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
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
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..