The best books on the sociology of literature

14 authors have picked their favorite books about the sociology of literature and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The History and Future of Reading

As a voracious reader, I’ve often wondered about why exactly reading is so pleasurable—so essential—and whether others feel the same way about books as I do. Leah Price writes about books and reading clearly and entertainingly, busting myths about a “golden age” of books as well as the much-feared “death of the book.” I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed every minute.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Books

By Leah St. James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What We Talk about When We Talk about Books as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Around 2000, people began to believe that books were on verge of extinction. Their obsolescence, in turn, was expected to doom the habits of mind that longform print had once prompted: the capacity to follow a demanding idea from start to finish, to look beyond the day's news, or even just to be alone. The "death of the book" is an anxiety that has spawned a thousand jeremiads about the dumbing down of American culture, the ever-shorter attention spans of our children, the collapse of civilized discourse.

All of these anxieties rely on the idea of a golden age, when…


Who am I?

As an avid reader, I'm curious about where books come from and what they do. How does a story get to be a book? How does someone become an author? What is happening to us as we read? I worked in publishing, and eventually, I started teaching other people how to become editors and publishers. As a faculty member, I had time to study and write about book history. I joined the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing when it was formed and became its president. The conferences helped me to learn about the history of books throughout the world and from pre-print times to the present.


I wrote...

Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge

By Beth Luey,

Book cover of Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge

What is my book about?

Even in an age of Google and Wikipedia, we continue to rely on books written by historians, scientists, economists, and other researchers to learn more about important subjects. My book looks at serious nonfiction—its authors, publishers, and readers—in the United States since World War II, the moment when the GI Bill opened college to thousands, and when paperbacks became widely available. I used the books themselves, publishers’ archives, authors’ correspondence, and surveys to learn why and how scholars and others write serious books for serious readers, and what those readers expect from the books they choose.

Bandersnatch

By Diana Glyer, James A. Owen (illustrator),

Book cover of Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings

Read this book if you want to get inside the heads of the two fathers of Fantasy, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. This book brilliantly ventures into what created the ‘Inklings’, and how they inspired each other to write fantastic stories of hobbits, dragons and magical worlds. This book particularly gripped me, because these two authors are my hero’s and have inspired my imagination above all others. This book even showed me how I could personally become an inkling, and join forces with other creative, and inspired writers to create a new world all our own. 

Bandersnatch

By Diana Glyer, James A. Owen (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An inside look at the Inklings and their creative process

C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings met each week to read and discuss each other's works-in-progress, offering both encouragement and blistering critique. How did these conversations shape the books they were writing? How does creative collaboration enhance individual talent? And what can we learn from their example?

Complemented with original illustrations by James Owen, Bandersnatch offers an inside look at the Inklings of Oxford-and a seat at their table at the Eagle and Child pub. It shows how encouragement and criticism made all the difference…


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the fantastic since childhood—ever since I read my first book, The Princess & the Goblin. As a young adult, I lived on the Emerald Isle of Ireland and I fell in love with the history and legends of the British Isles. Stories of King Arthur, Saint Patrick, and the mighty warrior Cu Chulainn inspired my imagination. Now through years of studying Arthurian Legend and Celtic Mythos—I write historical fantasy filled with the ageless inspirations of the ancient Celtic world.


I wrote...

Elanor and the Song of the Bard: The Once and Future Chronicles, Book 1

By Angela R. Hughes,

Book cover of Elanor and the Song of the Bard: The Once and Future Chronicles, Book 1

What is my book about?

