Jonathan Bardon covers all the obvious things: the invasions, battles, development of towns and cities, the Reformation, the Georgian era, the Famine, rebellions and resistance, the difference of Ulster, partition, the twentieth century. What makes his book so valuable, however, are the quirky subjects he chooses to illustrate how history really works: the great winter freeze of 1740 and the famine that followed; crime and duelling; an emigrant voyage; evictions. These episodes get behind the historical headlines to give a glimpse of past realities that might otherwise be lost to view.
The author has retained the original episodic structure of the radio programmes. The result is a marvellous mosaic of the Irish past, delivered with clarity and narrative skill.