Reader’s Corner: ‘We Don’t Know Ourselves’

Born in Dublin in 1958, journalist Fintan O’Toole grew up in Ireland just as the country was shaking off (or, more often, not) the bonds of pre-modern theocracy that kept them in the past. His “personal history” We Don’t Know Ourselves tells how a country tried to enter the modern world without losing its soul. It’s fantastic.

My review is at PopMatters:

Protectionism—moral, cultural, and economic—kept new ideas and products out. In what O’Toole calls a “bitter paradox”, Ireland was then “an agrarian economy that was actually not much good at producing food.” Education was primarily limited to the well-off, keeping business and farming relatively primitive. In a comical but illustrative moment, Irish bishops refused an American offer through the Marshall Plan to create a National Institute of Agriculture to modernize farming because “it would not have a proper basis in religious doctrine.” Ireland’s stagnation produced despair, waves of emigration that threatened to empty the island completely, and one very good joke that made the rounds: “The wolf was at the door, howling to get out”…

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