Merlin was all Elanor could think of since her strange dreams had begun. She kept reminding herself that he was not real. He was just a dream. However, it didn’t feel like a dream, and thoughts of him never left her mind. She mused on this as she walked the few blocks to the bookstore. The bell on the door jingled as she entered and headed to the back shelves that held the fiction books. An older gentleman stood nearby, scanning the pages of a book he held in his hands, King Arthur and His Knights. “Elanor.” The old man’s voice stopped her cold. Her heart raced as she slowly turned to face him. “How do you know my name…”

Book cover of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England

Curious about the century that produced works as varied as Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Bleak House? This is the book for you! Because it is organized by topics—money and social precedence to begin and the workhouse and death to end—it is easy to dip in and out of. It has added greatly to my understanding of 19th-century fiction. The invaluable glossary at the end lists terms that are strange to us in the 21st century and gives clear brief definitions. Now I know that loo was not an English euphemism for a toilet and that a ha-ha was not a joke! 

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew

By Daniel Pool,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A "delightful reader's companion" (The New York Times) to the great nineteenth-century British novels of Austen, Dickens, Trollope, the Brontes, and more, this lively guide clarifies the sometimes bizarre maze of rules and customs that governed life in Victorian England.

For anyone who has ever wondered whether a duke outranked an earl, when to yell "Tally Ho!" at a fox hunt, or how one landed in "debtor's prison," this book serves as an indispensable historical and literary resource. Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details (did you know that the "plums" in Christmas plum pudding were actually raisins?) on the…


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.


A Sultry Month

By Alethea Hayter,

Book cover of A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846

There is something magical about this book. It’s a brilliant piece of research and a touching evocation of a particular summer when, among other things, the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were secretly planning their elopement, Tennyson was planning a walking tour in Switzerland that included a visit to Charles Dickens, P. T. Barnum was touring with “General Tom Thumb,” and the artist Benjamin Haydon was approaching suicide. I was bowled over by the richness of lives lived packed into just two hundred pages.

A Sultry Month

By Alethea Hayter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Wine and dine with Victorian London's literati in a heatwave in one of the first ever group biographies, introduced by Francesca Wade (author of Square Haunting).

Though she loved the heat she could do nothing but lie on the sofa and drink lemonade and read Monte Cristo .

'Never bettered.' Guardian
'Brilliant.' Julian Barnes
'Wholly original.' Craig Brown
'A pathfinder.' Richard Holmes
'Extraordinary.' Penelope Lively

June 1846. As London swelters in a heatwave - sunstroke strikes, meat rots, ice is coveted - a glamorous coterie of writers and artists spend their summer wining, dining and opining.

With the ringletted 'face…


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.


Song of the Vikings

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

The very fact that we have written records of the Viking myths, other than Runestones, is thanks to Icelandic historian, poet, and politician Snorri Sturluson. His Icelandic Sagas inspired many writers, including Tolkien and Lewis. In her biography of this influential medieval writer, Ms. Brown not only tells us about Sturluson’s life but also summarizes much of his writing and puts it into context with Norse fables. If you’ve ever wondered how much of the Viking stories were historical facts and how much of it is Sturluson’s imagination, this is a great book to read.

Song of the Vikings

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Song of the Vikings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Indie Next pick for December 2012, Song of the Vikings brings to life Snorri Sturluson, wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature. Tales of one-eyed Odin, Thor and his mighty hammer, the trickster Loki, and the beautiful Valkyries have inspired countless writers, poets, and dreamers through the centuries, including Richard Wagner, JRR Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman, and author Nancy Marie Brown brings alive the medieval Icelandic world where it all began. She paints a vivid picture of the Icelandic landscape, with its colossal glaciers and volcanoes, steaming hot…


Who am I?

I grew up in Sweden surrounded by archaeology steeped in Viking history, which fueled my interest in Norse mythology. For example, Uppåkra, the largest and richest Iron Age settlement in Scandinavia, is only a few miles from my childhood home. When my seventh-grade history teacher noticed my fascination with the Viking myths, he started recommending me books. Ever since, I’ve read extensively about the Norse pantheon, and its stories inspire my own writing. I’ve also taken several research trips to historical Viking settlements in Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.


I wrote...

A Wolf's Hunger: A Sexy Fated Mates Paranormal Romance

By Asa Maria Bradley,

Book cover of A Wolf's Hunger: A Sexy Fated Mates Paranormal Romance

What is my book about?

