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107 of 117 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, and utterly compelling
The story of the Northern Ireland troubles has its roots deep in Irish history. It is one of grief and loss, power, pride, murderous hatred, missed opportunities, contradictions, political double-dealing, some brave - if frequently doomed - efforts at a solution, and often just mind-boggling stupidity. Above all, though, it is one of terrible, heartbreaking sadness. It is...
Published on 20 Mar 2002 by Betsy Everett

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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for accuracy, not so good for background
Making Sense of the Troubles
_Making Sense_ stays true to its objective, to tell 'a straightforward and gripping story ... in an accessible way'. It is a straightforward read.
But is it a good read? Yes, if you don't want to be bogged down with pre-Troubles history (too simplistically outlined in the book) or don't need to understand the ideologies of unionism...
Published on 1 Feb 2002 by Mr Ulster USA


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107 of 117 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, and utterly compelling, 20 Mar 2002
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The story of the Northern Ireland troubles has its roots deep in Irish history. It is one of grief and loss, power, pride, murderous hatred, missed opportunities, contradictions, political double-dealing, some brave - if frequently doomed - efforts at a solution, and often just mind-boggling stupidity. Above all, though, it is one of terrible, heartbreaking sadness. It is impossible to read "Making Sense of the Troubles" by journalist David McKittrick and historian David McVea, without tears in the eyes.
It is an ambitious title. How can anyone make sense of the deaths of more than 3,500 people; many of them civilians, lots of them children or babies - even unborn babies?... and amid the carnage the terrible toll of grief-stricken families, Protestant and Catholic alike, whose lives would never be the same again.
And yet as the 'straightforward and accessible account' promised by the authors, the book is an unqualified success.
It tells the story chronologically, packing 43 years of history - from the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which established the province with its own government (supposedly subordinate to Westminster: in reality allowed to set its own, often corrupt, agenda) to the start of the O'Neill era in 1963 - into just 25 pages. And in that first chapter the authors show how early the seeds of a discontented state that could never be fully at peace with itself, were sown.
It was not just that the state was "born in violence" (428 people killed in the first two years of its existence); it wasn't even that the system itself was inherently flawed (how could it have been otherwise when the boundaries were set by Westminster and the Unionists with the precise aim of ensuring Protestant supremacy?); or even that the Protestants felt insecure, and the Catholics trapped in a hostile land.
All these were important enough factors in ensuring the province would one day erupt. But a dominant theme of the narrative, which starts on the second page and runs through it like a geological fault, is that of indifference.
The British handed power to the Ulster Unionists in 1921 and did nothing for more than 40 years to prevent them abusing it; the Irish of the 26 counties were too busy: "The Free State was aggrieved by the loss of what it regarded as its rightful territory, but concentrated instead on making a success of its own fledgling state."
There are some poignant moments recalled in the book, which speak profoundly of Southern Irish indifference to the plight of their Northern compatriots: the immense disappointment this engenders in the reader has to do with the fact that from the Irish themselves we expected more. That the British were callously indifferent to the plight of a Catholic minority is appalling but not entirely surprising - to learn that the Irish appeared to wash their hands of the North has a real sadness about it, especially when so much appears to have been made over the years of the controversial articles 2 and 3 of the 1937 Irish Constitution, laying claim to the State.
"Politically Northern nationalists were unwelcome ghosts at the feast in Dublin." say the authors.
One of Harold Wilson's aides recalled a lunch the opposition leader had with Taoiseach Jack Lynch in 1969. Wilson mooted the idea of Irish unity: "The fascinating moment came when Harold Wilson put forward the plan for turning the dream of unity into reality. I had thought they would jump for joy, but their reaction was more akin to falling through the floor."
So for all the rhetoric, it appears there was little appetite in the South for an end to partition, and in England no sympathy at all for those trapped in what even David Trimble was to call "a cold house for Catholics."
Even in so dispassionate and objective an account it is not difficult to see that while the authors believe the terrorists of both sides have the blood of innocents on their hands, the politicians of virtually every persuasion, and on both sides of the Irish Sea, must take a huge share of the blame. John Hume and Gerry Fitt of the SDLP, and Mo Mowlam the one-time Labour Secretary of State, are among the few to emerge with any credibility or real integrity.
For the rest - of Left or Right - their actions are marked by errors of judgement, insensitive decisions, and an almost wilful inability to see where their policies would inevitably lead. They cite Terence O'Neill's empty rhetoric of reform, which in the mid to late 60s did much to antagonise the Unionists and nothing whatever to appease the nationalists; Faulkner's policy of internment which brought a massive increase in violence in its wake; Margaret Thatcher's steely refusal to grant political status to the hunger strikers in the Maze; Reginald Maudling's lazy indifference and crass concept of "an acceptable level of violence."
Labour politicians emerge with not much more credit. Merlyn Rees, the Labour Northern Ireland Secretary, is portrayed as inexperienced and weak: his inability to get to grips with the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) strike in May 1974, meant the brief experiment of power-sharing after the Sunningdale Agreement was doomed to failure.
This is a profoundly readable book, clear in its aim and consistent in its execution, but a deeply moving one, too. To read it is to understand a little more about an otherwise baffling, and seemingly intractable, problem.I cannot commend it too highly.
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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for accuracy, not so good for background, 1 Feb 2002
By 
Mr Ulster USA (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
Making Sense of the Troubles
_Making Sense_ stays true to its objective, to tell 'a straightforward and gripping story ... in an accessible way'. It is a straightforward read.
But is it a good read? Yes, if you don't want to be bogged down with pre-Troubles history (too simplistically outlined in the book) or don't need to understand the ideologies of unionism and nationalism per se. In this way, _Making Sense_ feels written for a general English/benign foreign audience.
However, if you know some Irish history and/or can appreciate the ethno-nationalist competition in Northern Ireland, then you may very well be let down.
The factual reportage in _Making Sense_ is flawless, but the story told is not neutral. Of course, no account of the Troubles can be. Yet after reading _Making Sense_, one leaves with a sense that: a) Northern Protestants really don't like Catholics; b) republican violence stems from a ideological struggle while loyalist violence is just sectarian hatred; c) the British government could have done more from 1921 forward, but were frustrated by intransigent unionists. All entirely acceptable to believe if one wishes, but by no means a neutral or fair position.
Thus, I was disappointed that _Making Sense_ didn't try harder to place the Troubles in an all-Ireland context. This would require more history, but would help explain some unionist perspective as well as the sometimes variable relationship between the Irish Republican government and Northern nationalists.
For the general reader, I would recommend _A Pocket History of Ulster_, by Brian Bardon (ISBN 086278428x). For more detail, try _A History of Northern Ireland 1920-1996_, by Thomas Hennessey (ISBN 0717124002), who has also written a book on the Northern Ireland peace process (ISBN 0717129462).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and Readable, 8 April 2010
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R. Kerwin (Liverpool, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I'm shortly going to marry a man from Derry, and having previously studied a lot of Irish history at University, I wanted to get more details on the Northern conflict and try to understand the environment when we visit his relatives in Derry and Belfast.

