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Michael Collins: A Biography

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When President of the Irish Republic Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, he remarked to Lord Birkenhead, 'I may have signed my actual death warrant.' In August 1922 during the Irish Civil War, that prophecy came true – Collins was shot and killed by a fellow Irishman in a shocking political assassination. So ended the life of the greatest of all When President of the Irish Republic Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, he remarked to Lord Birkenhead, 'I may have signed my actual death warrant.' In August 1922 during the Irish Civil War, that prophecy came true – Collins was shot and killed by a fellow Irishman in a shocking political assassination. So ended the life of the greatest of all Irish nationalists, but his visions and legacy lived on. This authorative and comprehensive biography presents the life of a man who became a legend in his own lifetime, whose idealistic vigour and determination were matched only by his political realism and supreme organisational abilities. Coogan's biography provides a fascinating insight into a great political leader, whilst vividly portraying the political unrest in a divided Ireland, that can help to shape our understanding of Ireland's recent tumultuous socio-political history.


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When President of the Irish Republic Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, he remarked to Lord Birkenhead, 'I may have signed my actual death warrant.' In August 1922 during the Irish Civil War, that prophecy came true – Collins was shot and killed by a fellow Irishman in a shocking political assassination. So ended the life of the greatest of all When President of the Irish Republic Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, he remarked to Lord Birkenhead, 'I may have signed my actual death warrant.' In August 1922 during the Irish Civil War, that prophecy came true – Collins was shot and killed by a fellow Irishman in a shocking political assassination. So ended the life of the greatest of all Irish nationalists, but his visions and legacy lived on. This authorative and comprehensive biography presents the life of a man who became a legend in his own lifetime, whose idealistic vigour and determination were matched only by his political realism and supreme organisational abilities. Coogan's biography provides a fascinating insight into a great political leader, whilst vividly portraying the political unrest in a divided Ireland, that can help to shape our understanding of Ireland's recent tumultuous socio-political history.

