A fierce, funny and smart book about the delusions of Brexit, the threat it poses to economic prosperity, peace in Ireland and the tradition of British democracy.
England's favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling's 'If', says that triumph and disaster are the same thing. It also enjoins the English to "lose, and start again at your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss." Most modern English heroics are screw-ups, retreats or disasters: the charge of the Light Brigade, the doomed Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, "Scott of the Antarctic", Gordon of Khartoum, the flight from Dunkirk. The parallels with Brexit are obvious, but the problem is that the cult of heroic failure was developed precisely in an empire that could afford to play up its failures because it was so successful. Its pathos becomes bathos in a post-imperial world. Failure is no longer heroic - it is just failure.
Brexit is essentially an ultra-Thatcherite project of deregulation. In its own bizarre way, it is a kind of English revolutionary storming of the Bastille or the Winter Palace. On the Right, this idea of the single historic moment from which there is no going back has great appeal. The "illiberal democracy" pioneered by Vladimir Putin has refined the idea. Once the strong man (Putin, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdogan) has taken power, he embodies the will of the people and is therefore entitled to control the media and the judiciary and crush dissent. But history does not work like this. And democracy doesn't function if we believe that a Year Zero can change the world for ever.
Fintan O'Toole's ruthless dissection of the psychology and politics of Brexit is a stirring call to preserve democratic values and rational thought.
About the Author
Fintan O'Toole is one of Ireland's leading journalists, drama critics, biographers, polemicists and historians. He is the author of acclaimed biographies of Richard Sheridan and Sir William Johnson and the bestselling Ship of Fools.
'[O'Toole] is a sharp thinker and he makes many good points ... There is also a lot to learn from his incidental arguments. This is a literary book and I was delighted' The Times.
'The psychopathology of Brexit is at the heart of Fintan O'Toole's compact counterblast' Times Educational Supplement.
'A witty attack on the fantasies that drove Brexit ... Clever, over the top, but entertaining political writing' The Times, Books of the Year.
'Fintan O'Toole's searing polemic [is] expertly researched and full of unexpectedly funny vignettes' Sunday Business Post, Books of the Year.
'What gives this book its distinction is the fact that [O'Toole] is as adept at analysing character (as revealed by language) as he is at marshalling statistics ... O'Toole uncovers and dissects it with the deliberate, affectless skill of a virtuoso surgeon. The result, for me, is a wildly entertaining but uncomfortable read. In short, he has nailed us to the floor with a nine-inch nail. It's certainly not easy bein' English these days, and O'Toole, with this pitilessly brilliant book, has just made it at least fifty shades harder' Jonathan Coe, Irish Times.
'[The Euro] is what British conservative thought has feared since the 1970s. Readers interested in exploring these fears, and pretty much everyone else, should read [this]' Sunday Business Post.
'O'Toole offers a central, sexual metaphor for the fall, in which England alternately dominates and submits' Guardian.
'Britain's psychodrama, as Fintan O'Toole reminds us in his brilliant book, is almost entirely about its reaction to winning World War II, but losing its empire' Sunday Business Post.
'O'Toole has been one of the most astute commentators on Brexit, and here he offers his analysis on the forces in the English psyche that brought it about. Nor does he pull any punches ... He writes to devastating effect, his framing of Brexit as a "weird psychodrama" raising some uncomfortable questions' Herald.
'Fintan O'Toole [...] displays an amazing command of the facts, but what distinguishes his book is the quality of the mind at work, the sharpness of the analysis, the style. O'Toole even makes you feel sorry for the Brexit leaders and that is no small achievement' Colm Toibin, Irish Independent, Books of the Year.
'Excellent ... Heroic Failure has many lessons about political backstabbing' Martina Fitzgerald, Dublin Sunday Business Post, Books of the Year.
'O'Toole is never knowingly understated, and these essays are best enjoyed as intellectual comfort food for anyone who agrees that Brexit has no redeeming features whatsoever. Stylishly presented ... They are the work of a skilled debater' Dublin Sunday Business Post.
'A quite brilliant dissection of the cultural roots of the Brexit narrative. It is a love letter to the best of Britain and a demolition of the fantasies of the worst' David Miliband.
'Of all the wonderful things I devoured over the Xmas break, I enjoyed this the most. Best book about the English that I've read for ages, it explains how their post-imperial neurosis led to Brexit' Billy Bragg.
'A brilliant exploration of the Brexit psyche and, as one would expect, it is written beautifully as well' Belfast Telegraph.
'The most entertaining book about Brexit - and in times this dark we must give thanks for the laughter it occasions' Tablet.
'The argument is brilliantly made in Fintan O'Toole's very funny Heroic Failure' Kevin O'Rourke, Guardian.
'O'Toole shows, sometimes in provocative fashion, how anxieties about British decline spawned a topsy-turvy story' Financial Times.
'Full of acute cultural observation and includes a hilarious take-down of Boris Johnson' New Statesman.
'[Heroic Failure's] arguments are well made. O'Toole is very good at analysing the "camp" style of Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, who wave serious economic objections away with "references to Dunkirk or the Blitz", while presenting "bans" on bendy bananas as vital "tests of national freedom"' The Week.
1. The Pleasures of Self-Pity
2. SS-GB: Life in Occupied England
3. The Triumph of the Light Brigade
4. A Pint of Beer, a Packet of Prawn Cocktail Flavour Crisps and Two Ounces of Dog Sh*t, Please
6. The Twilight of the Gods: English Dreamtime
7. The Sore Tooth and the Broken Umbrella