The most recommended books on Irish Americans

Who picked these books? Meet our 54 experts.

54 authors created a book list connected to Irish Americans, and here are their favorite Irish American books.
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What type of Irish American book?


The Famine Ships

By Edward Laxton,

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

Jonatha Ceely Author Of Mina

From the list on understanding women in 19th century England.

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.

Jonatha's book list on understanding women in 19th century England

Why did Jonatha love this book?

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.

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.

What is this book about?

Between 1846 and 1851, more than one-million people--the potato famine emigrants--sailed from Ireland to America. Now, 150 years later, The Famine Ships tells of the courage and determination of those who crossed the Atlantic in leaky, overcrowded sailing ships and made new lives for themselves, among them the child Henry Ford and the twenty-six-year-old Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather of John F. Kennedy. Edward Laxton conducted five years of research in Ireland and interviewed the emigrants' descents in the U.S. Portraits of people, ships, and towns, as well as facsimile passenger lists and tickets, are among the fascinating memorabilia in The Famine…

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)

Cindy Thomson Author Of Grace's Pictures (Ellis Island)

From the list on Irish immigrant historical fiction.

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.

Cindy's book list on Irish immigrant historical fiction

Why did Cindy love this book?

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.

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…

Seven Million

By Gary Craig,

Book cover of Seven Million: A Cop, a Priest, a Soldier for the IRA, and the Still-Unsolved Rochester Brink's Heist

Mark Bulik Author Of The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America's First Labor War

From the list on Irish American true crime.

Who am I?

I’ve been a newspaperman for 40 years, the last 25 at The New York Times, and crime is the meat and potatoes of the business. My mother came from an Irish American clan in the Pennsylvania township where the Molly Maguires were born – my great-uncle died at 13 in the mine where the Mollies made one of their first recorded appearances. So I’ve been fascinated by Irish American true crime ever since the Sean Connery film The Mollies Maguires came out in 1970. I’ve spent most of my adult life researching the subject, and have given lectures on it all over the country.

Mark's book list on Irish American true crime

Why did Mark love this book?

In 1993, a gang of thieves got away with $7 million in a heist at a Brink’s depot in Rochester, N.Y – and the bulk of it has never been recovered.

The cast of characters includes a former I.R.A. man who’d done prison time in Northern Ireland, an activist priest, an ex-cop who became a suspect, and a charismatic prizefighter whose dismembered body was found in Lake Ontario.

I liked this because at the center of it all is the lingering question of whether the missing money ended up with the Irish Republican Army. 

By Gary Craig,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On a freezing night in January 1993, masked gunmen walked through the laughably lax security at the Rochester Brink's depot, tied up the guards, and unhurriedly made off with $7.4 million in one of the FBI's top-five armored car heists in history. Suspicion quickly fell on a retired Rochester cop working security for Brinks at the time-as well it might. Officer Tom O'Connor had been previously suspected of everything from robbery to murder to complicity with the IRA. One ex-IRA soldier in particular was indebted to O'Connor for smuggling him and his girlfriend into the United States, and when he…

Manhattan Beach

By Jennifer Egan,

Book cover of Manhattan Beach

Priscilla Gilman Author Of The Critic's Daughter: A Memoir

From the list on loving and losing a complicated father.

Who am I?

I'm the daughter of a charismatic and complicated father, the late theater and literary critic and Yale School of Drama professor Richard Gilman. My memoir, The Critic's Daughter, tells the story of how I lost him for the first time when I was ten years old and over and over in the ensuing months and years; the book is my attempt to find him. I'm a former professor of English literature at Yale and Vassar, the mother of two boys, a book critic for the Boston Globe, and a literature, writing, and meditation teacher.

Priscilla's book list on loving and losing a complicated father

Why did Priscilla love this book?

Manhattan Beach is less experimental and more conventional than Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad and The Candy House, but it is every bit as moving, rich, and textured as those justly celebrated novels, and it contains one of the most touching father/daughter relationships that I've ever encountered in fiction.

A historical novel set in Depression and World War II-era New York City, Manhattan Beach begins with almost 12-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanying her rakish father, Eddie, on a mission to a wealthy gangster. A few years later, Eddie disappears after abruptly walking out on his family with no warning or explanation.