30 review for Michael Collins: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    This was a difficult book to get through for a couple of reasons. First, the writing and then second, the history itself. The writing. I read a book by this author last year concerning the Irish Starvation of the mid 19th century and found that book quite compelling. That book tells me that this author does know how to write so I am puzzled by what I encountered in this book. There were numerous lengthy sentences liberally sprinkled with commas that made it difficult to understand who was talkin This was a difficult book to get through for a couple of reasons. First, the writing and then second, the history itself. The writing. I read a book by this author last year concerning the Irish Starvation of the mid 19th century and found that book quite compelling. That book tells me that this author does know how to write so I am puzzled by what I encountered in this book. There were numerous lengthy sentences liberally sprinkled with commas that made it difficult to understand who was talking or what was being described. I had to read these sentences several times to make sense of them and then wondered if it was worth the trouble since many of the discussions and events seemed rather trivial. I am guessing that the author's problem was the material he had to work with and the type of events depicted in this history. Initially it should be pointed out that it appears the author is the son of a veteran of this turbulent time so his objectivity may be open to question. The author refers repeatedly to this time as a "war" and specifically as the "Anglo-Irish War". After reading this book this was no war as I understand the use of that term in history. This was a campaign of terrorism and counter-terrorism. Much of what the author describes was, to me, like reading of the activities of contemporary street gang running up and down alleys at night approaching unsuspecting targets and shooting them in the head. Such acts would then be responded to by government officers storming into the homes of yet more unsuspecting innocent parties and shooting them in their beds. There were no heroes in this conflict on either side and this was another part of my difficulty. Nevertheless, the author needed to convey to the reader what exactly happened and he tried to do this. I suspect he had an abundance of source material and struggled to ensure the activities of what he might have considered to be patriotic acts were properly preserved and noted of record in his book. Sadly, there were a great many of these acts committed by people who were mentioned briefly and then had it noted that they were subsequently arrested or killed, or executed and were never mentioned again. This problem then occurred again when the author recounts the negotiations between the Irish and the English government. It seems like we are subjected to reading every note, diary, memorandum, telegram etc. that passed between the various parties throughout this process. It would have been far more advantageous to the reader had the author synthesized this material and then described the significance and critical stages of the process leading to its conclusion. Again, the reader is subjected to numerous run-on sentences littered with commas. It was, at times, quite maddening. But all was not lost. In the second half of the book, after the conclusion of the negotiations, the writing improves and the author's ability is demonstrated. This is the period during the early stages of the Irish Free State and the civil war that ultimately claims Collins' life. The second difficulty I had, as I mentioned, is with the history itself. Thanks to my grandparents I have dual citizenship with Ireland and I am proud of that. It is this heritage that has induced me to learn more about the country of my grandparents. While this book is supposed to be a biography of Michael Collins and it is, it is also a fairly detailed history of the formation of the independence of Ireland in the early 20th century. There is a quote in the book attributed to Eamon de Valera as he comments on the death of an adversary "I do not approve but I must not pretend I do not understand". This history is brutal, barbaric, and completely outside the realm of accepted military behavior in or out of a war time environment. However, I enjoy reading British history and more than slightly familiar with their colonial activities. The English colonial history is a monument to ineptitude, arrogance, racism, exploitation, and brutality. It reads as though any life that wasn't English and, better yet, English nobility was something less than significant or worthy. The English conduct during the Irish Starvation of the 1840's was about as close to a government sanctioned genocide as it could get. To win their independence from the English yoke the Irish were never going to be able to create and field a conventional army and conduct a conventional war. Terrorism was their only alternative and the English certainly made that option very easy for them to take. The things that were done lead to retaliation and escalating acts of brutality and revenge. I can understand how this author can desire to paint these men and women as patriots and thus give his national history a nobility it should have but the acts are what they are and they are hard to accept and to read. This is a sad history and in de Valera's word I can't approve but I do understand.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    Coogan's book is so focused on the minutiae that it winds up turning the entire story of the Irish revolution into a clinical breakdown of "he-said/she-said." Its a long, difficult, generally boring read about a story that is in no way boring or dull. Best example - Coogan dedicates about 5 pages to "Bloody Sunday" and about 50 pages to the minor squabbles over the wording of the Anglo-Irish treaty. Brutal. There are pages and pages of direct source quotes and TONS of name-drops of incidental ch Coogan's book is so focused on the minutiae that it winds up turning the entire story of the Irish revolution into a clinical breakdown of "he-said/she-said." Its a long, difficult, generally boring read about a story that is in no way boring or dull. Best example - Coogan dedicates about 5 pages to "Bloody Sunday" and about 50 pages to the minor squabbles over the wording of the Anglo-Irish treaty. Brutal. There are pages and pages of direct source quotes and TONS of name-drops of incidental characters and first-hand witnesses, that, while impressive from a research standpoint, doesn't add much to the story. I was really disappointed with this book, but I suppose if you have an advanced knowledge (or lived through) the Revolution this might be enlightening.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Carbone

    A relatively good book, but with some interesting problems. The fact of the matter is that while reading about the IRA and the British occupation force, one is left with a striking realization- Michael Collins is a terrorist. Now, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but reading the cavalcade of acts Collins committed in the name opf a free Ireland is really stark. And moreover, it becomes distracting listening to the apologist tone of the author- who inexplicably mixes Collins A relatively good book, but with some interesting problems. The fact of the matter is that while reading about the IRA and the British occupation force, one is left with a striking realization- Michael Collins is a terrorist. Now, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but reading the cavalcade of acts Collins committed in the name opf a free Ireland is really stark. And moreover, it becomes distracting listening to the apologist tone of the author- who inexplicably mixes Collins harsh acts with cute stories about Collins. It becomes a "house of mirrors" where Coogan mix and matches the awful with the human, thus giving us a very mixed picture. At one point, Coogan's nostalgia for Collins becomes so warped that I wondered if Coogan really thought that by telling nice stories about Collins, that somehow made his bloodletting more excusable. However, overall, the book does bridge the gap decently- Collins was a bad guy but was in a very good cause (or so one could argue). It tells a good story in a compelling manner. .

