It may be impossible to understand Dublin without books. From Jonathan Swift to Maeve Binchy, Dublin has possibly produced more iconic works of literature per square foot than any other place in the world. Whether you’re planning a visit or just want to learn more about the city, books about Dublin are one of the best resources you have.
To get you started, we’ve chosen 10 of our favorite books about Dublin. Admittedly, many classics couldn’t make the list. This should give you a good starting point to explore several facets of the city across genre and throughout history.
Nonfiction Books About Dublin
For Those Looking For The Long History: Temple Bar By Maurice Curtis
Temple Bar, for the uninitiated, is not a specific place to get a drink, but a popular Dublin neighborhood with tourist attractions and nightlife. Author Maurice Curtis decided to take a closer look at the history of this one area of the city, and guides the reader all the way back to the Viking days. Temple Bar has a narrow geographical focus, but it explores the cultural and social importance of these streets, crafting a story that goes well beyond their borders.
For The Architecture Obsessed: Stones Of Dublin By Lisa Maria Griffith
A building can hold so many stories. Lisa Maria Griffith tries to tell a few of them in Stones of Dublin, a book that looks at 10 of Dublin’s iconic buildings to unearth some of their history. From Dublin Castle to St. James’ Gate Brewery (better known as Guinness Brewery), these buildings intersect with every aspect of Dublin life. And because these buildings are still standing today, it doubles as a tour guide to the city.
For The City Wanderer: Time Pieces By John Banville
John Banville is better known as a novelist, but you couldn’t ask for a better tour guide of the city. In Time Pieces, Banville takes you around Dublin, intertwining the history of the city with the story of his own life. Time collapses as his stories shift from long ago tales of the city to his childhood to the present. It’s the kind of book about the city that could only be told by someone who has known it all his life, and he reflects on his own changing attitudes toward Ireland’s capital city.
For The Revolutionary Reader: 1916 By Tim Pat Coogan
Countless historic events have taken place in Dublin, but the year 1916 — the year of the Easter Rising — will forever be imprinted on the city. On the 100th anniversary of Ireland’s uprising against the British forces that had controlled them, Tim Pat Coogan looks at the before-and-after of the events of that year. In the process, he disentangles the myth from the reality. This book provides an excellent introduction to a complex topic, and is especially valuable for those who may not be very familiar with the Easter Rising.
For The Memoirist: Are You Somebody? By Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain was a well-regarded Irish columnist, but her career really took off with the publication of her memoir Are You Somebody? Her candid descriptions of her impoverished childhood in North Dublin during the 1940s and ‘50s found a wide audience. While the book is specifically about her, it struck a chord with many in its descriptions of being a woman working in Dublin during the latter half of the 20th century. O’Faolain went on to write more books, but this memoir is truly her magnum opus.
Fiction Books About Dublin
For The Folklorist: Irish Fairy Tales And Folklore By William Butler Yeats
It’s a bit odd to include Ireland’s fairy and folk tales in the fiction section because for many throughout the country’s history, they’re based in fact. Even stout realists have had run-ins with the troublesome fairies who are known to cause problems when provoked. In Irish Folk And Fairy Tales, renowned Irish poet William Butler Yeats has compiled some of the most common myths that populate the Emerald Isle.
For The Classics Reader: Ulysses By James Joyce
It’s impossible to make a list of books about Dublin without James Joyce, whose books are intertwined with the city. Ulysses in particular is inextricable from the city, with its retelling of The Odyssey set in a single day in Dublin. The writing is so exacting that Joyce would make sure that the amount of time it takes a character to walk from one place to another in the novel matched up with how long it would take a person in the real world. For those who want a more approachable Joyce read, Dubliners is his short story collection that zooms in on the lives of various fictional inhabitants of the city.
For The Historical Fiction Lover: The Red And The Green By Iris Murdoch
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin and considered herself an Irish writer all her life, but only produced one novel set in her hometown: The Red and the Green. It also happens to be her only historical fiction, being set in the weeks leading up to the Easter Rising. The novel follows an Anglo-Irish family whose members are divided in their opinions of England. While not Murdoch’s most widely-lauded publication, it takes the history of the events very seriously, providing a fictionalized look at the rifts in the country.
For The Voracious Reader: Quentins By Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy was a prolific and widely beloved author. Quentins is about a young woman who falls in love with a married man who turns out to be a swindler, but it takes as its larger scene an upscale Dublin restaurant that shares its name with the title of the book. The book is presented as a series of interlinking short stories that covers the period from the 1970s onward — the book came out in 2002 — following the various characters who patronize the restaurant. To use a cliché, Dublin is one of the characters in the book, and many of the stories relate to the economic development of the city at the end of the 20th century.
For The Thriller-Seeker: In The Woods By Tana French
In the Woods is the debut novel of Tana French, a crime writer who has now written six books in the Dublin Murder Squad series. This one, the first in the series — though they don’t necessarily have to be read in order — is about the murder of a young girl that transports the lead investigator back to his own childhood, when he was involved in an eerily similar crime. While that may sound like a run-of-the-mill setup for a mystery, there’s no writer working today who has a better command of plot and suspense.