Wolf shifter and billionaire Arek Varg is the alpha of all the Western Packs. His ancient Odin medallion allows him to connect with his packs’ magic and lead his wolves as a cohesive unit. With war brewing between the four major shifter coalitions, the last thing he needs is a mysterious woman stealing his relic.

Former museum curator Dr. Laney Marconi fell from grace due to a scandal based on false accusations. She now reclaims stolen items for insurance companies, using her witch powers that manipulate parallel dimensions. When a routine case turns into a disaster of epic proportions, she needs to evade the sexy shifter she stole from long enough to figure out who set her up.

Book cover of The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Paris

Beginning in the seventeenth century at the moment when Paris was redesigned, it became a great literary city and the center of the French literary tradition. For anyone interested in how the most important French writers have celebrated their city and depicted the ways in which Paris has changed over the centuries and the impact such changes have had on its inhabitants this is the perfect book.

The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Paris

By Anna-Louise Milne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Paris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No city more than Paris has had such a constant and deep association with the development of literary forms and cultural ideas. The idea of the city as a space of literary self-consciousness started to take hold in the sixteenth century. By 1620, where this volume begins, the first in a long line of extraordinary works of the human imagination, in which the city represented itself to itself, had begun to find form in print. This collection follows that process through to the present day. Beginning with the 'salon', followed by the hybrid culture of libertinage and the revolutionary hotbeds…


Who am I?

I’ve lived in cities all my adult life and currently divide my time between Paris and Philadelphia. And while those two cities are strikingly different places, they have in common the fact that they are both great walking cities –- urban centers that can be explored on foot and easily enjoyed by pedestrians. Walking cities, I believe, provide not only an ideal context for today’s tourists but also a model for a future in which urban dwellers become less reliant on automobiles and urban centers more open to foot traffic than to vehicular pollution and congestion. The books I’ll recommend deal in various ways with the building and rebuilding of visionary cities, and of Paris in particular.


I wrote...

Book cover of How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

What is my book about?

What makes a city great?

To answer this, I explored the decades in the seventeenth century when French kings put visionary architects in charge of one of the most spectacular projects in the history of urban planning. These architects reimagined such basic urban building blocks as the street and the bridge. They also invented new ones – the boulevard in particular. As a result, they redefined the urban experience for both Paris’s inhabitants and visitors alike. Paris became a new kind of city, a blueprint for great cities to come. I believe that great architects and great architecture are essential to the making of any great city. 

Book cover of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity

Nowadays, Jane Austen’s novels look superficially like historical romances, but she actually wrote contemporary novels for a contemporary audience, and they are much more complicated and subtle than they first appear. This book explains many of the mentions of people, places, and events in her novels that were obvious to her readers, but which are far from obvious now.

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen

By Janine Barchas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Matters of Fact in Jane Austen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, Janine Barchas makes the bold assertion that Jane Austen's novels allude to actual high-profile politicians and contemporary celebrities as well as to famous historical figures and landed estates. Barchas is the first scholar to conduct extensive research into the names and locations in Austen's fiction by taking full advantage of the explosion of archival materials now available online. According to Barchas, Austen plays confidently with the tension between truth and invention that characterizes the realist novel. Of course, the argument that Austen deployed famous names presupposes an active celebrity…


Who am I?

I was brought up in Maidenhead in Berkshire, a town on the River Thames to the west of London. After studying archaeology at University College, Cardiff, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist. I met my wife, Lesley, on an excavation at Milton Keynes, and we have worked together ever since, both in archaeology and as authors of archaeology and history books. It was only after studying the Napoleonic period, which was when Jane Austen lived and wrote, that I understood the context of her novels and came to a much deeper appreciation of them.


I wrote...

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago

What is my book about?