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    This was a very thorough examination of Collins' 32 years of fighting for Irish freedom. The author doesn't necessarily shy away from his favorable bias toward Collins, but it doesn't overwhelm the story being told. My own bias is away from books this dense, as the names and facts eventually turn into a jumble by the time I'm halfway through. Definitely recommended for those interested in Collins or the history of Irish independence.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    To date, this is the single best volume that’s been written about Collins, and it’s a meal. I purchased this title on an annual pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon when I was there to visit family a few years ago. Although the length of the book is listed as 480 pages in paperback, the reader needs to come prepared. The type is tiny and dense, and it took me a long time to wade through it. If it were formatted using more standard guidelines, it would be a great deal longer. To date, this is the single best volume that’s been written about Collins, and it’s a meal. I purchased this title on an annual pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon when I was there to visit family a few years ago. Although the length of the book is listed as 480 pages in paperback, the reader needs to come prepared. The type is tiny and dense, and it took me a long time to wade through it. If it were formatted using more standard guidelines, it would be a great deal longer. As I write this review I am halfway through Coogan’s epic history of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and the style in which he writes is consistent in both books. Coogan tells us everything that is historically important, and he also tells us everything else he finds out, with no apparent filtering. His writing is half Irish history, half family Bible in the sense that if someone was briefly or peripherally involved with Collins, their proud relatives can probably find that person and his or her historical role somewhere in these pages. His shoe size is here, and the names of every girl he flirted with. For a man that lived so briefly, he left a large shadow, and the author was plainly unwilling to let even the tiniest bit of research go to waste, relevant or no. I am somewhat surprised that Collins doesn’t rate more favorably with the author, given that his name is the one most associated with the creation of an independent Ireland. But Coogan does due diligence in establishing the brutality of the British occupiers, who killed indiscriminately with the use of terror. At one point, soldiers opened fire on a school yard where little children were at play; these royal ambassadors were the original school shooters, killing six little ones for being Catholic. In the protests that followed, women and girls knelt before British tanks and said their rosaries for those that had been killed for their Fenian identities. The Irish freedom struggle took place at a time when the whole world was on fire. The Russian Revolution was unfurling with breathtaking speed; at the same time, there was no established Marxist revolution to look to for guidance, and Irish freedom fighters had no single idea of what political ideology should shape the struggle. Most of the revolutionaries were barely old enough to shave, and a lot of errors were made because of this lack of clear vision. The results were often tragic. There’s an interesting discussion of whether Irishmen should become German allies during World War I. There is a strong resistance to becoming shills for the British, and so the question, then, is whether to remain neutral, or take the side of Britain’s enemy in the hope of receiving reciprocal assistance. In the end, nobody was organized enough, in this era of little technology, to come up with a cohesive plan, so the point was a moot one. Should you read this biography? I think it depends upon how much time you have, and how strong your interest level is. One consideration might be to purchase it as a reference volume and flip through it to tease out the most relevant information, but be forewarned: sifting through the minutiae is not an easy enterprise. For researchers, the photos alone might be of interest, since they constitute primary documents. Recommended for those with strong basic knowledge of Irish history that want to flesh out the details, and for those building a reference library.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Samuel

    Michael Collins, pulled off a feat unparalleled in the history of his countrymen. In the past, the British crown could count on the luck of the Irish to ensure the destruction of any subversive elements who attempted to break the grip of London on the Emerald isle. That, superior resources, superior talent and the Irish tendency to never look at the small details ensured that successive rebellions would blow up in their faces and Britain would go skipping to the bank. When Collins came onto the Michael Collins, pulled off a feat unparalleled in the history of his countrymen. In the past, the British crown could count on the luck of the Irish to ensure the destruction of any subversive elements who attempted to break the grip of London on the Emerald isle. That, superior resources, superior talent and the Irish tendency to never look at the small details ensured that successive rebellions would blow up in their faces and Britain would go skipping to the bank. When Collins came onto the scene, all this changed. Professional spies and soldiers would call him a gifted amateur, and Coogan milks the wonder of a man for who all intents and purposes is a mere accountant student with no military experience, making complete, and utter fools of the best Spies and soldiers in Europe and then killing a lot of them. This book is an unapologietic pro collins biography but accurately captures the reasons of his success, the keen eye for detail that averted the biggest mistake that allowed Britain to grind into dust, successive Fenian revolts in the past, an audacious ruthlessness balanced by a cool, professionalism and honor that today's terrorists don't bother with, and most importantly of all, that charisma which allowed him to develop a borderline fanatical loyalty among his friends, minions an assets, many who were willing to go the extra mile for "the big fella" who they saw as the one great hope for Ireland to be free. Overall, a good, solid read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Raven

