The Battle of the Books

By: W.J. McCormack

Publication Date: December 1989


The Battle of the Books by W.J. McCormack

The war of words between critics and writers is no paper conflict but affects daily life where literature and politics interact. The twentieth-century concern is nowhere more evident than in Ireland today where the growing ‘Troubles’ in Ulster gave critical debate particular focus. In The Battle of the Books, a clear-eyed survey, Bill McCormack assesses the alliances, the animosities, the factions, seeking to show the common ground they share even as they dispute its possession.

In his analysis of individual writers, journals and larger enterprises, McCormack raises some unexpected possibilities: Is Conor Cruise O’Brien best understood as a Catholic mystic? Should Field Day be seen as a depoliticising force in Irish culture? What truly distinguishes the manoeuvres of Seamus Heaney, Terence Brown, Edna Longley and Denis Donhgue from each other? Have critics begun to learn from historians, or have historians begun to fight shy of culture? Is the British “Literary Left” imperialist? Is there a non-sectarian art?

Underlying this polished and stimulating critique is a sombre awareness of literature’s contribution to political malaise, and a call for an engagement with the real forces that govern people’s lives.


W.J. McCormack is the pen name of Hugh Maxton. He was born in 1947 and is a lecturer of 19th and 20th century Irish literature.



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Weight 0.25 kg
Dimensions 135 × 215 mm
Publication Date

December 1989


Paperback, 96pp