How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe

( 52 )

Overview

The perfect St. Patrick's Day gift, and a book in the best tradition of popular history — the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled on Europe.

Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the ...

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Overview

The perfect St. Patrick's Day gift, and a book in the best tradition of popular history — the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled on Europe.

Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become "the isle of saints and scholars" — and thus preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians.

In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization — copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost — they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task.

As Cahill delightfully illustrates, so much of the liveliness we associate with medieval culture has its roots in Ireland. When the seeds of culture were replanted on the European continent, it was from Ireland that they were germinated.

In the tradition of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, How The Irish Saved Civilization reconstructs an era that few know about but which is central to understanding our past and our cultural heritage. But it conveys its knowledge with a winking wit that aptly captures the sensibility of the unsung Irish who relaunched civilization.

This narrative tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, this transition could not have taken place. Irish monks and scribes maintained records of Western civilization and brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Charming and poetic...an entirely engaging, delectable voyage into th edistant past, a small treasure." —The New York Times

"A lovely and engrossing tale . . . Graceful and instructive." —Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

"Cahill's lively prose breathes life into a 1,600-year-old history." —The Boston Globe

Richard Eder
A lovely and engrossing tale...Graceful and instructive.
Los Angeles Times
New Yorker
When Cahill shows the splendid results of St. Patrick's mission in Ireland...he isn't exaggerating. He's rejoicing.
Boston Globe
Cahill's lively prose breathes life into a 1,600 year-old history.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An account of the pivotal role played by Irish monks in transcribing and preserving Classical civilization during the Dark Ages. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Ireland's shining moment in European history was in the Dark Ages, when it did yeoman labor for future generations. Preserving literacy, Latin, and Christianity while Western Europe was isolated and barbarian, Irish monks also returned Christianity to Europe with ideas like confession that are part of the modern Catholic Church. Cahill is director of religious publishing at Doubleday, and this is his second book on Ireland. His narrative-highly literate and affectionate, if somewhat rambling and indulgent-links literature, philosophy, history, and lots of legends as he describes the fall of Roman civilization and the lives of saints Patrick and Columba, especially how they established the monasteries critical to the preservation effort. As a freewheeling, witty popular history of Irish Christianity in the Dark Ages, this will amuse and enlighten your Irish kin, and the book is recommended for that audience. The title notwithstanding, there is no untold story here.-Robert C. Moore, DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co. Information Svcs., N. Billerica, Mass.
Library Journal
Ireland's shining moment in European history was in the Dark Ages, when it did yeoman labor for future generations. Preserving literacy, Latin, and Christianity while Western Europe was isolated and barbarian, Irish monks also returned Christianity to Europe with ideas like confession that are part of the modern Catholic Church. Cahill is director of religious publishing at Doubleday, and this is his second book on Ireland. His narrative-highly literate and affectionate, if somewhat rambling and indulgent-links literature, philosophy, history, and lots of legends as he describes the fall of Roman civilization and the lives of saints Patrick and Columba, especially how they established the monasteries critical to the preservation effort. As a freewheeling, witty popular history of Irish Christianity in the Dark Ages, this will amuse and enlighten your Irish kin, and the book is recommended for that audience. The title notwithstanding, there is no untold story here. -- Robert C. Moore, DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Cmpany Information Services, N. Billerica, Massachusetts
Richard Bernstein
In the great irish tradition...lyrical, playful, penetrating and serious...An entirely engaging, delectable voyage into the distant past, a small treasure.
The New York Times
The New Yorker
When Cahill shows the splendid results of St. Patrick's mission in Ireland...he isn't exaggerating. He's rejoicing.
Richard Eder
A lovely and engrossing tale...Graceful and instructive.
Los Angeles Times
The Boston Globe
Cahill's lively prose breathes life into a 1,600 year-old history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385418492
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/1996
  • Series: Hinges of History Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 63,155
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

THOMAS CAHILL is the author of the best-selling books, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland 's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus.  These books comprise the first three volumes of a prospective seven-volume series entitled "The Hinges of History," in which Cahill recounts formative moments in Western civilization. In "The Hinges of History," Thomas Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western World through little-known stories of the great gift-givers, people who contributed immensely to Western, culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today.