    A brilliant, if difficult, read. The book requires a hefty familiarity with Irish history (and at times, geography), so it's not the first book on Irish history one should pick up. However, if you're looking for a detailed and incisive look at the formation of the Free State, the military actions that came before it, and the political wrangling that happened during the treaty process, this is your book. The tensions between Collins and de Valera are the central theme of the later 2/3rds of the b A brilliant, if difficult, read. The book requires a hefty familiarity with Irish history (and at times, geography), so it's not the first book on Irish history one should pick up. However, if you're looking for a detailed and incisive look at the formation of the Free State, the military actions that came before it, and the political wrangling that happened during the treaty process, this is your book. The tensions between Collins and de Valera are the central theme of the later 2/3rds of the book, and it's a story well told. The author is an unabashed Collins partisan, and that side-taking is unusual in someone so diligent at sourcing and citing his finds. I understand he's also written a biography of de Valera, which I'm very tempted by. He clearly doesn't think well of the man; I'll be interested to see if he can give him a similar thorough and understanding treatment. This is a particularly valuable read for people interested in the histories of successful and unsuccessful insurgencies, but it's very steeped in Irishness and that was a great part of its charm to me. I'll definitely seek out more of the author's work.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aidan Burke

    Michael Collins is arguably the greatest Irish hero of modern times, and this book shows the difficult journey road Collins took to achieve that. Collins comes across as a man who cared little for personal fame, but rather as one whose entire being was focused on freeing Ireland. (Would-be urban guerillas please note: Collins achieved his goals by attacking military targets only, not government buildings with day cares inside them..) I agree with a previous reviewer that more of an overview of I Michael Collins is arguably the greatest Irish hero of modern times, and this book shows the difficult journey road Collins took to achieve that. Collins comes across as a man who cared little for personal fame, but rather as one whose entire being was focused on freeing Ireland. (Would-be urban guerillas please note: Collins achieved his goals by attacking military targets only, not government buildings with day cares inside them..) I agree with a previous reviewer that more of an overview of Ireland in the early years of the 20th century would have been helpful plus the "Martyrs of '16" are not given a lot of space but this is about Collins after all...The Pease brothers, Connolly, Plunkett, Clark etc were Collins forerunners (and in Connolly's case) his inspiration. Even today almost 80 years after his tragic death in an ambush, Collins' grave site in Dublin is still well visited, and you will almost always see flowers there, proof of how the people of Ireland think of "The Big Man".....

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    MY FAVORITE IRISH HISTORY AUTHOR! Wonderful story of Michael Collins rise to power . . . incredible detail that other biographers cannot include!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mick

    Havta read Dev's version before I give a proper wording

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    Beautiful biography of an extraordinary man. Well written.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Paddy

    Extremely well detailed! A great biography of an interesting historical figure, this is a must read for anyone interested in the life of Michael Collins!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert Gelms

