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Four dominant themes in Irish-American history emerge from this new study by Dolan (The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present), professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame. These four are politics, religion, labor and nationalism. Beginning in 1729, when a decline in the linen trade and a poor harvest sparked a rush to America, Dolan traces the exodus to the beckoning colonies, swelling to 400,000 Irish in the U.S. by 1784. Millions more arrived after the 1840s potato famine, etched here in a vivid portrait of hunger and death. Over the next century, the American Catholic Church grew in prestige, as did Irish-American political power, confirmed by Al Smith's 1928 presidential campaign and capped in 1960 by the "razor-thin victory" of JFK. Closing chapters cover the post-WWII changes in urban Irish neighborhoods, Hollywood's celebration of Catholic culture and the Irish "who rode the economic escalator up to middle-class respectability." Dolan doesn't whitewash history: he notes the "rogues' gallery of Irish politicians" and continuing pockets of Irish-American poverty. His writing is colorful and comprehensive with impeccable scholarship evident throughout. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.