Thomas Cahill is best known, in his books and lectures, for taking on a broad scope of complex history and distilling it into accessible, instructive, and entertaining narrative. His lively, engaging writing animates cultures that existed up to five millennia ago, revealing the lives of his principal characters with refreshing insight and joy. He writes history, not in its usual terms of war and catastrophe, but as "narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance." Unlike all too many history lessons, a Thomas Cahill history book or speech is impossible to forget.

He has taught at Queens College, Fordham University and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring recently to write full-time, he was director of religious publishing at Doubleday for six years. He and his wife, Susan, also an author, founded the now legendary Cahill & Company Catalogue, much beloved by readers. They divide their time between New York and Rome.

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Read an Excerpt

The word Irish is seldom coupled with the word civilization.  When we think of peoples as civilized or civilizing, the Egyptians and the Greeks, the Italians and the French, the Chinese and the Jews may all come to mind. The Irish are wild, feckless, and charming, or morose, repressed, and corrupt, but not especially civilized. If we strain to think of "Irish civilization," no image appears, no Fertile Crescent or Indus Valley, no brooding bust of Beethoven. The simplest Greek auto mechanic will name his establishment "Parthenon," thus linking himself to an imagined ancestral culture. A semiliterate restaurateur of Sicilian origin will give pride of place to his plaster copy of Michelangelo's David, and so assert his presumed Renaissance ties. But an Irish businessman is far more likely to name his concern "The Breffni Bar" or "Kelly's Movers," announcing a merely local or personal connection, unburdened by the resonances of history or civilization.

And yet . . . Ireland, a little island at the edge of Europe that has known neither Renaissance nor Enlightenment—in some ways, a Third World country with, as John Betjeman claimed, a Stone Age culture had one moment of unblemished glory. For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature—everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed. Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one—a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.

Not for a thousand years—not since the Spartan Legion had perished at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae had western civilization been put to such a test or faced such odds, nor would it again face extinction till in this century it devised the means of extinguishing all life. As our story opens at the beginning of the fifth century, no one could foresee the coming collapse. But to reasonable men in the second half of the century, surveying the situation of their time, the end was no longer in doubt: their world was finished. One could do nothing but, like Ausonius, retire to one's villa, write poetry, and await the inevitable. It never occurred to them that the building blocks of their world would be saved by outlandish oddities from a land so marginal that the Romans had not bothered to conquer it, by men so strange they lived in little huts on rocky outcrops and shaved half their heads and tortured themselves with fasts and chills and nettle baths. As Kenneth Clark said, "Looking back from the great civilizations of twelfth-century France or seventeenth-century Rome, it is hard to believe that for quite a long time—almost a hundred years—western Christianity survived by clinging to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock eighteen miles from the Irish coast, rising seven hundred feet out of the sea."

Clark, who began his Civilisation with a chapter (called "The Skin of Our Teeth") on the precarious transition from classical to medieval, is an exception in that he gives full weight to the Irish contribution. Many historians fail to mention it entirely, and few advert to the breathtaking drama of this cultural cliffhanger. This is probably because it is easier to describe stasis (classical, then medieval) than movement (classical to medieval). It is also true that historians are generally expert in one period or the other, so that analysis of the transition falls outside their—and everyone's?—competence. At all events, I know of no single book now in print that is devoted to the subject of the transition, nor even one in which this subject plays a substantial part.

In looking to remedy this omission, we may as well ask ourselves the big question: How real is history? Is it just an enormous soup, so full of disparate ingredients that it is uncharacterizable? Is it true, as Emil Cioran has remarked, that history proves nothing because it contains everything? Is not the reverse side of this that history can be made to say whatever we wish it to?