The book is about how ordinary people lived during Jane Austen’s lifetime, based on eyewitness accounts. Her novels are centred on the upper classes, because they were the people who had spare money to buy books and spare time to read them. To understand her novels, it is necessary not only to know the way of life of the upper classes and aristocracy, who are portrayed and often satirised in her work, but also how the vast majority of people lived who are not represented in the novels. It is the labour and skills of these people who supported the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

Mafalda

By Isabella Cosse,

Book cover of Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America's Global Comic

There is no U.S. equivalent to the comic strip “Mafalda,” a strip centered around a young, middle-class girl and her entourage of neighborhood friends set in mid-1960s Buenos Aires. The strip itself only lasted a decade but its afterlives continue to reverberate across Latin America and throughout other parts of the world. Today, the face of Mafalda—the strip’s namesake—can be found with a speech bubble protesting any number of injustices. It is probably no exaggeration to say that this is the most important comic strip ever written, and one whose appeal lies both in its simplicity and the subtle depth of its political humor. Published here in translation, Cosse, a noted scholar of cultural and social history, has written a biography of the strip and its characters as a way not only of understanding the crisis of Argentina’s middle classes, but the ways in which the mass media transform objects…

Mafalda

By Isabella Cosse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since its creation in 1964, readers from all over the world have loved the comic Mafalda, primarily because of the sharp wit and rebellious nature of its title character-a four-year-old girl who is wise beyond her years. Through Mafalda, Argentine cartoonist Joaquin Salvador Lavado explores complex questions about class identity, modernization, and state violence. In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America's Global Comic-first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time-Isabella Cosse analyzes the comic's vast appeal across multiple generations. From Mafalda breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to readers…


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the political aesthetics and political ferment of the 1960s. As someone born in the 1960s but not of the 1960’s generation, this has allowed for a certain “critical distance” in the ways I approach this period. I'm especially fascinated by the global circulation of cultural protest forms from the 1960s, what the historian Jeremy Suri called a “language of dissent.” The term Global Sixties is now used to explore this evident simultaneity of “like responses across disparate contexts,” such as finding jipis in Chile. In our book, The Walls of Santiago, we locate various examples of what we term the “afterlives” of Global Sixties protest signage. 


I wrote...

The Walls of Santiago: Social Revolution and Political Aesthetics in Contemporary Chile

By Eric Zolov, Terri Gordon-Zolov,

Book cover of The Walls of Santiago: Social Revolution and Political Aesthetics in Contemporary Chile

What is my book about?

From October 2019 until the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, Chile was convulsed by protests and political upheaval, as what began as civil disobedience against a metro fare hike transformed into a vast resistance movement. Throughout, the most striking aspects of the protests were the posters, graffiti, and other political graphics that became ubiquitous in Chilean cities. I was in Chile with my family on a Fulbright Fellowship when the estallido social erupted. Our book offers an entryway for understanding this dramatic set of events but also the layered meanings behind the array of political graphics which defined this social revolution, a revolution whose impact continues to reverberate across Chile and Latin America.

Book cover of Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future

This book was amazing in helping me think about Shakespeare and the history of divisions in our own history. Like all of James Shapiro’s work, Shakespeare in a Divided America is filled with fascinating information delivered in lively and engaging prose. This book provides a cultural and historical exploration of how readings and performances of Shakespeare’s plays in the past two centuries have exposed fault lines in our country’s political and social fabric. In the nineteenth century, the assassination of President Lincoln and the deadly Astor Place Riots; in the twentieth-century debates over free speech, gender, immigration, and race; and in our own time controversies over political division and Trump-era extremism: Shapiro shows how all of these have issues played out through the vehicle of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Othello

Shakespeare in a Divided America

By James Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shakespeare in a Divided America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year * A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist * A New York Times Notable Book

A timely exploration of what Shakespeare's plays reveal about our divided land.

"In this sprightly and enthralling book . . . Shapiro amply demonstrates [that] for Americans the politics of Shakespeare are not confined to the public realm, but have enormous relevance in the sphere of private life." -The Guardian (London)

The plays of William Shakespeare are rare common ground in the United States. For well over two centuries, Americans of all stripes-presidents…


Who am I?