Has he been killed? Is he in hiding?  Why did he abandon a family he ostensibly loved? Plucky, brave Anna devotes herself to the search for her missing father with the ingenuity and zeal of the detectives she reads about in fiction.

I reviewed Manhattan Beach for…

By Jennifer Egan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A New York Times Notable Book

Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author.

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, Esquire, Vogue, The Washington Post, The Guardian, USA TODAY, and Time

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.…

The Agitator

By Peter Duffy,

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

Seth Rosenfeld Author Of Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

From the list on spies and radicals.

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.

Seth's book list on spies and radicals

Why did Seth love this book?

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.”

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.

What is this book about?

This story of an anti-fascist's dramatic and remarkable victory against Nazism in 1935 is an inspiration to anyone compelled to resist when signs of oppression are on the horizon

By 1935, Hitler had suppressed all internal opposition and established himself as Germany's unchallenged dictator. Yet many Americans remained largely indifferent as he turned his dangerous ambitions abroad. Not William Bailey.

Just days after violent anti-Semitic riots had broken out in Berlin, the SS Bremen, the flagship of Hitler's commercial armada, was welcomed into New York Harbor. Bailey led a small group that slipped past security and cut down the Nazi…

Ask Again, Yes

By Mary Beth Keane,

Book cover of Ask Again, Yes

Tanya E. Williams Author Of A Man Called Smith

From the list on emotional reads to leave you with a book hangover.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by people’s behavior since I was a child. I was the kid who asked too many impertinent questions, never satisfied with the short answer. When I fell in love with historical fiction, the history mingled with my interest in human psychology. I soon discovered that despite advancements throughout civilization, people’s wants, needs, and fears remain fairly consistent. The exploration of life experiences that are not our own through the power of a book is pure magic. I hope these recommendations will allow you to put another’s life on like you would your winter parka and just for a moment, gain an understanding of another’s trials and tribulations. 

Tanya's book list on emotional reads to leave you with a book hangover

Why did Tanya love this book?

What I loved most about Ask Again, Yes was the real to life feeling of how the character’s world view from childhood of their family, grew and expanded, and yes, became ever more complicated as the characters themselves aged. I was deeply impressed by the realities of daily life accompanied by the stress of living with alcoholism, mental illness, and family dysfunction. The common thread that tied it all together for me was the deep and believable feeling of love, loyalty, and forgiveness. This novel is a thought-provoking family drama that spans generations with wonderfully flawed characters and world building so real if you reach out your hand you might just be able to touch the wallpaper.

By Mary Beth Keane,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The triumphant New York Times Bestseller *The Tonight Show Summer Reads Pick*

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by People, Vogue, Parade, NPR, and Elle

"A gem of a book." —Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

How much can a family forgive?

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie NYPD cops, are neighbors in the suburbs. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

In Mary Beth Keane's extraordinary novel, a lifelong…

Medical Bondage

By Deirdre Cooper Owens,

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

Katherine Paugh Author Of The Politics of Reproduction: Race, Medicine, and Fertility in the Age of Abolition

From the list on the Dobbs decision in deep historical context.

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.

Katherine's book list on the Dobbs decision in deep historical context

Why did Katherine love this book?

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.

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…

Teacher Man

By Frank McCourt,

Book cover of Teacher Man: A Memoir

Wendy Bashant Author Of The Same Bright Moon: Teaching China's New Generation During Covid

From the list on teaching abroad.

Who am I?

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and a traveler for longer. As a child, I lived in Germany and Japan. When I grew up, I continued to travel, teaching and living in Thailand, London, and China. I’ve written book chapters, poetry, travel pieces, and won a number of writing prizes: the 2023 New York Book Festival prize and a finalist for both the Peter Taylor Prize for Literature and the Gival Press Novel Award. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and University of Rochester (PhD), I now live in San Diego with my husband and two cats, teach adult literacy, and work as a volunteer at the San Diego Zoo.

Wendy's book list on teaching abroad

Why did Wendy love this book?

This book reverses the pattern set so far. Rather than a Western teacher traveling to foreign lands, in this memoir, an Irishman travels to teach in New York City.

There, he becomes the teacher you always wanted: compassionate, funny, lyrical, a raconteur. He describes the range of his experiences, from vocational institute to highly competitive high school. In one assignment, he challenges his students to write a creative excuse for being absent. In another he asks the students to turn family recipes into poetry.

