, simply ...more
Peter Ryan
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is an entertaining read, as the previous reviewers have said, but too many elements of the book don't ring true.
Fintan O'Toole bases a fair amount of the analysis upon what he perceives as "self-pity" on behalf of the English that 'we' didn't get our just desserts after winning WW2. I was born in late 1950s London, it was grindingly poor, as was most of the UK then, but I have never encountered that argument. I believe that this is simply untrue.
What is true is that many English have an as
Hanna Hofer
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mit einer poetisch schönen Stimme, die so gar nicht zu dem Psychodrama Brexit passt, beschreibt O'Toole die Seele eines Landes, das den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, aber die Schlacht mit sich selbst und seiner Identität verloren hat.
Ich habe Ende der neunziger Jahre in England gelebt; ich verstand die Tabloids nicht, ihren beinahe greifbaren Hass auf die EU und wunderte mich, warum sich die Engländer benahmen, als wenn sie Österreich wären, wenn sie doch Deutschland hätten sein können.
Dieses Buc
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Essential reading for us in the UK as we struggle to understand what it was in our society that resulted in 52% of voters in our 2016 referendum voting for something that diminishes us, makes us poorer and divides us from our nearest neighbours. Fintan O'Toole lyrically and convincingly describes the background to this rise in English nationalism. In the final chapter he presents the analogy of the sore tooth, that Brexit is the English nationalist voting to kick against the elite and the EU exp ...more
Iarfhlaith O'Scannaill
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing

I came across this book when Ken Early interviewed the author on his excellent political podcast on the Second Captains network. A critique of Brexit but more importantly an earnest exploration into the mindset that allows what The Irish Times called “a bewildering act of self-harm” in its editorial the day after the leave vote won. Nothing that has happened since would suggest that this is inaccurate.

It is written with humour but clear and critical accuracy -
in some cases I felt it
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a very readable book setting out Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole's theory about why the English (rather than the British) would vote for Brexit. His theory is persuasive (although a bit laboured at points) and his references to recent popular culture are entertaining.

I found myself nodding in agreement to large parts of the book and I'd definitely recommend it as worth a read if you're looking for a compelling explanation of some of the psychology and history (in an anecdotal way) which
Martin Mostek
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lefty Irish hack writes about Brexit? Travesty, blasphemy? Well, no. He certainly focuses on right wing Brexiters, their ideologies, their antics and but he does so in attempt to understand and explain - and criticize too. Maybe he is psychologising too much, yet mentalities play so great role in this whole fiasco. Whatever one think about psychosexual element of his argument (employing both Shades of Gray and Patrick Melrose) insight into role of mixed self-pity and self-aggrandizement, contrad ...more
Clár Chonghaile
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book, and it made a nice change to be laughing when contemplating Brexit rather than cursing and shaking my fist at the television. Witty insights into the British/English character, some clever associations and a clear-sighted analysis of how we got to where we are. Never thought I'd see Brexit and Fifty Shades of Grey mentioned on the same page. Particularly appreciated the final chapter on the growth of English nationalism. Wish we'd all been so clear-sighted two years ago ...more
Jean-paul Audouy
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Of prawn cocktail flavoured crisps and sadopopulism. Hilarious and spot on, it is as much a study of the mythical but shattered English identity as of Brexit. Rees-Mogg and Johnson are exposed as the liars and buffoons that they are. It reads as a farce even if you know it won’t end well for those locked forever in the red dungeon of pain which will paradoxically be an unshackled England.
Sara Wilbourne
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What is left to be said. Fintan O’Toole nails the travesty of Brexit and the toxic mindsets that fuelled the debate. Read this and you get a window on why veracity so easily leaves the room when it comes to the subject of the EU and England. Because let’s be clear - this is an English problem and has been for a very very long time.
Steve Angelkov
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tom Kirwan
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
fascinating analysis of the English mentality! They had to invent Brussels as a sadistic dominant male in order to validate their nationalist impulses.
Much else besides; it is not a British exit but an abortive English exit!
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
O’Toole is a great writer and the verve with which he carries this off is quite something. At the same time, and with no small amount of irony, it’s also quite a painful read as he lays bare the excruciating reality of the absurd situation in which we find ourselves.
John Bleasdale
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not boring still terrifying

I've been watching the debacle of brexit from afar with a mixture of boredom, confusion and dread. This book is clear and sane as well as entertaining. Finlan is an arresting writer with a keen eye for a telling detail.
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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
“Her decision to do so – when she had a working majority in Parliament – was not pure vanity. It was the inevitable result of the völkisch rhetoric she had adopted when she told her first Tory Party conference as leader that ‘if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’, openly evoking the far-right (and Stalinist) trope of ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ who did not deserve citizenship.” 0 likes
“Why, then, were there no photographs of Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl holding hands at the Brandenburg Gate to match the pictures of Kohl and François Mitterrand at Verdun in 1984? Because Thatcher literally carried in her handbag maps showing German expansion under the Nazis.4 This was a mental cartography that English conservatism could not transcend – the map of a Europe that may no longer exist in reality but within which its imagination remains imprisoned. ‘Europe,’ Barnett writes, ‘moved on from the Second World War and Britain didn’t.’ One might go so far as to say that England never got over winning the war.” 0 likes
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