I think, rather, that every age writes history anew, reviewing deeds and texts of other ages from its own vantage point. Our history, the history we read in school and refer to in later life, was largely written by Protestant Englishmen and Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans. Just as certain contemporary historians have been discovering that such redactors are not always reliable when it comes to the contributions of, say, women or African Americans, we should not be surprised to find that such storytellers have overlooked a tremendous contribution in the distant past that was both Celtic and Catholic, a contribution without which European civilization would have been impossible.

To an educated Englishman of the last century, for instance, the Irish were by their very nature incapable of civilization. "The Irish," proclaimed Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria's beloved prime minister, "hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion [Disraeli's father had abandoned Judaism for the Church of England]. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry [i.e., Catholicism]. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry [!] and blood." The venomous racism and knuckle-headed prejudice of this characterization may be evident to us, but in the days of "dear old Dizzy," as the queen called the man who had presented her with India, it simply passed for indisputable truth.

Occasionally, of course, even the smug colonists of the little queen's empire would experience a momentary qualm: Could the conquerors possibly be responsible for the state of the colonized? But they quickly suppressed any doubt and wrapped themselves in their impervious superiority, as in this response by the historian Charles Kingsley to the famine-induced destitution he witnessed in Victorian Ireland: "I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault [emphasis mine]. I believe that there are not only many more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better and more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."

Nor can we comfort ourselves that such thinking passed long ago from the scene. As the distinguished Princeton historian Anthony Grafton wrote recently in The New York Review of Books of history departments at the better American universities: "Catholic culture—like most Catholics—was usually disdained, as the province of lesser breeds fit only for the legendary parochial schools where nuns told their charges never to order ravioli on a date, lest their boy friends be reminded of pillows. Stereotypes and prejudices of this kind, as nasty as anything fastened upon Jews, persisted in American universities until an uncomfortably recent date."

That date may be only the day before yesterday. Yet this is not to accuse any historian of deliberate falsification. No, the problem is more subtle than deception—and artfully described by John Henry Newman in his fable of the Man and the Lion:

The Man once invited the Lion to be his guest, and received him with princely hospitality. The Lion had the run of a magnificent palace, in which there were a vast many things to admire. There were large saloons and long corridors, richly furnished and decorated, and filled with a profusion of fine specimens of sculpture and painting, the works of the first masters in either art. The subjects represented were various; but the most prominent of them had an especial interest for the noble animal who stalked by them. It was that of the Lion himself; and as the owner of the mansion led him from one apartment into another, he did not fail to direct his attention to the indirect homage which these various groups and tableaux paid to the importance of the lion tribe.

There was, however, one remarkable feature in all of them, to which the host, silent as he was from politeness, seemed not at all insensible; that diverse as were these representations, in one point they all agreed, that the man was always victorious, and the lion was always overcome.

It is not that the Lion has been excluded from the history of art, but rather that he has been presented badly—and he never wins. When the Lion had finished his tour of the mansion, continues Newman, "his entertainer asked him what he thought of the splendours it contained; and he in reply did full justice to the riches of its owner and the skill of its decorators, but he added, 'Lions would have fared better, had lions been the artists.'"

In the course of this history, we shall meet many entertainers, persons of substance who have their story to tell, some of whom may believe that their story is all there is to tell. We shall be gracious and give them a hearing without disparagement. We shall even attempt to see things from their point of view. But every once in a while we shall find ourselves entertaining lions. At which moments, it will be every reader for himself.