I have been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare since I was a child and read a kid biography of the queen and saw a Shakespearean comedy. The two topics are completely intertwined—Elizabeth saw Shakespeare’s plays at court and the strong women in Shakespeare’s plays reflect the queen. Elizabeth and Shakespeare have been both my passion and my profession. I have loved teaching and writing about them. One of my favorite things to do is to go see Shakespeare plays and to see portraits of the queen at museums. This passion has so enriched my life. The queen and the playwright have been very good to me. 


I wrote...

The Reign and Life of Queen Elizabeth I: Politics, Culture, and Society

By Carole Levin,

Book cover of The Reign and Life of Queen Elizabeth I: Politics, Culture, and Society

What is my book about?

“There is no such thing as too many books on Elizabeth I and Carole Levin once more proves it. This book is the pinnacle of Elizabethan studies. Thoroughly researched with new primary evidence, scholars and students alike will find it indispensable for the study of Elizabeth I’s reign. This is undoubtedly a significant contribution to our understanding not only of the queen herself but of the politics and culture of her reign and as usual Carole Levin shows what a groundbreaking scholar she truly is.”

Estelle Paranque, New College of the Humanities, London, UK

King John (Mis)Remembered

By Igor Djordjevic,

Book cover of King John (Mis)Remembered

Like Nero, King John’s awful reputation has been subject to revision in recent years, though others insist that his “lechery and treachery,” not to mention his cruelty, still places him as England’s worst king. John’s image was rehabilitated in the sixteenth century, however, when the king, in Djordevic’s words, became a “virtual obsession” among writers, dramatists, and contemporary historians.  Shakespeare created a tragic John seeking to defend his crown from rival claimants, foreign invasion, and an intrusive pope, while Protestant writers displayed an even more favorable stance towards John, who had opposed an intrusive papacy. John-as-tyrant was a crowd-pleaser, however, which accounted for the production of plays and poems that continued the traditional portraits of the mad, bad king.   

King John (Mis)Remembered

By Igor Djordjevic,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked King John (Mis)Remembered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

King John's evil reputation has outlasted and proved more enduring than that of Richard III, whose notoriety seemed ensured thanks to Shakespeare's portrayal of him. The paradox is even greater when we realize that this portrait of John endures despite Shakespeare's portrait of him in the play King John, where he hardly comes off as a villain at all. Here Igor Djordjevic argues that the story of John's transformation in cultural memory has never been told completely, perhaps because the crucial moment in John's change back to villainy is a literary one: it occurs at the point when the 'historiographic'…


Who am I?

I'm a professor of history at the Graduate Center and Queens College at the City University of New York, where I'm also director of the Irish Studies program and the MA program in Biography and Memoir. My specialty, covered in five books that I’ve authored or co-edited, is English and Irish history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; my new book represents the culmination of a decade’s research devoted to Ireland. In addition to teaching British and Irish history, I offer more unusual and wide-ranging classes including the history of the devil, the history of crime and punishment, and the history of the body. My life is divided between New York City and mid-coast Maine.


I wrote...

The Devil from Over the Sea: Remembering and Forgetting Oliver Cromwell in Ireland

By Sarah Covington,

Book cover of The Devil from Over the Sea: Remembering and Forgetting Oliver Cromwell in Ireland

What is my book about?

Oliver Cromwell is the great villain of Irish history, remembered for two spectacular massacres, a scorched-earth military campaign, a policy of banishing priests to Barbados, forced population transfers, and massive land confiscation. My book attempts to chase down all the diverse ways in which Cromwell was bitterly remembered in order to understand the importance of his legacy in shaping modern Irish history and identity. Ruins on the landscape were said to be inflicted “by Cromwell and his men”; Gaelic poets cursed him with venom; political agitators invoked his name in speeches; and folk tales described him as a monster, a cobbler, or a king. The book raises larger questions about the purpose of national villains and the creative channels by which people made meaning out of traumatized pasts.

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