The best books on Irish Americans

15 authors have picked their favorite books about Irish Americans and why they recommend each book.

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The Agitator

By Peter Duffy,

Book cover of The Agitator: William Bailey and the First American Uprising Against Nazism

In this deft work of nonfiction, Duffy tells the life and times of William Bailey, a rough-hewn, big-hearted longshoreman turned Communist activist, and how on one summer day in 1935 he and several compatriots came to stage a remarkable protest by hauling down a swastika flag from the SS Bremen, the flagship of Hitler’s commercial fleet. Events unfold as the deluxe passenger liner, which was heartily patronized by many Americans and Europeans, hosted a glitzy party while docked in Manhattan harbor. It was years before the outbreak of World War II, but Hitler already had commenced his anti-Semitic and other repressive initiatives. The trial and acquittal of Bailey et al., and the diplomatic fallout, was what Duffy describes as “the first blow landed against the Third Reich by foreign adversaries, delivered without guns or bombs.”

The Agitator

By Peter Duffy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Agitator as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Seth Rosenfeld is an independent investigative journalist and author of the New York Times best-seller Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. As a staff reporter for The San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, he specialized in using public records and won national honors including the George Polk Award. Subversives, based on thousands of pages of FBI records released to him as a result of several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, won the PEN Center USA’s Literary Award for Research Nonfiction Prize, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award, and other honors.


I wrote...

Book cover of Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

What is my book about?

In the mid-1960s, the FBI was secretly involved with three charismatic figures: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio, and the liberal university president Clark Kerr. Subversives traces these converging narratives in a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters, and secret detention lists, all centered on the Free Speech Movement at the University of California’s Berkeley campus.

Subversives provides a fresh look at the legacy of the sixties, sheds new light on one of America’s most popular presidents, and tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power.

Medical Bondage

By Deirdre Cooper Owens,

Book cover of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

Did you know that the supposed ‘father of gynecology’ built his practice on horrific medical experiments conducted on African-American and Irish women? Owens’ book exposes how J. Marion Sims’ practice amongst relatively elite white women was built upon procedures that he developed through experimentation on Black and Irish women’s bodies, and particularly a series of experimental surgeries to repair African-American women’s fistulas, which were painful and debilitating tears between the vagina and the bladder or anus that developed during childbirth. Cooper makes a crucial and revealing methodological move by recovering and reframing the lives of the women who were objectified by these experiments.

Medical Bondage

By Deirdre Cooper Owens,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Medical Bondage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The accomplishments of pioneering doctors such as John Peter Mettauer, James Marion Sims, and Nathan Bozeman are well documented. It is also no secret that these nineteenth-century gynecologists performed experimental caesarean sections, ovariotomies, and obstetric fistulae repairs primarily on poor and powerless women. Medical Bondage breaks new ground by exploring how and why physicians denied these women their full humanity yet valued them as ""medical superbodies"" highly suited for medical experimentation.

In Medical Bondage, Cooper Owens examines a wide range of scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as…

Who am I?

I am Associate Professor of Atlantic World Women’s History at the University of Oxford. The history of race, gender, and childbearing is my passion and my profession. The Dobbs decision pissed me TF off and inspired me to write this list. I hope you enjoy these books, and never stop questioning why women’s reproductive lives are controlled so minutely and why their reproductive labour is unpaid and unacknowledged.


I wrote...

The Politics of Reproduction: Race, Medicine, and Fertility in the Age of Abolition

By Katherine Paugh,

Book cover of The Politics of Reproduction: Race, Medicine, and Fertility in the Age of Abolition

What is my book about?

The Politics of Reproduction charts how the management of black women’s reproductive under slavery in the British empire laid the foundation for modern methods for managing women’s fertility. Politicians, slave owners, missionaries, and doctors all attempted to exploit the fertility of Black women's bodies in order to ensure the economic success of Britain’s Caribbean and North American colonies despite the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. This led to new strategies for managing sex and childbearing, such as centralized nurseries, discouragement of extended breastfeeding, and financial incentives for childbearing, that have become commonplace in our modern world. The story of a Barbadian midwife and her family dramatically illustrates the consequences of this obsession with maximizing Black women’s fertility.

