This is the definitive reading list for Irish Americans on Book Lovers' Day.
Tom Deignan, who writes his weekly column "Sidewalks" for the Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication of IrishCentral, is an expert in Irish American literature and often lectures on the topic.
Taken from one of his lectures, here is his list of the all-time Irish American books to read, in no particular order. The list was compiled and published by Irish America Magazine in celebration of its 20th anniversary.
The top twenty books that every Irish American should read:
“Memories of a Catholic Girlhood,” by Mary McCarthy.
An intellectual writer washes her hands of her past but acknowledges its benefits.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith.
Childhood innocence and innocence lost in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The Studs Lonigan Trilogy: "Young Lonigan," "The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan," and "Judgment Day" by James T. Farrell.
The story of an Irish "tough guy" growing up in 1930s Chicago, and what makes him that way.
“Year of the French,” “Tenants of Time,” and “The End of the Hunt," by Thomas Flanagan.
Historical fiction trilogy set in Ireland that spans 1798-1921.
“Angela's Ashes,” by Frank McCourt.
This autobiography, written when the late author was past 60, has gained international renown.
“American Requiem: God, My Father and the War that Came Between Us,” by James Carroll.
Carroll, a former priest, and his brand of Catholicism expressed by social justice activism that is not the church of his father.
“The Last Hurrah,” by Edwin O'Connor.
This story of Frank Skeffington's final run for office gives a probing look into the Irish political machines.
“Ironweed,” by William Kennedy.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a drifter in Albany, NY who talks to ghosts was later made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.
“The Ginger Man,” by J.P. Donleavy.
Banned in the U.S. when it was published in the 1950s, this picaresque tale of Sebastian Dangerfield's racy adventures in Dublin has become a modern classic
“Banished Children of Eve,” by Peter Quinn.
A story set during New York's Civil War draft riots. Lincoln needed bodies; the Irish were coming in droves; New York was almost burned down.
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“Charming Billy,” by Alice McDermott.
The everyday struggles of assimilated Irish Americans in Queens, NY.
“Paddy's Lament, Ireland 1846-47: Prelude to Hatred,” by Thomas Gallagher.
The stories of those who lived through and died in the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.
“The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Patriarch Joe Kennedy wanted to be president but knew it was not yet the time for an Irish Catholic to reach that height…
“Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America,” by Kerby Miller.
Learn how Irish immigrants got to the US and the impact of their coming.
“A Drinking Life,” by Pete Hamill.
The popular reporter's memoir explores the complicated relationship between the Irish and alcohol.
“How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe,” by Thomas Cahill.
This book, which argues the case for the critical role of the monks in preserving European culture and history from waves of invaders, became a worldwide phenomenon.
“Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster,” by T.J. English.
“How the Irish Invented Slang,” by Dan Cassidy.
The influence of the Irish Gaelic on English that persists today.
“The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America,” ed. by Michael Glazier.
An essential reference tool.
“The Irish Voice in America,” by Charles Fanning.
The great writers who came over before, after, and during famine times and wrote of how life was "on the other side."
* Originally published in Aug 2016. Updated November 2023.