    The Man Who Saved Ireland By Bob Gelms One of Ireland’s finest journalists and a preeminent Irish historian, Tim Pat Coogan, has written a superlative biography of Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary and the central figure in the War of Irish Independence. Michael Collins’ importance in this effort cannot be overstated. In the spirit of complete disclosure, I probably should say that I consider Michael Collins an Irish hero of unparalleled stature. He is a personal hero of mine and I have be The Man Who Saved Ireland By Bob Gelms One of Ireland’s finest journalists and a preeminent Irish historian, Tim Pat Coogan, has written a superlative biography of Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary and the central figure in the War of Irish Independence. Michael Collins’ importance in this effort cannot be overstated. In the spirit of complete disclosure, I probably should say that I consider Michael Collins an Irish hero of unparalleled stature. He is a personal hero of mine and I have been very privileged to have known men who fought with him in Ireland's successful attempt to gain independence from Great Briton. I’m trying hard to be as non-biased as I can but, if it seems that I am then I apologize in advance. The book is skillfully written with a massive amount of detail told in the style of a story. It reads a little like an espionage thriller of the first rank. It is startling to think that it is all true. Michael Collins accomplished some astounding things in his life which he seems to have given over to the cause of driving the British out of Ireland, where they had been for over 700 years. I don’t want to recount his life or even all t he high points here but I would like to give you just a taste of the man and times in which he lived. One of his more famous exploits was an undercover intelligence operation in Dublin on November 21, 1920 . He devised a complicated operation involving a number of military targets that morning. Through his widespread organization, he was able to acquire the names and addresses of eight undercover operatives for the British Government. Members of a special unit that Collins tapped for difficult jobs went to the eight houses and, at a prearranged time, forced their way in and killed the British spies. Collins and his men thereby dismantled almost the whole undercover operation the British Government was trying to set up in Ireland. It was a major triumph against a military target. Later that day, there was to be a major Gaelic football game between Dublin and Tipperary in a large sports stadium in Dublin called Croke Park. Collins tried to get the game postponed because he was afraid of reprisals. That afternoon the Auxiliary Division of the British Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary surrounded the park and opened fire on the crowd. They killed 14 men, women, and children and wounded 60. It came to be known as Bloody Sunday. Collins had a large bounty on his head. The Brits knew he was involved with IRA operations. They had no idea how involved he was. It was a closely guarded secret that in addition to being associated with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Fein, he was Director of Organization and Adjutant General for the Irish Volunteers and Director of Intelligence for the Irish Republican Army. Collins gained fame as a guerrilla warfare strategist, and was the Commander-In-Chief and General of the Irish Army during the War for Independence. Eventually, Great Britain called a truce. Tim Pat Coogan’s book goes on to explain that Michael Collins had, by then, become President of the Irish Republic and he, along with small group of negotiators, went to London to hammer out a treaty. There, he found himself in the company of Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. Michael Collins was just 31 years old. They finished negotiating the treaty and signed it. It was very controversial back in Ireland. It called for six of the ten counties in the ancient province of Ulster to remain in Great Britain. The country would be partitioned. Collins had done the impossible; he removed British presence from 26 of the 32 counties in Ireland. The Irish had been trying to do this for 700 years and Collins DID. He said the time would come for those remaining six counties it just wasn’t now. The treaty also contained some other objectionable things which were mostly ignored. There was something ominous in the air. When Collins signed the treaty, he said that he might have signed his own death warrant. The vast majority of the Irish people considered him a hero. Mr. Coogan’s book is a tour-de-force. Everyone should get it and read it. A good case can be made that during the Middle Ages, Irish monks rescued tens of thousands of books and effectively saved western civilization. There isn’t a scintilla of doubt in my mind that Michael Collins saved Ireland. After reading Tim Pat Coogan’s biography, Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland, you might come to the same conclusion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jamie O'neill

    Michael Collins is a collosal figure in modern Irish history. Rebel, Killer, Hero , Traitor. A man whose image has been blurred through over glorification, over demonisation, over mytholigisation and Liam Neeson. Tim Pat Coogan succeeds at painting an overall portrait of this iconic, devisive and elusive Irish figure. Coogans research is deep and he works to brush away the dust to try as best he can to show the image he thinks best represents the real Collins. His level of detail and first hand Michael Collins is a collosal figure in modern Irish history. Rebel, Killer, Hero , Traitor. A man whose image has been blurred through over glorification, over demonisation, over mytholigisation and Liam Neeson. Tim Pat Coogan succeeds at painting an overall portrait of this iconic, devisive and elusive Irish figure. Coogans research is deep and he works to brush away the dust to try as best he can to show the image he thinks best represents the real Collins. His level of detail and first hand information of the 1919-1921 conflict is brilliant. He portrays Collins' work at organising a secret movement striking at the heart of British rule Ireland whilst evading capture with meticulous care. My biggest fault with the book was the writing. Sentences became confusing. Unclear. Messy. I always felt that Coogan wanted to show his research and that all his claims can be backed up but sometimes his actual point became blurred. If you want a good starting point from which to explore Collins this is the book