Mrs. Mike

By Benedict Freedman, Nancy Freedman,

Book cover of Mrs. Mike

This book is about sixteen-year-old Katherine Mary O’Fallon, who early in the twentieth century, moves to Canada to recover from an extended illness. She falls in love with a six-foot-tall sergeant in the Canadian Mounted Police, Mike Flanigana man of courage, kindness, and humor. They marry, and overnight the couple travels for days by dog sled, as Mike is to become a combination of police, doctor, and mayor of a small community in the harsh, unforgiving Canadian Northern Territory.  

This story shows life in the untamed Northern Territory through the eyes of Kathy. Even though she is afraid and completely oblivious to the adventures before her, she faces her new life head-on. Through the kindness and calm positivity of her husband, Kathy heals from her illness, learns self-reliance, and finds an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed. The love story is sweet and the descriptions of life…

Mrs. Mike

By Benedict Freedman, Nancy Freedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mrs. Mike as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated with stories about women who step outside the norm and accomplish their goals. Books that tell of girls who are shy or insecure, but find inner strength in the face of adversity, inspire me. My mother wasn’t afraid to guide me toward these stories when I was young, and I gave books with this theme to my daughters as well. It doesn’t matter where you start from, it only matters where you think you can go, and I love books that share this idea; especially stories of women who do amazing and unexpected things.  


I wrote...

Love on the Line

By Kirsten Fullmer,

Book cover of Love on the Line

What is my book about?

Andrea leaves the stress and tedium of grad school behind and sets off with her estranged grandpa, Buck, to build a pipeline through the mountains of West Virginia. She hopes to prove herself to Buck and the all-male crew, as well as learn what drove Buck away from the family. 

Most of the guys on the crew aren’t willing to accept Andrea, and Rooster, the handsome and cocky, tie-in foreman, thinks she’s nothing but a distraction. Yet, he is impressed by her work ethic and is drawn to her on many levels. He’s also determined to prove himself to Buck, a pipeline legend, and he knows that messing with Buck’s granddaughter is a bad idea. Will Rooster and Andy take a chance on ruining their credibility in order to be together? 

Captains and the Kings

By Taylor Caldwell,

Book cover of Captains and the Kings

Caldwell opened my eyes not only to aspects of American history I wasn’t familiar with, but current politics with this heavy saga. Captains and the Kings highlighted the plight of Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s and then widened the scope to show the follies of the social classes, political corruption, and greed into the new century. True events and historical figures are woven into this fictional tapestry with such skill that everything seems plausible. I ended the read fearful for our future, like I’d typically get from reading a dystopian novel. It’s an intense read needing tissues, a search engine for looking up historical tidbits you might not be familiar with, and possibly a dictionary. The book haunts me to this day—in a good, though horrific, way.


Captains and the Kings

By Taylor Caldwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Captains and the Kings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller: Sweeping from the 1850s through the early 1920s, this towering family saga examines the price of ambition and power.

Joseph Francis Xavier Armagh is twelve years old when he gets his first glimpse of the promised land of America through a dirty porthole in steerage on an Irish immigrant ship. His long voyage, dogged by tragedy, ends not in the great city of New York but in the bigoted, small town of Winfield, Pennsylvania, where his younger brother, Sean, and his infant sister, Regina, are sent to an orphanage. Joseph toils at whatever work will pay…

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the feelings stories can evoke in readers since I cried over Bridge to Terabithia in middle school. From the time I was twelve, I’ve sought snapshots in time that ooze with a strong sense of place and flawed characters to capture my heart when reading. I’ve found well-researched historic Gothic family sagas to be the most consistent in delivering that raw emotional bond between the setting/characters and reader. As a writer, I strive to recreate what I crave when reading. The historic Gothic family sagas I’ve chosen represent an array of characters you will love—or love to hate—and cry over.


I wrote...

Perilous Confessions

By Carrie Dalby,

Book cover of Perilous Confessions

What is my book about?

Lucy Easton, an aspiring novelist, will do anything to boost her chances at publication—including betraying her family. But when she crosses paths with the charismatic Alexander Melling, her aspiration for success pales in comparison to the attraction she feels towards him.

