In We Don't Know Ourselves, Fintan O'Toole weaves his own experiences into Irish social, cultural, and economic change, showing how Ireland, in just one lifetime, has gone from a reactionary "backwater" to an almost totally open society—perhaps the most astonishing national transformation in modern history.
Born to a working-class family in the Dublin suburbs, O'Toole served as an altar boy and attended a Christian Brothers school. He was enthralled by American Westerns suddenly appearing on Irish television, which were not that far from his own experience, given that Ireland's main export was beef and it was still not unknown for herds of cattle to clatter down Dublin's streets. Yet the Westerns were a sign of what was to come. O'Toole narrates the once unthinkable collapse of the all-powerful Catholic Church, brought down by scandal and by the activism of ordinary Irish, women in particular. He relates the horrific violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which led most Irish to reject violent nationalism. In O'Toole's telling, America became a lodestar, from John F. Kennedy's 1963 visit, when the American president was welcomed as a native son, to the emergence of the Irish technology sector in the late 1990s, driven by American corporations, which set Ireland on the path toward particular disaster during the 2008 financial crisis.
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“A remarkably original, fluent, and absorbing book, with the pace and twists of an enthralling novel and the edge of a fine sword, underpinned by a profound humaneness.”
Irish Times (Dublin)