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Book reviews: A swim around Ireland, GAA clubs and a history of the Soviet Union

Brief revews of Limitless by Nuala Moore; This is the Life: Days and Nights in the GAA by Ciarán Murphy; The Shortest History of the Soviet Union by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Limitless by Nuala Moore (Gill Books, €19.99)

This no-holds-barred, detailed account of Nuala Moore’s progression from fisherman’s daughter jumping off boats and swimming into Dingle harbour to taking on some of the most fearsome stretches of water on the planet. It is an extraordinary glimpse into the life of an athlete who competed at the top levels of sport internationally and was largely unheralded for her efforts.

That lack of recognition should change with the publication of her memoir, where she recounts the struggles faced, undertaken and conquered and the battles that left her on the floor, wiped physically and psychologically. If the book has a downside, it is that her incredible exploits are recorded in minute detail, sometimes drowning the story.

The role of family in her success is recounted and the words of her father, a seasoned fisherman, ring through her mind in the toughest of times. From the first round-Ireland swim that her team planned to do in 28 days and took 56, to ice swimming in Murmansk, Tumyen, the incredible feat of team-swimming the Bering Strait and her solo swim of the Drake passage, it’s a read those curious about extreme adventure will relish. Miriam Mulcahy

This is the Life: Days and Nights in the GAA by Ciarán Murphy (Sandycove, €17.99)

Ciarán Murphy simply loves the GAA and all it stands for – well almost all. He loves playing it (football especially), he loves watching it and as this book clearly shows, loves writing about it. For him your local GAA club is an integral part of the landscape, its importance magnified by the disappearance of the local Garda station, the Post Office, even the local pub. Its special position, he insists, should never be overlooked. Nor is he especially happy with the GAA’s strict rules on not letting other sports use their grounds (except on very special occasions). He believes the state ought to require clubs in receipt of Government grants to share their facilities with other sports clubs. Notwithstanding his occasional quibble, there is much in the GAA that makes him proud. Owen Dawson

The Shortest History of the Soviet Union by Sheila Fitzpatrick (Old Street Publishing,€10.30)

This concise chronological account, by probably the foremost authority on Soviet history, maintains that there was nothing inevitable about its course. Its beginning was as unlikely as its end was unexpected and the structures put in place in the 1920s were still largely there in the late 1980s, when Gorbachev’s reforms led to their precipitative undoing. Sheila Fitzpatrick whizzes through the – surprisingly facile – Bolshevik takeover; Stalin’s bloody and traumatic 30-year rule; Khrushchev’s period of reform; Brezhnev’s placid era; the fall, its chaotic aftermath and the emergence of Putin assuredly and with admirable clarity. The Soviet Union’s demise was welcomed in the west and in eastern Europe but not in Russia, where it “inflicted a trauma on the Russians that has few equals, even in the trauma-filled 20th century”. Brian Maye