We begin, however, not in the land of lions, but in the orderly, predictable world of Rome. For in order to appreciate the significance of the Irish contribution, we need first to take an inventory of the civilized empire of late antiquity.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: How Real Is History? 1
I The End of the World: How Rome Fell - And Why 9
II What Was Lost: The Complexities of the Classical Tradition 33
III A Shifting World of Darkness: Unholy Ireland 69
IV Good News from Far Off: The First Missionary 99
V A Solid World of Light: Holy Ireland 121
VI What Was Found: How the Irish Saved Civilization 145
VII The End of the World: Is There Any Hope? 197
Pronunciation Guide to Key Irish Words 219
Bibliographical Sources 221
Chronology 231
Acknowledgments 235
Index 239
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Introduction

We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage—almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance. In this series, The Hinges of History, I mean to retell the story of the Western world as the story of the great gift-givers, those who entrusted to our keeping one or another of the singular treasures that make up the patrimony of the West. This is also the story of the evolution of Western sensibility, a narration of how we became the people that we are and why we think and feel the way we do. And it is, finally, a recounting of those essential moments when everything was at stake, when the mighty stream that became Western history was in ultimate danger and might have divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether. But the great gift-givers, arriving in the moment of crisis, provided for transition, for transformation, and even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong than the one they had found.

—Thomas Cahill

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Foreword

1. As the author notes, most historians describe periods of stasis, not movement, so that we miss out on the transition periods of history. Discuss this in light of the story the author tells in this book.

2. The author often gives us tableaus where he slips deep into the scene as it's happening—the Roman soldiers facing the German tribes along the banks of the frozen Rhine, for instance. Talk about how he does this and how it depends on our understanding of the history he reports.

3. The possibility of "psychological fiction" [p. 41] came about because of Augustine's Confessions. Discuss this breakthrough to the personal in prose.

4. The author gives a picture of Irish character that spans prehistoric to current times. Discuss character as a trait rooted in or heavily influenced by geography, weather, and culture.

5. Ireland, an island, had fewer outside influences on it than did many other cultures during the Pax Romana. Discuss isolation as a protective force, and a contributor to the idea that as Roman lands went from "peace to chaos," Ireland went from "chaos to peace" [p. 124].

6. Talk about the particular Irish women presented in this book—Medb, Derdriu, Brigid of Kildare, and Dark Eileen O'Connell—and the general Irish view of the role of women.

7. Discuss the difference between Patrick and Augustine's "emotional grasp of Christian truth" [p. 115].

8. Talk about the Irish people's ability to enjoy magic and superstition and pagan influences and yet convert wholeheartedly to Christianity.

9. Christianity was "received into Rome," while Ireland was "receivedinto Christianity" [p. 148]. Discuss the difference and its implications and results.

10. As Columcille and Columbanus traveled in Europe and converted people to Christianity and established monasteries, they worked under the rubric of a democratic principle that "a man is better than his descent" [p. 176]. Discuss this as a change in previous and subsequent spiritualities, such as that of Augustine and the Rule of Saint Benedict.

11. Is power always corrupt? Discuss this in light of the Church conspiring with the enemy (Brunhilda) against its own messenger, Columbanus, and his Irish monks.

12. Discuss the cause and effect of the clash between the Roman Christianity of Augustine's Canterbury and Celtic Christianity at the Synod of Whitby in A.D. 644.

13. Discuss how the intellectual Greek approach to thought died and the price that subsequent cultures paid for it at the Synod of Whitby or elsewhere.

14. Discuss De Divisione Naturae, John Scotus Eriugena's theory of nature and reality, and Pope Honorius III's order to burn all copies of it. From what the author presents here, talk about the difference between pantheism and what Scotus suggested.

For Discussion: The Hinges of History Series

1. Each book gives a piece that helps complete the picture of who we are, of our history, of our humanity and acts as a piece in a puzzle. How effective is this type of a reckoning of our past?

2. The author did not write the books in his series in strict chronological order. Instead he traces large cultural movements over many centuries. How does this choice affect the understanding of each book as a piece in the puzzle? Or as an individual work?

3. In his books, the author gets inside the heads and hearts of his subjects, using a very close third-person point of view. How does this choice strengthen his premise? Does it have limitations?

4. The author is Roman Catholic. Is he able to present these histories without being biased by his Catholicism? Does one's religion (or lack of it) necessarily constrict or color one's view?

