There are at least seven major Collins biographies available currently plus specialist books on his famous ‘Squad; the women in his life, his Intelligence operations, correspondence with his fiancé, essays on his role in the shaping of modern Ireland and numerous books on the circumstances of his death. The authors however confront the issue head on. The biographies are of their times and while ‘the path is both well-worn and trodden’ this new study is presented because ‘there are simply more questions to be asked’. ‘The willingness’ observed the authors, ‘if not almost the insistence, to see Collins as the sum of what amounted to an Irish revolution, and in turn to reduce him to a simple caricature of his many parts, leaves our sense of both man and revolution much reduced’
However, this is not a new ‘revisionist’ text. The authors indicate that ‘Collins will not emerge as some colossus to bestride his age. Here he is a creature of it; he is one of many who might have risen to play his part’.
The book is not a narrative nor a chronological study. There are eight thematic chapters which examine the forces that made Collins, the organisations that shaped him, the parts that he played, the roles he relished and the things he believed in. This permits the authors to ask questions of Collins’s ‘politics, his wars, the figure he became, the fixation with his death, and the persistence of his afterlife’.
The book is exceptionally well illustrated. There are copies of Collins’s correspondence, many previously unseen photographs, leaves of his notebooks, cartoons, still from newsreels, newspaper headlines. Indeed, the book is worth acquiring for these alone!
This approach, essentially an interrogation of Collins’s life, is in fact a refreshing methodology and one which in the end offers the verdict to the reader. ‘Heroic, exceptional, unique are attributes for your own judgment, but this book would like you to consider that maybe he was just hungrier, luckier, more brazen, more tenacious, more written about, and eventually more photographed than many of the rest. Make a great man of him if you wish, but at least ask why we still need him to be great’.
This is a most valuable contribution to our understanding of Collins and his times. Highly recommended.