The Great Hunger : Ireland 1845-1849, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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 disaster and prevented any serious efforts to relieve suffering.

The continuing impact on Anglo-Irish relations was incalculable, the immediate human cost almost inconceivable.

In this vivid and disturbing book, Cecil Woodham-Smith provides the definitive account. 'A moving and terrible book. It combines great literary power with great learning.

It explains much in modern Ireland - and in modern America' - D.W.



  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528 pages, 1 map; portraits
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780140145151



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

A devestating review of the details of the almost unimaginably horrible Irish famine of the late 1800's. Relentless and eye-opening. Jim Cramer mentioned it on "Mad Money" and I picked it up at the library that week out of curiosity. Wow. I have to admit though, I only read half of it by the time it was due back, and haven't re-checked it out yet. The first half was harrowing enough, and I don't know if I want to learn what came later.

Review by

An excellent case study in compassionate conservatism of how the English, unaffected by the potato famine upheld their purity in the belief about the free markets and watched from afar in horror how the wretched Irish died. As John F. Kennedy's reading of The Guns of August helped him understand and resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, so this book could have prevented most of the misery caused by austerity politics as the Irish had 150 years earlier experienced that pulling oneself out by one's own bootstraps only succeeds if Baron Münchhausen does it.The British failure were: 1. Ballistic (one-off) decisions that were unable to cope with dynamic situations. The planting and ordering cycle meant that an annual and conservative approach was almost certain to undershoot the required help. 2. Reliance on local inept management. Ireland was in part poor due to the absence of a functional bureaucracy and good government. In the crisis the British should have used their navy and army to quickly establish a support system. 3. Too early cut backs of the help. The British dismantled the barely coping systems before the patient was stabilized (think: US government austerity) so that Ireland fell to experience a fully unnecessary cycle of suffering.In contrast to the myth ("send me your tired and poor"), the United States closed off its harbors to Irish immigrants as good as it could (requiring ship owners to post bonds for the creditworthiness of their Irish passengers). Canada took in more and poorer Irish immigrants (who then moved south of the border).