cover image The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero

Timothy Egan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-544-27288-0

Those who have heard of Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–1867) will likely know him as a Union general in the Civil War, but Egan (The Big Burn), National Book Award–winner for The Worst Hard Time, moves Meagher convincingly into the ranks of patriots of both the U.S. and Ireland. With novelistic skill, Egan fashions a dizzying tableau of the life of his restless subject. Meagher was an Irish revolutionary who was condemned to death but then exiled to Tasmania. He then escaped to America, where he lived in New York City and became active in Irish-American politics. He was later appointed general of the Union army’s Irish Brigade (which helped knit oft-scorned Irish immigrants into the American fabric) and became a heroic war leader, before becoming lieutenant governor of the Montana Territory. Egan also reexamines evidence about Meagher’s death in Montana, convincingly concluding that he was assassinated by frontier vigilantes resentful of his determination to create the rule of law. As history, Egan’s book is solid; as storytelling, it’s captivating. The work adds little to the broader picture of American history—it focuses on the scenes in which Meagher participated, and those have been exhaustively covered elsewhere—but it provides an impressive biography of a distinctive Irish-American figure, the patriot of two countries, faithful to each to his last. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Mar.)