Alexander is a young lawyer from a powerful family, striving to free himself from his father’s shadow. The more time he spends with Lucy, the more desperate he becomes to shed the secrets of his past—a past that can destroy both himself and the woman he’s falling in love with. From gossip magazines to gleaming Mardi Gras balls, Lucy and Alex navigate the Edwardian era in the Deep South with both passion and guilt.

Winter’s Tale

By Mark Helprin,

Book cover of Winter’s Tale

When writing brings me to tears, it's usually because I’m emotionally connected to the protagonist and his/her struggles. But with Mark Helprin, it’s the writing itself that makes me tear up. Yes, it’s that good. It’s the kind of writing that makes me happy to share the world with artists who can evoke so many emotions, using the same words we all use, every single day. Mark Helprin has written many beautiful books, but this one’s simply unforgettable. 

Winter’s Tale

By Mark Helprin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Winter’s Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

One night in New York, a city under siege by snow, Peter Lake attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks it is empty, the daughter of the house is home . . .

Thus begins the affair between this Irish burglar and Beverly Penn, a young girl dying of consumption. It is a love so powerful that Peter will be driven to stop time and bring back the dead; A New York Winter's Tale is the story of that extraordinary journey.


Who am I?

I’ve devoted my career to writing love stories. I’ve analyzed and dissected most of the great ones, always with the intention of writing something to join their ranks. Along the way, I noticed something interesting: the books that make people cry often stick with them, long after they’ve finished reading them. Perhaps this is because we all need to release feelings that are not socially acceptable? Whatever the reason, if you’re like me and love a good cry, then you’ll most certainly enjoy the books on my list.


I wrote...

The In Between

By Marc Klein,

Book cover of The In Between

What is my book about?

After bouncing around in foster homes for most of her childhood, seventeen-year-old Tessa Jacobs doesn't believe she deserves love – not from her adoptive parents, and certainly not from anyone at school. But everything changes when she has a chance encounter with Skylar, a senior from a neighboring town who's a true romantic.

When tragedy strikes, Tessa wakes up alone in the hospital with no memory of how she got there. And Skylar has passed away. As Tessa begins her relentless search for answers, Skylar's spirit reaches out to her from the other side. Desperate to see him one last time, Tessa must unravel the pieces of their relationship – and the truth might even lead her into the afterlife itself.

Song of Erin

By B.J. Hoff,

Book cover of Song of Erin: Cloth of Heaven/Ashes and Lace (Song of Erin Series 1-2)

This is a gritty story of the peril young Irish immigrants faced when coming to America, along with the hardships they were escaping back in Ireland. The fact that others were waiting to abuse and exploit the immigrants is certainly historically accurate. However, B.J. Hoff’s stories are always filled with hope and shine a light on hope in God. It’s Christian fiction, so readers should be aware of that. Also, this new edition includes two stories, a great deal. B.J. Hoff passed away in 2021 but left a long legacy of inspirational historical fiction.

Song of Erin

By B.J. Hoff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Song of Erin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mysteries of the past confront the secrets of the present in bestselling author BJ Hoff's magnificent "Song of Erin" saga. In her own unique style, Hoff spins a panoramic story that crosses the ocean from Ireland to America, featuring two of her most memorable characters. In this tale of struggle and love and uncompromising faith, Jack Kane, the always charming but sometimes ruthless titan of New York's most powerful publishing empire, is torn between the conflict of his own heart and the grace and light of Samantha Harte, the woman he loves, whose own troubled past continues to haunt…

Who am I?

I love exploring the theme of family legacies and learning the stories, even if fictionalized, of our ancestors who helped build America for future generations. I explored this theme with my Ellis Island series, but truly it influences everything I write. It began with my interest in my own genealogy and my love of research. Along with writing my own books, I host a blog on historical fiction called Novel PASTimes and am co-founder of the Faith & Fellowship Book Festival with the aim of connecting readers with really good books.


I wrote...

Grace's Pictures (Ellis Island)

By Cindy Thomson,

Book cover of Grace's Pictures (Ellis Island)

What is my book about?

Grace McCaffery hopes that the bustling streets of New York hold all the promise that the lush hills of Ireland did not. As her efforts to earn enough money to bring her mother to America fail, she wonders if her new Brownie camera could be the answer. But a casual stroll through a beautiful New York City park turns into a hostile run-in with local gangsters, who are convinced her camera holds the first and only photos of their elusive leader. A policeman with a personal commitment to help those less fortunate finds Grace attractive and longs to help her, but Grace believes such men cannot be trusted.

