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Judging Shaw

by  Fintan O'Toole
€ 20.00

Book Details

Published by Royal Irish Academy

October 2017


Number of pages: 381

ISBN: 978-1-908997-15-9


PDF icon Advance Information PDF icon Introduction

GBS was the first great brand – discover how he created this most modern of concepts.

The fourth book in the Royal Irish Academy’s award-winning ‘Judging’ series looks at the legacy of George Bernard Shaw, Nobel prizewinner for literature.

George Bernard Shaw has left a vast legacy of theatrical, fictional, polemical, critical and philosophical writing. The first person to win both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award, Shaw bridges the Victorian era and the contemporary culture of celebrity. The GBS brand came to be recognised globally as referring to an Irish provocateur with a red beard and startling opinions. He was a master of self-invention, a nobody who captured the zeitgeist and one of the first private individuals to understand fully how to generate—and how to use—global fame.

The timing of Judging Shaw is fortuitous, as it will serve to reintroduce GBS to an Irish and international readership. The book is an interesting, informative, and well-written survey of Shaw/GBS and will be a welcome addition to the library of those who know Bernard Shaw perhaps only as the author of Pygmalion, his most popular and frequently performed play.

You can download the Introduction free of charge from the download area on the right hand side of this page.

Solve our book cover jigsaw puzzle here.



'O'Toole recounts Shaw's rise to fame in a dual biography, which is original in that it's a biography of one person with two distinct identities: Shaw the private person and playwright and GBS the public intellectual'. Brad Kent, Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 2018.

'superbly perceptive study [...] a handsome tribute from one of Ireland's leading intellectuals to one of his mightiest forebears'. Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books, 21/06/2018. 

'O’Toole’s book is a remarkable piece of work, superbly designed and produced by Fidelma Slattery, with facsimiles of manuscripts and letters, cartoons and designs, and rare and marvelously reproduced photographs (many taken by Shaw himself) that give a kaleidoscopic impression of the impact of the great man on his world. [... A]n [...] admirable production, which if nothing else restores Shaw to his rightful place as one of the great prose writers of his time—in all of English literature, perhaps—and one of the most provocative thinkers'. Simon Callow, New York Review of Books, March 2018. 

'excellent and very attractively presented [...] timely, erudite and highly entertaining exploration of an extraordinary life'. Eleanor Fitzsimons, The Irish Times, 21/10/2017.

'[A] handsome, lavishly illustrated book'. Tony Canavan, Books Ireland, 01/11/2017.

'Fintan O’Toole has used mostly primary works with a stunning freshness, often putting well-known passages from Shaw into new contexts that make them really come alive, in a way that gives you the sense that Shaw is still here working on our contemporary problems, or at least should be. O’Toole makes it very clear that he was motivated to write this book precisely because, realizing that the Victorian/Gilded Age Shaw attacked with such vehemence and effectiveness has made a comeback, he argues that Shaw is never more needed than he is today.  Shaw was instrumental in draining this swamp once, so maybe he can help us do it again'. R. F. Dietrich, Founder, International Shaw Society, 21/11/2017.

'The book [...] explore[s] the life and work of Shaw in all its vicissitudes. O’Toole brings him to life in such a way that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. Outside of O’Toole’s wonderful narrative, the book is a handsome production. The Royal Irish Academy have added another firm affirmation that the book is far from dead. Superbly designed with a wide variety of fascinating illustrations, it is an ideal gift for the Booklover'. Des Kenny, Kenny's bookshop, 23/11/2017.

‘There are other books on Shaw and there will be more; but none will be more Shavian than this one. […] Judging Shaw is an exhilarating read. Fintan O’Toole has ranged impressively over the many plays and their prefaces, the letters, music and theatre criticism, political speeches and articles, to find the quotations from Shaw’s own prose relevant to his arguments. […] The book is a brilliant Shavian polemic and a considerable achievement. Shaw may never again occupy the position of global influence he enjoyed on his death in 1950. But Fintan O’Toole persuades us that GBS still has radical and pertinent insights to offer into the glaring inequities of life in the twenty-first century’. Anthony Roche, Dublin Review of Books, January 2018.

'entertaining, insightful and wonderfully produced', Todd McEwen, The Herald, 07/04/2018.

Praise for Fintan O'Toole:

‘Informed, learned...entrancingly written’. Seamus Heaney on A History of Ireland in 100 Objects.

'Fintan O'Toole, the subtlest brain and the sharpest pen in Irish letters today'. Simon Callow, New York Review of Books.


Supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

About the authors

Fintan O'Toole

Fintan O'Toole is a columnist and literary editor with The Irish Times and Leonard L. Milberg lecturer in Irish Letters at Princeton University. He has written books on Irish history, politics, society and culture. He has been awarded the European Press Prize 2017 and the Orwell Prize for Journalism 2017.