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Black Potatoes

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 2001. Black potatoes: The story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0618002715.

Using a direct and serious tone, Bartoletti begins this book without preamble by stating "In 1845, a disaster struck Ireland." (Bartoletti, p.1) In the words of this short opening paragraph, she condenses the story of the famine into just a few sentences. Then, chapter by chapter, Bartoletti tells the story of the Irish Famine detail by detail.

Bartoletti writes in a straightforward and meticulous style that covers the famine from all of its different aspects. She is able to weave in personal stories, but also cover broad issues such as the economic, religious, and political angles. The author keeps her story moving by interspersing historical explanations throughout the story of the famine. For example, after beginning the first chapter by telling of the start of the famine and the cruel actions of British landlords, Baroletti then tells the history of the contention between England and Ireland. (Bartoletti, p.11) Although explanations such as these are included, the book moves chronologically through the famine years and keeps readers aware of the passage of time through frequent mentions of relevant dates.

A major strength of this text is the author's extensive and well-rounded research. Henderson commented on this in her review for Book Report by stating, "She skillfully weaves her tale, using newspapers, journals, letters and other original sources to engage readers." These sources are cited throughout the book and strengthen the credibility of the many details of the story. A "Bibliography and Sources" section is included at the conclusion of the text. This six page addition is written in first person and paragraph form, and it is organized into different topics. It also includes a paragraph that offers tips to "readers interested in helping people who suffer from hunger, poverty, and inadequate healthcare." (Bartoletti, p.180) A detailed yet concise timline is also included and helps readers to put all of the information into perspective. An index and map are also provided.

This entire book is printed in black ink on a heavyweight cream paper, which seems to echo the title of Black Potatoes. Included throughout the book are sketches originally published in newspapers contemporary to the times. These sketches done by artists who were witness to the famine give great visual insight into Bartoletti's words. Captions further explain the sketches and also cite the source for each. The book is divided into ten chapters along with an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter is titled using an exerpt from the text of that chapter, and also begins with a relevant saying or song from Irish lore. The chapters are further divided by subheadings that dilineate different topics. The main text is typed in a small serif font.

Henderson, Elizabeth. 2002. Black potatoes (book). Book Report 20(5). In EBSCOHost (database online). Available from http://search.epnet.com/login.asp.  Accessed 22 March 2005..

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