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8 January 1998 Edition

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A distant, distorted view

Man of War Man of Peace? The Unauthorised Biography of Gerry Adams.
By David Sharrock and Mark Devenport
Published by Macmillan
Price £16.99

In most biographies the relationship between the author and subject evolves, often conspicuously, as the book develops. Isaac Deutscher took this relationship to the extreme while researching his renowned biography of Leon Trotsky and became so obsessed with his subject that he even began to look like him. This is definitely not the case with David Sharrock and Mark Devenport, who have produced this ``unauthorised biography'' of Gerry Adams.

What is striking about the book is the lack of any personal engagement with the subject. This doesn't mean the authors have to like Gerry Adams. It means that there is an essential ingredient missing from the book - empathy - which makes the reader wonder what drove the two journalists, other than they wanted to produce a book that would link neatly into their work and add to the list of publications on their respective curricula.

Throughout the biography the authors insist that the Gerry Adams you see is not the Gerry Adams you get, with the implication that he is not a man to be trusted. Their evidence is provided by such impartial observers of the republican movement as Seán O'Callaghan and Kevin Myers, together with ``security'' sources, to give their argument credibility. Their fixation on this theme becomes apparent at an early stage in the biography: it inhibits a fuller exploration of the life and personality of their subject and makes the argument frequently tedious.

Given the authors' hostility towards Adams, it is questionable whether they could ever achieve a broad and unblinkered portrayal of their subject. Their account of his role in the movement is frequently disparaging and their tone is often arrogant, bordering on offensive at times.

Such is Sharrock and Devenport's enmity toward their subject and republican politics that it makes them begrudging of the movement's successes and leads to the formulation of assertions which are, at best, simplistic and, at worst, ridiculous. The claim that republicanism has practically come full circle, back to the politics of the 1960s, is a case in point.

To the authors' credit, the book is well researched and provides a fairly detailed account of the political developments over the past thirty years. However, sizeable parts of the biography are dominated by their recount of events rather than the subject's role in those events; it is in these chapters that we lose sight of Gerry Adams.

What does the biography reveal about the subject that is essentially new? Very little, I would argue. Those who are genuinely interested in Gerry Adams's life would be better informed by reading his autobiography: Before the Dawn. The author's hostility towards their subject makes this book too one-sided to qualify as an accurate and engaging portrayal of Gerry Adams.

By Tom Hartley

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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