His book reminds us, through wit and sharp observation, why teachers, abroad or at home, are diplomats, magicians, myth-makers, and superheroes. In the end, he shows us how talented teachers take us on journeys and help us understand our place in the world.

By Frank McCourt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nearly a decade ago Frank McCourt became an unlikely star when, at the age of sixty-six, he burst onto the literary scene with Angela's Ashes, the Pulitzer Prize -- winning memoir of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland. Then came 'Tis, his glorious account of his early years in New York.

Now, here at last, is McCourt's long-awaited book about how his thirty-year teaching career shaped his second act as a writer. Teacher Man is also an urgent tribute to teachers everywhere. In bold and spirited prose featuring his irreverent wit and heartbreaking honesty, McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises…

Book cover of Still Life with Murder

Nhys Glover Author Of The Barbarian's Mistress

From the list on hot, tortured heroes saved by love.

Who am I?

I’ve always read and written Romance. But while my real life took center stage, I consigned my manuscripts to gather dust in my bottom desk drawer and went off to teach English and History and raise a family. When my real life got less hectic and the Indie Revolution started, I dragged my stories out, dusted them off, and started publishing them. Lo and behold, readers loved them as much as I did, and suddenly I had a whole new career. Teaching literature tends to make you critical, and I was super-critical of my ‘trashy’ romances. Now I’m proud I write stories women can read to relax and be entertained by. 

Nhys' book list on hot, tortured heroes saved by love

Why did Nhys love this book?

This is the first in the Nell Sweeney Mystery series. And the slow-burn romance extends over the whole series. Set in 19th Century Boston, these little gems kept me on the edge of my seat, while immersing me in the historical period.

Normally, I don’t find drug addicts make for the best romantic heroes, but William Hewett is not your typical hero. Sure, he was a surgeon in the Civil War, where he was injured physically and emotionally and has become hooked on opium because of it, but he’s not a scorch-your-panties-off kind of hot. (It is the Victorian era, after all.) Yet he’s a compelling character and perfect for the heroine who helps to save him. I found I was rooting for this pair every step of the way. I wanted him to heal, kick his habit, and have his HEA with the unconventional Miss Sweeney.

By P.B. Ryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Still Life with Murder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“What a thoroughly charming book! A beautiful combination of entertaining characters, minute historical research, and a powerful evocation of time and place.” —NYT bestselling author Barbara Hambly

Boston, 1868: The dawn of the Gilded Age, an era of burgeoning commerce and invention, of unimaginable new fortunes and lavish excess—for some. Born into poverty, young Nell Sweeney scratches by on her wits and little else until fortune blesses her with a position as nursery governess to the fabulously wealthy Hewitts. But she soon learns that ugly secrets lurk beneath the surface of their gold-plated world.

The Hewitts’ eldest son, William, a…

Small Mercies

By Dennis Lehane,

Book cover of Small Mercies

Peter David Shapiro Author Of Teacher's Pet

From Peter's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Reader Consultant Student Worrier

Peter's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Peter love this book?

What stands out for me in Small Mercies is the intensity of Lehane’s writing.

Like his earlier masterpiece, Mystic River, it is a tragic story of working-class people in South Boston, propelled by the loss of a protagonist’s beloved daughter. The added twist in Small Mercies is that it ties into the real-life history of court-imposed school busing in Boston to desegregate Boston schools.

We see this happening through the eyes of Mary Pat Fennessy, a fierce busing opponent, while also sharing the experiences of Black participants in those events, and while Mary Pat also goes to war against South Boston criminals who are ruining the lives of people around her.

I heard Lehane say at a book signing that working-class stories are inevitably tragic. As an exploration of rage, revenge, and grief, Small Mercies provides a memorable example.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Small Mercies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Instant New York Times Bestseller

“Small Mercies is thought provoking, engaging, enraging, and can’t-put-it-down entertainment.” — Stephen King

The acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer returns with a masterpiece to rival Mystic River—an all-consuming tale of revenge, family love, festering hate, and insidious power, set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in Boston’s history.

In the summer of 1974 a heatwave blankets Boston and Mary Pat Fennessy is trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mary Pat has lived her entire life in the housing projects of “Southie,” the Irish American enclave that stubbornly adheres to…