Father Browne’s Titanic Album: A Passenger’s Photographs and Personal Memoir

By E.E. O’Donnell

In 1912, the famous photographer Father Frank Browne received an unexpected windfall – a first class ticket for the Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton to Queenstown (now Cobh) in Co. Cork, courtesy of his uncle Robert Browne, bishop of Cloyne.

It was also his great good fortune not to have a ticket onward to the ship’s final destination, New York City, a port that it would never reach.

At Southampton on April 10, 1912 Father Browne boarded the ill-fated ship and was immediately transfixed. Before even stepping on board he had been awed by its awesome scale and began to take his celebrated photographs.

Immediately he set about capturing the passengers who caught his eye, from first class to steerage. Then he photographed the decks, the rooms, the facilities and many members of the Titanic crew in a series that has become the most important visual record of the ship at sea.

There is, of course, an eerie sense of foreboding in each of the portraits he took of the unsuspecting passengers, because we know what is coming for them.

E.E. O’Donnell is meticulous in the assembly and presentation of each chapter, and so Father Browne has met his match (O’Donnell found Father Browne’s 42,000 long forgotten negatives in a basement in Dublin in 1985).

Indeed the latter is so thorough in his cataloguing its almost as if he half suspected he was capturing the first and last moments of a ship that would soon become an almost legend.

This is easily one of the most remarkably evocative books on the ill-fated Titanic that I have ever seen. Page after page here leaps to life with a surprising urgency. Long dead faces peer out at you unguarded and open.

There must have been such a sense of occasion on board, a buoyancy even, for here was the pride of Belfast shipbuilding ready to take on the world. Father Browne eventually returned to port in Cork as the great ship turned westward for its first and last voyage. We can only be thankful for his presence, his photography and O’Donnell’s remarkable rediscovery of them.

Dufour, $31.

Recap: Inside Ireland’s Financial Crisis

By Kevin Cardiff

Kevin Cardiff was secretary general of the Department of Finance from 2006 to 2010, and then secretary general from 2010 to February 2012. In his riveting but strangely dispassionate new book, he tells the story of the life changing financial crisis that hit Ireland between 2008 and 2011.

A key figure in the government’s response team, Cardiff’s book is an insider’s account of the collapse, the tense negotiations that followed and the route that was eventually taken to rescue the Irish banks and other Irish financial institutions.

He’s present when the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen speeds into Paris with a motorbike police escort for crisis talks with European heads of state.

He’s present at the Central Bank in 2008 when staff from the Financial Regulator and the Department of Finance meet in groups to plan their crisis response.

It goes on like this for years. Meetings, crisis talks, raised voices, intimidating visits from the IMF and the EU to hammer out the €85 billion rescue program.

In a radio interview recently Cardiff famously said that in Ireland, “we have made too much of the culpability.” His book takes the same hands off approach.

As much as possible, Cardiff stays away from ascribing individuals or institutions with blame. He also eschews the messy business of contemplating all the lives that are being ruined by the crash.

Those things are emotive and distracting and his interest is to simply describe where he went, what he saw and what was said in the crisis years. Besides, it’s not an academic study, it’s a sketch from memory, he reminds us.

After the 2008 crash and the fallout that came after, Cardiff observed what he later called “a rebalancing of economists’ and markets’ opinion about Ireland, which is a result of concerted and determined efforts over a long period of time. But those efforts are at the cost of taxpayers and citizens who have to manage with fewer services or manage with less pay or higher taxes.”

Well, yes. Sucks for them, obviously. In 2012 Cardiff won the post of European Court of Auditors, which carries a salary of €276,000 per year. Nice work if you can get it.

Dufour, $27.