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    An extremely detailed account of the life of this important figure and his role in the development of Ireland. The author has researched Michael Collins and the events surrounding his life very thoroughly indeed, and has produced a forensic description with reference to numerous sources, including first-hand interviews with surviving figures from the period. Sometimes however, the detail is almost overwhelming, with the references to a multitude of players' names and their part in the events of An extremely detailed account of the life of this important figure and his role in the development of Ireland. The author has researched Michael Collins and the events surrounding his life very thoroughly indeed, and has produced a forensic description with reference to numerous sources, including first-hand interviews with surviving figures from the period. Sometimes however, the detail is almost overwhelming, with the references to a multitude of players' names and their part in the events of this crucial period. I would like to have seen a slightly more detached overview of events (for each chapter, for example), plus an evaluation of Collins' role and impact on the cause of Irish independence. At times it felt like one was wading through so much detail that the course of history and the context for Collins' life was lost. However, having said that, one has to applaud the work that must have gone into producing this contribution to the troubled development of Ireland.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Yes, it took me forever to finish this book. But now it is done. In my defense, the book is rather dense and the author writes with the expectation that the reader has a more intimate understanding of Irish history than I possess. The book has TONS of information about Collins. I would suggest you read a basic book on the history of the 1916 Rising and the Civil War and then move to this more detailed account of Collins' life. I also suspect the author is white washing a few elements of Collins' Yes, it took me forever to finish this book. But now it is done. In my defense, the book is rather dense and the author writes with the expectation that the reader has a more intimate understanding of Irish history than I possess. The book has TONS of information about Collins. I would suggest you read a basic book on the history of the 1916 Rising and the Civil War and then move to this more detailed account of Collins' life. I also suspect the author is white washing a few elements of Collins' character. He hints at Collins drinking and his potential affairs with women. But, Coogan dismissed many of the stories. All and all I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    What a slog! Densely packed information and details make it a great reference and highly informative, but tough read. There are also many people and events raised as ancillary information that the author must assume the reader knows about.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    I am feeling revolutionary these days :)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Certainly the best book on Collins to date.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julian Jan

    not a typical biography that starts in his childhood and goes up to adulthood. Rather about the series of events that led up to the signing of the Anglo- Irish treaty of 1921.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael C.

    4.5. Excellent, at times tedious, biography of a very complicated Irishman

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jerel Wilmore

    Michael Collins has always fascinated me. Coogan's book is a worthy part of the literature about this Irish patriot.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gary O'brien

    A long, arduous slog full of so much detail that it's hard not to get lost at times. The authors writing style is very stuffy and awkward at times. An editor could and should have had a field day with this. Saying that, the chapter on Collins setting up and running his Intelligence Unit during the War of Independence was riveting stuff. Really interesting material. But just boring for long stretches. A mixed bag.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gary Boal

    Very intriguing and detailed biography. Deals quite a bit in the Irish history and politics surrounding Collins and while I understand the relevance of this there are other books that detail the Irish history of the period in a more compelling manner than this book does. Overall still a good read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Will Ryan

    Fascinating insight into the life and times of one of the largest figures in Irish history. Incredibly well sourced, includes many anecdotes and doesn’t embroil itself in the murk of politics, but instead rises above the din.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Naomi Toftness

    Giving up. This is exactly the style of historical writing that I can't read. Lists of dates and assumptions. Not for a non- history major

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tiernan

    Good read; biased.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sehar

    I really really struggling with my rating of this book because in non fiction, it's important to separate the story from the quality of the writing, whereas in fiction they can be treated as more or less the same thing. I found the first half of this book very hard to get through. There is no continuity to the narrative. It's written in the form of a collection of anecdotes one after the other, a lot of them not concerning michael Collins at all. There are frequent excerpts quoted from other sour I really really struggling with my rating of this book because in non fiction, it's important to separate the story from the quality of the writing, whereas in fiction they can be treated as more or less the same thing. I found the first half of this book very hard to get through. There is no continuity to the narrative. It's written in the form of a collection of anecdotes one after the other, a lot of them not concerning michael Collins at all. There are frequent excerpts quoted from other sources(almost 1-2 per page) which don't let a flow develop in the story at all. It is almost written like a text book and inspires all the yawn-inducing apathy that is implied in that comparison. The sheer number of names mentioned are mind boggling. They not only detract from the story as the reader tries to juggle the characters, but also distract the reader from the characters central to the story. I don't dispute that the amount of research that has gone into writing this book must be phenomenal but perhaps as a consequence of his hard work, the author seems loath to leave out any detail, no matter how minor it might seem to the reader. You can't develop any linear conception of Collins life because the narrative moves forward and backwards frequently. I realise that it is impossible to tell the story of Collins life without writing about Ireland's freedom struggle but in all the details about the freedom struggle, you don't get a feel for Collins at all in the first half of the book. I specified the first half of the book earlier because for me the book changed entirely in the second half and became a riveting read. From the point where de Valera dispatches Collins to London, we suddenly start following him closely. Maybe the author had more material documenting this part of Collins life. you feel all his anger, his disappointment, his immense zest for life and his indomitable spirit shining through the pages. And what a story that makes! What a man he must have been to achieve all he did and inspire blind devotion in the hearts of so many. I was in tears at so many points in the story. I wonder if it's the fate of all the heroes who try to change the world to be thwarted by the very people they devote their lives to trying to save. De Valera comes across as a consummate egotistical, megalomaniacal villain, the likes of which even Dostoevsky would struggle to create. Overall the book is saved by the fact that michael Collins story is one that can never fail to win over hearts. A small town boy who changed the fate of a nation only to be slaughtered at the hands of those who had never stopped loving him... It's so heart-breaking it could only be true. I think i would be tempted to read another biography of him, perhaps one more focussed on the man himself, but I'm very very glad that I didn't let myself get disheartened and quit in the first half of the book

