Peter Taylor’s top 10 books on the Troubles

Peter Taylor, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, has covered the Irish conflict for 30 years. In his trilogy about the Troubles, he explores events from the points of view of the republicans, the loyalists, and now the British. Brits: The War Against the IRA charts the covert operations against the IRA and the road to the peace process.

1. Lost Lives by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeley and Chris Thornton
This is perhaps the most important book to have been written about the Troubles, and has to be top of the list. An astonishing work of journalism and scholarship that details in personal terms every death on every side in the 30-year conflict, it is painful, illuminating, desperately moving and sad.

2. Ten Men Dead: The Story of the 1981 Hunger Strike by David Beresford

A historic account of the great watershed of the conflict, this brings home in agonising detail what the IRA and INLA prisoners went through to prove their point. The Iron Lady versus the Iron Men, with short-term victory for Thatcher and long-term victory for the Provos.

3. Man of War, Man of Peace? The Unauthorised Biography of Gerry Adams by David Sharrock & Mark Devenport
An important corrective to Gerry Adams’s own account of his life. Sharrock and Devenport bravely go where others fear to tread on to ground that Adams can’t or won’t traverse.

4. Bandit Country: The IRA and South Armagh by Toby Harnden
Courageous journalism and compulsive reading as Harnden goes inside the most impenetrable and deadly of the IRA Brigades. Good judgment; great sources.

5. The Fight for Peace: The Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process by Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick

The most detailed and authoritative account of the road to the Good Friday Agreement. A classic of its kind by two of Northern Ireland’s finest.

6. Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA’s Soul by Kevin Toolis

Personal and highly readable account by one of the conflict’s most acute observers. Not unsympathetic, but no panegyric either. Raw reality with no punches pulled.

7. The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions by Ruth Dudley Edwards
A useful and controversial corrective to the predominantly pro-nationalist, pro-republican thrust of much of the literature. A Dublin Catholic goes Ulster native to produce a sympathetic and understanding portrayal of Protestant prisoners of history. To be read with an open mind.

8. Trinity by Leon Uris
One of the first books I read about the Troubles, way back in 1972, this is epic fiction bordering on soap. It gives the background to the ancient conflict between the trinity of nationalists, unionists and ‘Brits’ that painted Ireland’s history in blood. Excellent on the roots of the conflict and with great characters, both goodies and baddies.

9. Journeyman Tailor by Gerry Seymour
By one of the best fiction chroniclers of the conflict, this paints the mood, landscape and communities of East Tyrone in grim and realistic detail. A gripping page-turner to rival Seymour’s earlier classics, Harry’s Game and Fields of Blood. Wish I’d written them first.

10. Cal by Bernard Maclaverty
A towering achievement, this is the finest novel to emerge from the conflict. A terrible beauty – beautifully written, beautifully observed. Violence without glamour, brief and painfully sad.


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