I found this book a very readable and engaging starting point, a fairly even account (although I suppose using the word "Derry" shows my own perspective) from which I have gone to to more detailed studies of different time periods and groupings.

I'm inclined to agree with Alan Leonard below, but for a general reader this is a good starting point.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful resource for those who weren't there, 4 Jan 2001
By A Customer
This is a useful source for those who didn't live through the Troubles. It is scrupulously fair in its judgements, as one would expect from such distinguished authors, and offers some fresh insights even to those who were there. For example, I had forgotten quite how long drawn out the O'Neill years were and was unaware of the narrow limits he set on his reformist ambitions.
For the most part, however, its insights will be confined to those who know little and want to understand, insofar as it is possible to do so, why the slaughter began and why it lasted for 25 years. For those who have already reached this plane of enlightenment, I would recommend Tony Geraghty's "The Irish War" and Peter Taylor's twin texts, "Provos" and "Loyalists".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars must read, 16 Mar 2010
By 
Loraine Connor "Stig5882" (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have read many books about the troubles in the past and as I come from Belfast I can honestly say that this book is the closest to reality that I have ever read and is written in a way that is easy for someone who is not a native of Northern Ireland to understand. If you really want to understand about the troubles of Northern Ireland this is a "must read".
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A useful reminder, 19 Oct 2010
I was there at the time - a student in Northern Ireland in the early days of the Troubles. For many years afterwards I tried to blank much out, but I also wanted a 'reality check'. Were things really as bad as I'd remembered? What was the sequence of events? Had I imagined some things? This book gives a very fair and unbiased account of events, sequentially as they unfolded. Inevitably, perhaps, I've concentrated so far on the chapters covering the years I was there. It's quite heavy going, but it's a heavy subject and some of it is still quite painful to me. What I appreciate about this book is the dispassionate and even-handed telling of the facts in a non-judgmental way. It's given me a lot to think about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, 5 Nov 2013
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The book certainly portrays a very different picture to what was being taught, instilled and broadcasted in the UK at the time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very good read!, 1 Jun 2013
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I had my reservations regarding this book as I do about most on this topic, although I was pleasantly surprised. The book gives a very balanced account as well as being a very entertaining book. Would highly recommend!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to the tragedy of Norther Ireland in a very readablle narrative form., 2 April 2013
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This review is from: Making Sense of the Troubles: A History of the Northern Ireland Conflict (Paperback)
This is probably the best book that I have ever read on the troubles. I do have a strong interest as I grew up during them. I was surprised that I could remember so much but there were a few tragedies /atrocities that I had forgotten about and it was good to have a very readable narrative to pull everything together.
It was fairly balanced but didn't quite get under the skin of the loyalist position. Their fears of a catholic dominated Ireland were very real although the denial of civil rights cannot be justified. I don't belong to the Loyalist tribe but there are many sides to the Irish question and recognising that may help further peace. I watched a series recently on tv entitled "An independent people" which was a history of Presbyterianism in Ulster and I found it enlightening.
I would thoroughly recommend this book and have already given a copy of it as a gift. I would like more people to read it but I can accept that not everyone would have the same interest. It is a very readable introduction and overview to a terrible time of suffering in these islands.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative review of the Northern Ireland troubles, 2 Jun 2011
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Having attended Scottish football games for a number of years without really knowing about the association with Ireland and sectarianism, and coming from a political background at university where I didn't study the Northern Ireland question in much detail, I wanted a book that would give me an insight into the problems with enough detail about the historical background as well as the breakout of modern troubles after 1969. What I wanted was what I got from this book. It was written in an easy to understand format, giving me the historical detail that is important to understand how the modern troubles erupted without bogging the reader down in too many historical facts. The timeline at the end of the book is also very good from a reference viewpoint. Having looked at reviews of the book it is understandable why Unionists could see the book as being slightly biased, as there is at times strong emphasis on the fact that the IRA war was a political war whereas groups such as the UVF were fighting a war of pure bigotry. However, whether this actually is based on fact is something which I can explore by delving into the subject more through readingf other material, which the base this book has given me has encouraged me to do.
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