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Covering only six action-packed years -- from the Easter Rising in 1916 to his assassination in 1922 during the Irish Civil War -- Coogan's biography of the Irish nationalist leader is an undeniably exciting read. It also aspires to be the definitive word on Collins, and Coogan has assembled every last scrap of correspondence and interviewed seemingly every living participant to get the story down on paper. It is clear that the author has a great admiration for his subject, and a strong dislike f Covering only six action-packed years -- from the Easter Rising in 1916 to his assassination in 1922 during the Irish Civil War -- Coogan's biography of the Irish nationalist leader is an undeniably exciting read. It also aspires to be the definitive word on Collins, and Coogan has assembled every last scrap of correspondence and interviewed seemingly every living participant to get the story down on paper. It is clear that the author has a great admiration for his subject, and a strong dislike for his primary rival, Eamon de Valera. This noticeable slant did make me wonder a little about the author's treatment of some episodes where the historical record is sketchy, but he is also more than willing to point out Collins' faults and failures. Coogan also delves into the mythology surrounding Collins and his death, dispelling some pervasive rumors and providing ammunition for others. The most striking passages illustrate the way the Civil War (and the continuing Northern Troubles) wounded Ireland in a way that is only now starting to heal. Although Collins was shot by IRA soldiers who opposed the treaty he signed because it gave Ireland only an incomplete independence from Britain, it seems clear that even his enemies held him in the highest regard. My one complaint would be that the book could be more readable than it is. The prose style is both dryly academic and oddly colloquial, and the author assumes quite a lot British and Irish history. Nothing that a few quick wikipedia searches didn't clarify, but not as inviting as it could have been.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    This book was a bit like a bell curve; the beginning dragged a bit, then the book got more and more interesting as it covered Collins's activity during and after the 1916 rising. It reached the high point during the war for independence, then declined as the action became more political, finally dragging at the end, with the conspiracy theories surrounding Colllins's death. The book had a lot of interesting information and anecdotes, and the author had great sources, including his own interviews This book was a bit like a bell curve; the beginning dragged a bit, then the book got more and more interesting as it covered Collins's activity during and after the 1916 rising. It reached the high point during the war for independence, then declined as the action became more political, finally dragging at the end, with the conspiracy theories surrounding Colllins's death. The book had a lot of interesting information and anecdotes, and the author had great sources, including his own interviews with many of the people who were on the spot during Collins's life. But the author's organization was not always good. In at least one case he used an unfamiliar term without defining it till the next chapter, and he concentrated most of the information about the partition of Northern Ireland into one chapter *after* the treaty negotiations were covered, making it hard to understand the troubles up there in the context of the treaty negotiations that were aggravating them. And the constant casual references to people who hadn't been mentioned in 20 pages made reading this a bit like reading a Russian novel. That said, I did gain a lot of insight about the situation in Northern Ireland and the way so much hinges upon what a politician needs to win the next election. And the chapters describing the way Collins gathered intelligence and ran the war while on the run were simply riveting, the best in the book. He was an amazing general, but more than that, it seems he had a vision for peacetime as well. It's a shame he didn't get the chance to develop them.

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