Every new book by New York Times columnist Dan Barry is a cause for celebration, but the forthcoming one (to be released September 11) could arguably represent his magnum opus
"This Land: America, Lost and Found" by Dan Barry
Dan Barry understands, as few current American writers seem to, the directive hidden in the nation's motto "E Pluribus Unum" (out of the many, one) inspiring him to take to the open road to capture the remarkable American stories contained in his new book "This Land: America, Lost and Found."
The echo of Woody Guthrie is intentional because it's never just what Barry sees but the connections that he draws to illuminate and inspire. Culled from his recurring This Land column in the Times, which ran for 10 years from 2007 through 2017, these are stories he literally pursued across the country over the course of a decade, until the people he encountered became a kind of moving snapshot of the nation, in all its hopes and contradictions.
As always he says it best himself, “these are just average people who are mostly anonymous, and who represent, in different ways, who we are as a country.
"They’re just people trying to get by. They sometimes are forgotten or ignored, and so they’re lost in that way. I’m trying to say, ‘Well, here they’re found. Here they are.”
There's value in turning off your TV and powering down your iPhone and just talking to the people in this nation, he reminds us. The divisiveness on our airwaves and on our phone screens can find a corrective on our streets.
“We are in a divisive time in our country’s history,” he writes. “If ever we forget who we were and what our values were, here they are.”
It's a miraculous country, the United States, and what is most distinctive about Barry is that in this showboating era he has the patience and the skill to listen carefully when it sends someone new along to tell another part of its story.
In this collection, whittled down from the over 200 columns he wrote for the Times, he shows us who we were, who we are and who we could be, a particularly rich gift to share with this anxious age.
Black Dog, $29.99.
"Donegal & The Civil War, The Untold Story" by Liam O Duibhir
There's a long-postponed and consequential conversation to be had about County Donegal. In particular, it's all but surrender, politically and economically, by the emerging Free State government to its own devices in the aftermath of partition and right up until the current time.
In "Donegal & The Civil War, The Untold Story," author O Duibhir reminds us hw, in the aftermath of the death of Michael Collins the official order for the evacuation of Donegal came from Ernie O'Malley. Republican forces were literally being chased from one of the country to the other, with very few safe houses to turn to.
One IRA column was in the process of evacuating in November 1922 when they were arrested. Four members of this column were later executed in reprisal for an alleged attack on Creeslough Barracks in March 1922.
Pertinent details of the operations and intelligence reports are ostentatiously missing from the Bureau of Military History in Dublin, who were otherwise meticulous in their record keeping.
Those controversial executions came to signal the end of the Civil War in Donegal for many, although as O Duibhir notes the 1924 disinterring of the bodies of the men executed the previous year was the final coda.
What is clear from this book is that the destructive severance of the county from both Northern Ireland and in many ways the emerging Republic made Donegal an orphan and the living embodiment and echo of that tragic break.
After the game of cat and mouse that had erupted between pro and anti Treaty sides in 1922 the fragile truce was broken and the pro-Treat forces move with lightening speed to round up and intern their former comrades.
"Donegal & The Civil War, The Untold Story," tells the fascinating story of Donegal from the Truce of 1921 through the Northern Offensive to destabilize the new six county “nation”, to the end of the civil war. For many, it will be a unique and troubled history that is revealed for the first time.
Interested in more Irish books? You can join our IrishCentral Book Club here.