Spread thin between her quest to rescue her mother, do well in a new nanny job, and avoid the gang intent on intimidating her, Grace must put her faith in unlikely sources to learn the true meaning of courage and forgiveness.

Murphy's Law

By Rhys Bowen,

Book cover of Murphy's Law: A Molly Murphy Mystery

I fell in love with this series and its intrepid heroine Molly Murphy on page one. A young, penniless woman who has to rely on her own wits to make her way to America at the end of the 19th century, and a sea voyage that ends well enough until she becomes a murder suspect as soon as she arrives in Ellis Island - this impeccably researched historical mystery has all the ingredients I could want. It’s a satisfying mystery and a scathing social commentary, the tone of voice is clever and funny, and I didn’t just want to follow Molly on every step of her journey, I wanted to be her. 

Murphy's Law

By Rhys Bowen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Murphy's Law as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rhys Bowen, author of the much-loved Constable Evans mysteries, takes on the vibrant world of turn-of-the-century Ellis Island and New York in her newest series. With delightful humour and meticulous research Bowen transports readers to the gritty underworld that swallowed new immigrants who dreamed of a better life, and gives us the unforgettable heroine Molly Murphy, a resourceful Irish woman who lives by her own set of laws...

Who am I?

After years dedicated to the hard facts of a newspaper reporter’s life, including a sting covering the police beat, Carmen Radtke has changed her focus to fiction. She’s been fascinated by both history and mystery as long as she can remember and stays dedicated to the truth behind the lie, and the joys of in-depth research. As a repeated emigrant, she is enthralled by voyages into the unknown and the courage (or madness) that takes.


I wrote...

The Case of the Missing Bride: An Alyssa Chalmers mystery

By Carmen Radtke,

Book cover of The Case of the Missing Bride: An Alyssa Chalmers mystery

What is my book about?

The Case of the Missing Bride was inspired by an ill-fated voyage I stumbled upon during unrelated research. In 1862, reformers arranged for a group of impoverished young women in recession-stricken Australia to set sail for the newly formed province of British Columbia. They were supposed to marry prospectors but never arrived. Their undiscovered fate kept me awake at night, until I came up with an explanation that seemed plausible to me. The result was the first Alyssa Chalmers mystery, which became a Malice Domestic finalist and was nominated for a CWA Historical Dagger. I have no way of knowing if my idea is correct. What I do know is that these courageous young women deserve to be remembered.

Manhattan Beach

By Jennifer Egan,

Book cover of Manhattan Beach

Another WW2 story, this is the first Jennifer Egan novel I read, and I can’t remember why I pulled it from the shelf in the bookstore. Nevertheless, the noir tale of a young woman, Anna Kerrigan, working at a Brooklyn Navy Yard who "longs to walk along the bottom of the sea" had me hooked from that line. It is, in fact, something I once attempted as a child, weighing myself down with my father’s diving weights. I wasn’t successful, but I understand the longing to be underwater rather than above. I never achieved my dream, but Anna does. She becomes the only female navy diver, taking on the dangerous wartime role of repairing ships below the water line. It’s her guts and determination that drive the novel forward and she has so much to teach young, contemporary women.

Manhattan Beach

By Jennifer Egan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Manhattan Beach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

My passion is for writing stories about strong women. Most of my favourite characters in literature are strong women—Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre. It's their intelligence, and spirit that hooks me. Even when they're misguided or confronting overwhelming odds, they pull themselves back from the brink to begin on a slightly altered path to achieve their purpose. It's the heroine’s journey that draws me into a novel, and it's her journey I wish to describe in my own books. Unfortunately, studying history has shown me there's still a long way women need to travel in the journey towards gender equity. Let’s hope these characters can teach us all something.


I wrote...

The Hummingbird and the Sea

By Jenny Bond,

Book cover of The Hummingbird and the Sea

What is my book about?

Set in 1717, Book 1 of The Dawnland Chronicles tells the story of four people whose lives are inexorably linked when an enigmatic Englishman seeks shelter in the small, Puritan enclave of Eastham, Massachusetts. His brief presence upsets the balance of the close-knit town and sets in motion a series of events that overturns lives and forces even the most constant and devout to rebel against everything they hold sacred. Loyalties are tested and families are divided as individuals battle to deliver themselves from hardship, prejudice, and injustice.

