This was a difficult book for me. The author says much the same thing in the Introduction; yet, as an American whose grandparents came from Ireland in the 60s to escape crushing poverty, it had a personal sting.
Nobody likes to hear criticism of his own race or people, which is why we all, whether Irish, black, Jewish, Italian, etc., react strongly to critiques of our peoples, and try to point out the minute flaws in critics' reasoning, or justify these flaws in light of oppression suffered. I certainly don't believe Ignatiev to be an anti-Irish bigot, especially as such bigotry now rarely exists outside the UK.
Yet we Irish-Americans need to face up to the facts. We, like any other group, are far from perfect, and, sad as it is to say, many of our blood perpetuated the crimes against us by becoming cruel toward other peoples whom we could, unconsciously or not, trample to step higher. It is understandable that Irishmen would do so, in light of the circumstances, but that does not make it excusable. Ignatiev presents a solid case, showing how this process worked historically.
[One sentence in the conclusion struck me in particular. The author notes that in his research, he realised that "nobody gave a damn for the Irish," observing that even slaves had abolitionists and religious groups caring for them. Though I, like most of Irish decent, do not care much for self-pity, it has irked me somewhat that almost nothing is taught of the plight of Irishmen in Ireland and abroad; perhaps a sentence or two on the "famine"--which was, of course, closer to a genocide than a famine--and that's that. This simple, one sentence acknowledgment of the way America and especially England have swept under the rug (unnoticed) their crimes against Ireland, certainly helped alleviate that feeling. We hear incessantly about the crimes of other civilisations--the Germans, the Japanese, the Russians--and rightly so, but scarcely a word about those of ever-fortunate England.]
There is, nonetheless, something in this work that makes me feel it is incomplete, perhaps even that it is a rough draft. As another reviewer noted, it stops around Reconstruction, which seems hardly an appropriate starting point. I also wish the author had carried these points about Irish development of bigotry to other groups, even other disadvantaged groups like Jews and--dare I say?--blacks. This would certainly help undercut those, especially my understandably-offended fellow Irish-Americans, who argue some sort of bias on the author's part.
Of course, such a connection would be as politically incorrect as they come, but I suspect it would ultimately do a lot of good, and if anybody has the guts to do it, Ignatiev is the man. One must first find the particular problems and seek to understand their causes before they can be healed: if we wish to abolish racism in all its forms, EVERY group, including the Irish, needs to take a long look at its history and mistakes.