For the past few decades, Oxford University Press has published a series of surveys of various topics of history. Consisting of a collection of essays by leading scholars, they possess both the strengths and deficiencies of this approach - while authoritative introductions to their topics, the quality of the writing and the focus can often vary widely. A good editor can mitigate these weaknesses while preserving their strengths, and it is a testament to the efforts of Roy Foster that this volume on the history of Ireland is as good as it is.
This book presents the history of Ireland in six chapters - five covering Ireland's past from the prehistoric period to the 1980s, and a sixth that addresses the topic of "Irish Literature and Irish History," a focus unique in the series. Each of these chapters provides a good overview to their respective eras, addressing political, economic, and social developments over the centuries. Some of the essays are inevitably stronger than others - I thought that Donnchadh O'Corrain's account of prehistoric and early Christian Ireland was especially clear and illuminating, while Katharine Simms's chapter on the island in the Middle Ages suffered from its excessive focus on the politics of the period - the book overall provides a reliable and insightful account of the span of Irish history. My only wish would be for a more thoroughly revised edition, one that would take into account both the recent developments in Irish history (David Fitzpatrick's comment that Ireland was "likely to remain" among "the poorest parts of western Europe" is particularly glaring in light of the island's economic emergence as the "Celtic tiger") and the titles that have since been published reflecting Ireland's maturing study of its past.