then this is your lucky day.
Does that old stand-by if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all apply when writing a book review? Hmm…well, I can’t fault Ms. Matthews’s scholarship. Dissidents, Irish Republican Women 1923-1941 is clearly well researched and logically presented. It just isn’t terribly interesting—and I’m not talking about the subject matter.
I like history. I have a particularly keen interest in Irish history and have read my share on the Easter uprising, the civil war, and the establishment of the Republic. Most of it written from the perspective of the men involved in the pivotal events. So when I stumbled across Dissidents I thought: great, a chance to hear the voices of the women. After all, they were freedom fighters too, spys and gun-runners (and something else really profound that I can’t think of right now because I’ve already taken a sleeping pill). Instead I slogged through almost 300 pages of dry recitation of facts and figures. Those voices were notably silent and I came away not knowing very much more about them at all.
History is fascinating, full of colorful and remarkable characters, and it’s entirely possible to write about historical people and events in a way that’s approachable and engaging without sacrificing veracity or scholarly merit. Consider Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, Nancy Goldstone’s Four Queens. Or How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, and In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez; all of which were compulsively readable (and all of which I highly recommend!). Dissidents fell short and fell flat and that’s too bad because those women deserve more.