5. Discuss the nature and history of the Irish and the Jews as read in these books. What are their ambitions, their differences? How do they differ from the Romans and the Greeks in all three books?

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Reading Group Guide

1. As the author notes, most historians describe periods of stasis, not movement, so that we miss out on the transition periods of history. Discuss this in light of the story the author tells in this book.

2. The author often gives us tableaus where he slips deep into the scene as it's happening—the Roman soldiers facing the German tribes along the banks of the frozen Rhine, for instance. Talk about how he does this and how it depends on our understanding of the history he reports.

3. The possibility of "psychological fiction" [p. 41] came about because of Augustine's Confessions. Discuss this breakthrough to the personal in prose.

4. The author gives a picture of Irish character that spans prehistoric to current times. Discuss character as a trait rooted in or heavily influenced by geography, weather, and culture.

5. Ireland, an island, had fewer outside influences on it than did many other cultures during the Pax Romana. Discuss isolation as a protective force, and a contributor to the idea that as Roman lands went from "peace to chaos," Ireland went from "chaos to peace" [p. 124].

6. Talk about the particular Irish women presented in this book—Medb, Derdriu, Brigid of Kildare, and Dark Eileen O'Connell—and the general Irish view of the role of women.

7. Discuss the difference between Patrick and Augustine's "emotional grasp of Christian truth" [p. 115].

8. Talk about the Irish people's ability to enjoy magic and superstition and pagan influences and yet convert wholeheartedly to Christianity.

9. Christianity was "received into Rome," while Ireland was "received into Christianity" [p. 148]. Discuss the difference and its implications and results.

10. As Columcille and Columbanus traveled in Europe and converted people to Christianity and established monasteries, they worked under the rubric of a democratic principle that "a man is better than his descent" [p. 176]. Discuss this as a change in previous and subsequent spiritualities, such as that of Augustine and the Rule of Saint Benedict.

11. Is power always corrupt? Discuss this in light of the Church conspiring with the enemy (Brunhilda) against its own messenger, Columbanus, and his Irish monks.

12. Discuss the cause and effect of the clash between the Roman Christianity of Augustine's Canterbury and Celtic Christianity at the Synod of Whitby in A.D. 644.

13. Discuss how the intellectual Greek approach to thought died and the price that subsequent cultures paid for it at the Synod of Whitby or elsewhere.

14. Discuss De Divisione Naturae, John Scotus Eriugena's theory of nature and reality, and Pope Honorius III's order to burn all copies of it. From what the author presents here, talk about the difference between pantheism and what Scotus suggested.

For Discussion: The Hinges of History Series

1. Each book gives a piece that helps complete the picture of who we are, of our history, of our humanity and acts as a piece in a puzzle. How effective is this type of a reckoning of our past?

2. The author did not write the books in his series in strict chronological order. Instead he traces large cultural movements over many centuries. How does this choice affect the understanding of each book as a piece in the puzzle? Or as an individual work?

3. In his books, the author gets inside the heads and hearts of his subjects, using a very close third-person point of view. How does this choice strengthen his premise? Does it have limitations?

4. The author is Roman Catholic. Is he able to present these histories without being biased by his Catholicism? Does one's religion (or lack of it) necessarily constrict or color one's view?

5. Discuss the nature and history of the Irish and the Jews as read in these books. What are their ambitions, their differences? How do they differ from the Romans and the Greeks in all three books?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 52 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(19)

4 Star

(14)

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(10)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 52 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2000

    Singularly Brilliant.