Based on a true story of Puritans and pirates, The Hummingbird and the Sea is a powerful tale of love, faith, hidden passions, and the eternal search for freedom.

Orangutan

By Colin Broderick,

Book cover of Orangutan: A Memoir

Orangutan is a working-class opus. Broderick excels in his display of the grind and how some men can weather and accept, as the Boss sings, dying little by little, piece by piece, and how others need more help to make it through the day. The most compelling part of Broderick's writing is the way he is able to delineate between the haves and have-nots. And, no, I don't mean money. Some men can drink a six-pack on the weekend, even do some blow. They'll be fine. Others? Like Colin? A shot is too much of an allure. Not just to get drunk, wasted, blotto. It goes way deeper. It's a form of wakeful suicide. You get through the day. You get your paycheck. You survive. But the price is not living.

Orangutan

By Colin Broderick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Orangutan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I'm a mystery writer and teacher now. Back then, I spent 10 years homeless and addicted on the streets of San Francisco. I could always return to Mom in CT and get put in a cushy rehab. Until I couldn't. And then she was dying, and my younger brother was addicted and soon he'd be dead too. It got scary at the end because I wasn't just some white suburban kid playing a scumbag junkie. I was a scumbag junkie. But why do I have a passion for the topic? I guess it's because it isn't all bad. I know that sounds weird, but being homeless and addicted has moments of beauty and joy too. 

I wrote...

Junkie Love: A Story of Recovery and Redemption

By Joe Clifford,

Book cover of Junkie Love: A Story of Recovery and Redemption

What is my book about?

Junkie Love is my memoir in the 2nd ed, a novel in the first, because the publisher (Battered Suitcase) didn’t publish memoirs. It’s tricky with true stories because our memories are highly influenced. Add drugs? All bets are off. I can tell you this: I possess a remarkable retention, and though I write crime fiction now, I am not that creative. Save a few name changes and trip consolidation, that book is the truest story I’ll ever write. And I ain’t never going back. 

The Famine Ships

By Edward Laxton,

Book cover of The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America

I love primary sources and histories that reproduce them. Here is another amazing feat of historical detection. “Details have been taken from eye-witness accounts; original Certificates of Registration, paintings, and contemporary lithograph drawings have been reproduced,” may sound dry but this book is alive with the voices of immigrants telling both tragic and triumphant tales. Anyone whose Irish ancestors came to North America between 1846 and 1851 will want to examine the numerous passenger lists that Laxton includes. I think of this book and all it taught me when I visit my hometown and stop by the monument commemorating Irish immigrants on the shore of Lake Ontario.

The Famine Ships

By Edward Laxton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Famine Ships as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Some years ago, I believed that after I had read the “famous” 19th-century novelists Jane Austen at the beginning of the century, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens more or less in the middle, and Henry James, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton at the end, I had “done” the century and was disappointed that there was no more of worth to entertain me. Wrong, of course. Maria Edgeworth (Anglo-Irish) was a revelation; Catherine Maria Sedgewick (American) opened my eyes to New England; Margaret Oliphant (Scottish) combined the “weird,” spiritual, and a ruthless realism about family dysfunction. So I'm still reading. The 19th-century novels of Great Britain and America are an avocation and a passion.


I wrote...

Mina: A Novel

By Jonatha Ceely,

Book cover of Mina: A Novel

What is my book about?

In the musty attic of an upstate New York house, a woman finds a clasped box, hidden away for over a century. Inside, wrapped in cambric and tied with a green ribbon, is an old manuscript written by a girl dreaming of a better life, fighting for survival, and coming of age in a time of chaos and danger. This wondrously told tale is a stirring adventure set in nineteenth-century England, a novel of rich history and vibrant imagination.

The sights and sounds of nineteenth-century England come vividly to life in Jonatha Ceely’s magnificent novel, a tale that explores the intricate relationship forged by two people in hiding. Moving and unforgettable, Mina is historical fiction at its finest—a novel that makes you think, feel, and marvel…until the last satisfying page is turned.


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