Terry Deary,
Horrible Histories: Ireland
(Scholastic, 2000)

The cartoony cover (with a talking "duck of the Irish" and a canine "Irish Rover") is enough to label Horrible Histories as a light-hearted book of humorous trivia. But here, the adage "don't judge a book by its cover" holds true.

Horrible Histories: Ireland is part of a series of similar books by Terry Deary on various times and places in world history, ranging from the Stone Age to modern times. This volume, obviously, focuses on Ireland, and it's packed cover to cover with historical tidbits from the island's bloody past.

Although obviously written with a young audience in mind (and published by Scholastic's children's division), the book is at times startling in its frank depiction of brutal incidents over the centuries. True, the book is very funny in places, and Martin Brown's witty cartoons illustrating the text often earn a few chuckles. But by the time you've reached the end -- horrific incidents perpetrated on both sides during the Troubles in the 20th century -- you'll be riveted by the seriousness of the events being so humorously described.

People young and old should read this book. While dry volumes of Irish history can be too tedious for some readers, Horrible Histories makes the past more interesting and palatable with its light-hearted approach. Some might find certain passages tasteless, making light of things it's impossible to find any hint of humor in, but by book's end you'll know a whole lot more about Ireland's tragic past.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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