    If there is one unexcusable thing in the world, it is a dull history book. Too many historians go at their task with no flair. NOT SO of Mr. Cahill. He writes history with color, with beauty, with feeling. He integrates his history with other facets of the human experience--pulling in theology and philosophy. 'How the Irish Save Civilization' is a great book. It makes me proud to be part Irish.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    I liked this book. I enjoyed Cahill's thesis, even though I thought he could have spent more time elaborating more on it. I have read all of the HINGES OF HISTORY series except The Gifts of the Jews. I'm hoping to get to it shortly. His chapters on Patrick are good and I really enjoyed all the education on Irish literature, etc. His early chapters are good too. Cahill is very good at giving the reader a context for where he is going to go. I was also pleased that there were less references to sex in this book than some of the others.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2003

    Muy Bien

    I thought this book was very good. It is a book that will make you think and recall facts learnt long ago in history class. It was very intriging and very informative. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Irish history.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    The poetic power of a grand title

    To think my Irish ancestors had saved civilization! Okay, Kenneth Clark in his book Civilisation attributes the deed to Charlemagne while Cahill, in his lovely tale, credits the Irish. Who cares? The thing was saved, and Cahill's book is a most charming read. Cormac Keegan, author of IRISH FIRST, EUROPEAN SECOND

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2003

    Don't waste your time

    As a work of history, this book is worthless. Everything of any value is in the final pages of the book. It has a fascinating, intriguing title. Unfortunately, 90% of the book has nothing to do with the title. The editor who accepted this book should be ashamed to be called a professional.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2001

    Remarkable Contributions

    You will be disappointed if you read this book as a history text. Instead, its value is in the colorful way in which Cahill dramatizes the remarkable contributions of St. Patrick and the Medieval Irish monks. Cahill is a very insightful writer. His description of the many parallels between the falling Roman Empire of the early fifth century and the United States of the early twenty-first century is alone worth the price of the book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2000

    Read ONLY the last 20 pages - You'll miss nothing!

    Thanks God I borrowed, instead of bought this book. The first half is Mr Cahill illustrates to the reader his knowledge of Latin, and those writer's of the 1st - 5th centuries. His history of St. Patrick is at least readable, which the first 100 pages is not. Great cure for insomnia. The last 20 pages finally deal with the Irish Monks taking their message and scibing talents to Europe. Very interesting reading, but I wonder if this book failed miserably under another title - which some Marketing genius changed and re- released.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2013

    This book appears to fall in the new genre of "creative non

    This book appears to fall in the new genre of "creative non-fiction". If one accepts this and an occasional leap in faith, it is an entertaining read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 26, 2012

    How the Irish Saved Civilization was ultimately a fascinating a

    How the Irish Saved Civilization was ultimately a fascinating and enlightening read. There is nothing more enjoyable than a book that will provoke thought, and this book did just that, and beautifully so. While the undue bias against paganism was more than a bit off-putting at times, the book overall was enjoyable. The style is engaging and accessible without feeling too “dumbed down,” which is refreshing and pleasant, as such a balance is difficult to find. Even without considering the writing style, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this book had a deep personal impact on me. It was a factor in my renewed interest in my Irish heritage, as well as in my reconsideration of my view of the Catholic Church. Saint Patrick’s faith, as it is portrayed in this book, as well as the faith of his followers, is far different from harshness I perceived during my Roman Catholic education in my youth. Had it been shown to me then as I saw it in this book—warm, hopeful, accepting—I may not have wished as strongly as I did for some time to disassociate myself from any aspect of it. But I digress.
    Thomas Cahill’s book is a thorough and thoughtful investigation of the oft overlooked impact made by the Irish on the course of Western Civilization’s history. I feel it is not only interesting, but certainly a must-read for anyone looking to really understand the period. It provides such a wealth of information that is not often presented elsewhere. Once one is able to move past the anti-pagan bias, the book is truly a captivating and inspiring piece. I would certainly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012

    great book. really helped me to understand what happened in the

    great book. really helped me to understand what happened in the dark ages and the irish contribution to recivilizing europe.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2007

    Hmmm......

