The Word on the Street

Word on the Street: New about New England books and authors

The Illustrated London News

Irish Famine revisited

One hundred and sixty years after the Great Irish Famine, the tragedy remains a defining force in Ireland and Boston. More than a million people perished between 1845 and 1852. Many more fled to America and elsewhere. Boston was a major destination for the refugees — by 1870 they accounted for more than 20 percent of its population — and they have long played a dominant role in the city.

For decades following the famine, little was said or written about it. Today it is the subject of a monumental study. “Atlas of the Great Irish Famine” (New York University), edited by John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy, is aimed at general readers as well as academics. It analyzes the famine on a parish-by-parish basis, contemplating details of daily life, and it situates the Famine in the context of others throughout the world. It includes essays by more than 50 scholars — examining, among other subjects, relief measures and land reform — as well as maps, period illustrations, and archival documents.

The atlas, first published in Ireland earlier this year, was launched in the United States in recent weeks with receptions in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Not that anyone needs more evidence of Boston’s enduring connection to Ireland, but it was the Boston chapter of the University College Cork alumni association that hosted the gathering.

Local authors honored


Two New England authors won top honors in the instructional division of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Awards. Jerry Monkman’s “AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography: Creating Great Nature and Adventure Photos” (Appalachian Mountain Club) covers equipment, lighting, composition, and exposure. Monkman discusses the techniques he used in the field and at his computer to produce each of 15 photographs.

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Kristin Hostetter’s “Backpacker Magazine’s Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair: Step by Step Techniques to Maximize Performance and Save Money” (Falcon) consolidates the knowledge she has gained in 18 years as gear editor for Backpacker magazine. She even devotes an entire chapter to what can be done with a roll of duct tape.

Writing influences

Decades ago, as Margot Livesey read over her early attempt at a novel, she realized that her ardent reading of great writers was little in evidence. Questions about literary inspiration were on her mind again as she wrote her seventh novel, “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” (Harper), a reimagining of “Jane Eyre” in 1960s Scotland. Livesey, a Radcliffe Institute fellow this year, will discuss what can be gained and lost by drawing on the works of others in “Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be: Homage, Appropriation, and Influence” at 4 p.m. Dec. 10 in the Radcliffe Gymnasium, 10 Garden St., Cambridge. Past Radcliffe Institute fellow Claire Messud, who has a new novel coming out in the spring, will introduce her.

Coming out

 “Two Graves” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central)

 “Nano”by Robin Cook (Putnam)


 “Raised from the Ground”by Jose Saramago, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Pick of the week

Dominica Plummer of Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt., recommends “Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths” by Nancy Marie Brown (Palgrave Macmillan): “As you read about 13th-century storyteller Snorri Sturluson, you will learn the history of the fiercely independent Icelanders and the often difficult relationships they had with their Scandinavian neighbors. This book is full of blood-curdling tales of family rivalries interwoven with stories of Norse gods and other mythical creatures.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.