    Indeed. The author does fail to show any credible sources. This would and does create a lack of beleif in the history. However, if the lack of sources is ignored, and you put your trust into the author, the story is indeed very interesting. Any Irish man or woman, and for that matter, any ansector of such, it is very comforting to hear that your people saved the human civilization. Such words create a pride before the first page is even read. But did copying down works of literature really save us all? Yet again, indeed. Literature, the very language that we as of now will be known for in the epochs of time to come, is essential. So, the irish did save civilization from falling back into the ages they had struggled to overcome. In fact, they set a precedent to always push forward, never destroy the present, for one can only fall back from there. The Irish were actually being the main character from Farenheit 451. Except far in the past. So, the story is good. But unfortunatly, 'tis only such. The lack of sources secures this books spot as 'okay'.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2006

    Drivel, Bad Propaganda!

    This is the worst nonsense I have ever read! The author fails to prove that a solitary work of history, literature, science or anything else can be traced to Irish monks. First, the Romans and Greeks were more than capable of preserving a Civilization that they built without others assistance. Second, their is no evidence that the Germans destroyed all of the schools and libraries. They clearly revered the Roman world that they wanted to become a part of. Ex: Theodoric the Ostrogothic king built many libraries as did later Frankish kings. Where did the Irish get their books, if the barbarians burned them all? Third, the Benedictines, Byzantines, Jews, Armenians, and Arabs were preserving and spreading learning before Patrick ever reached Ireland. The total lack of sources, bibliography, and footnotes make it plain enough. The author is appealing to ethnic sentiment over 'historical truth!'

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2004

    A fine book, yet somewhat too short.

    I liked this title very much, it is very 'light' to read and contains some interesting theories... Yet in some places it lacks facts. And the price here is MUCH TOO HIGH. I bought its Polish version for 2$ !!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2004

    Disappointing

    This book is a disappointment. Reads like it is padded out and some of the 'facts' are doubtful.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2004

    Misses the point

    Maybe I was wrong to have expectations, but I do expected some factual information from this book. Nevertheless, the author limits himself to do an allegedly literary presentation founded on rather weak basis. The author simply misses some of the most important points. For instance: what books were actually saved by the irish monks? Were there also copies of these works in other parts of Europe? Rigour is not in contradiction with enjoyability. I hope someone realizes and writes a new and more interesting book on this fascinating subject.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2000

    Great Read about a very overlooked milestone in history

    This book offers a summary of the transformation from the Roman Era through the dark ages to the dawn of the Middle Ages. Most of the summary is well covered in many other books but the material about St. Patrick and the Irish Monks involvement in preserving civilation is nicely summarized.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I enjoyed listening to How the Irish Saved Civilization on my co

    I enjoyed listening to How the Irish Saved Civilization on my commutes. The Whys and Hows of History and Civilizations during the Dark Ages are thought provoking and stimulating. I read Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea after How the Irish Saved Civilization, and have Cahill's other books from his Hinges of History on my to-read list.

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  • Posted December 1, 2012

    How the Irish saved Civilization was an interesting read. Thi


    How the Irish saved Civilization was an interesting read. This book provided a look into the role of the Irish in civilization, which is often overlooked. This book also provide interesting details into history for example, Thomas Cahill explained how the Romans feared the Irish because they would show up to battle with crazy hair only wearing a torc (neck ornament) around their neck. Cahill tied their appearance during battle to their strong and stubborn mentality. I also enjoyed how the author used literature from ancient western civilization to provide an in depth understanding to the moral before, during, and after the fall of Rome, and of how the Irish transformed and saved civilization by saving books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2000

    How Thomas Cahill Failed To Save His Book

    My propensity when reviewing books is to usually give them high ratings; therefore, my ratings here might disappoint a few (mainly history buffs). While the story of St. Patrick is interesting to this book, that is one of very few good things about it. Most of the time Cahill is too caught up in his own technical jargon to give concern to us unfortunate readers. As a person of Irish decent I was expecting more from this book and all of its hype. It was disappointing, but for those of you who need a concise history of this time period - and don't mind muddling through the jargon - this is still a good book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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