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How the Irish Saved Civilization PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: How the Irish Saved Civilization
Author: Thomas Cahill
Publisher: Published February 1st 1996 by Bantam Doubleday Dell (NYC) (first published 1995)
ISBN: 9780385418492
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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From the fall of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne - the "dark ages" - learning, scholarship, and culture disappeared from the European continent. The great heritage of western civilization - from the Greek and Roman classics to Jewish and Christian works - would have been utterly lost were it not for the holy men and women of unconquered Ireland. In this delightful and illu From the fall of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne - the "dark ages" - learning, scholarship, and culture disappeared from the European continent. The great heritage of western civilization - from the Greek and Roman classics to Jewish and Christian works - would have been utterly lost were it not for the holy men and women of unconquered Ireland. In this delightful and illuminating look into a crucial but little-known "hinge" of history, Thomas Cahill takes us to the "island of saints and scholars, " the Ireland of St. Patrick and the Book of Kells. Here, far from the barbarian despoliation of the continent, monks and scribes laboriously, lovingly, even playfully preserved the west's written treasures. With the return of stability in Europe, these Irish scholars were instrumental in spreading learning. Thus the Irish not only were conservators of civilization, but became shapers of the medieval mind, putting their unique stamp on western culture.

30 review for How the Irish Saved Civilization

  1. 4 out of 5

    John Wiswell

    Mind-numbingly written, building up to a nearly inconsequential conclusion on how Irish monks might have helped preserve some of Europe's classic literature. I'm descended from the Irish and was looking forward to a little nationalist pride, but this failed by underdelivering from its title and being nearly unreadable from the first chapter. It hurts even worse to hear that the claims may have been false.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This was awful. Many reviews say things like "charming" and "pleasant," but I thought it was tedious and meandering. Not all history has to be chronological; there's interesting stuff in here but it's too long with details of Roman society. Also, the author writes like a blow-hard, and interjects things like "Alas!" and "Dear Reader" and "It is up to the reader to decide." That kind of stuff irritates me to no end. Searching for info online, I found references that refute much of what the author This was awful. Many reviews say things like "charming" and "pleasant," but I thought it was tedious and meandering. Not all history has to be chronological; there's interesting stuff in here but it's too long with details of Roman society. Also, the author writes like a blow-hard, and interjects things like "Alas!" and "Dear Reader" and "It is up to the reader to decide." That kind of stuff irritates me to no end. Searching for info online, I found references that refute much of what the author posits, including info about St. Patrick. Granted, the author (in tedious and blow-harded notes) acknowledges that no one can say exactly what happened, but he's disguising mythology and folklore as truth.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Though not exactly news to anyone who went to school in Ireland (Cahill seems to have an Irish-American readership as his target audience, particularly given-away by his repeated and annoying generalizations about the 'Irish Spirit' and such like: what does he mean, Jameson or Bushmills?), this nevertheless has lots of good stuff in it and the overall argument is strong. I particularly liked the early material contrasting the moribund writing of Roman Gallic poet Ausonias with St. Augustine, and Though not exactly news to anyone who went to school in Ireland (Cahill seems to have an Irish-American readership as his target audience, particularly given-away by his repeated and annoying generalizations about the 'Irish Spirit' and such like: what does he mean, Jameson or Bushmills?), this nevertheless has lots of good stuff in it and the overall argument is strong. I particularly liked the early material contrasting the moribund writing of Roman Gallic poet Ausonias with St. Augustine, and the philospohical and literary revolution ushered in by his Confessions. It reads as a great argument-in-a-nutshell for the decline of the Roman Empire and the notion that the artistic output of a given culture can be a true reflection of its inner health - or otherwise. It is also hard not to share his enjoyment of the lusty heros and heroines of early Celtic Irish literature. And, finally, his descriptions of the bustling, worldly monastic centers that were translating and transcribing not only the key texts of Christianity, but the epic literature of their native country and the canons of Classical antiquity, are remarkable and inspiring.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is the kind of book where the title really seems to over-commit to an idea and overstate the reality of history. I went into this book thinking that Cahill was surely using hyperbole to say that the Irish saved civilization. He may be, but this is still a remarkable and relevant history. This is a great, great book that deserves the wide readership it has received. The book begins with a retelling of the fall of Rome. Cahill does this to show the peril in which Western Civilization was steep This is the kind of book where the title really seems to over-commit to an idea and overstate the reality of history. I went into this book thinking that Cahill was surely using hyperbole to say that the Irish saved civilization. He may be, but this is still a remarkable and relevant history. This is a great, great book that deserves the wide readership it has received. The book begins with a retelling of the fall of Rome. Cahill does this to show the peril in which Western Civilization was steeped with the fall of Rome. He makes it clear that Rome fell for good reason--it was top heavy, indolent, decadent, and diseased. But there was much that merited preservation--the libraries of Ancient Rome and Roman learning were in great peril. The barbarian hordes were pagan and illiterate and gave no consideration to books of any kind. Enter St. Patrick. Here is where the Irish come to the rescue of the West. Some know some of Patrick's story, and Cahill does a good job of telling a condensed version. Patrick was not the traditional type of bishop or missionary--for his formative years were spent as a shepherd and slave. He was not learned as many on the continent. He brought Christianity to Ireland--but apart from the traditional type of Roman Catholic influence. His theology was more catholic, than Catholic. This distinction is significant, as it left Irish Christianity to be more heavily influenced by Irish culture and language than anywhere else on the continent where the Romans held sway. As Irish Christianity grew and matured, it was a kind of rival to Roman Catholicism. The Irish sent abbots and monks all over the pagan and backwater continent and brought Christianity back where it had been lost or never really held influence. They copied manuscripts and handed them down through generations when they'd been lost on the continent. They wrote in the vernacular Irish language--the first time a vernacular language was written down. This surely led to the Protestant insistence on the Bible being translated into the languages of the people, though Cahill does not make this connection specifically. Many are aware of the manner in which the Irish monks preserved the literature of the Roman Empire, but this was only the part of it. The fingerprints of Irish monks and missionaries are all over a wide band of Great Britain and Europe. This is perhaps the most important legacy of the Irish during the Dark Ages. They restored Christian learning in Europe and sowed the seeds for the Renaissance and the Reformation. In his conclusion, Cahill observes that it will be the marginalized of the world that will preserve the best of today in the next crisis of the West. It will not be the powerful, the influential, and certainly not the rich. I think his thesis is sound, for this is the way of God--he humbles the proud and exalts the humble. Thank God for the tradition of faithful Irish saints. I must add one more thing that I am seeing more and more as I've read recently of the ancient world. The un-Christianized world is remarkably barbaric--vicious almost beyond imagination. Cahill shows the pagan Irish and compares them to other similar Iron-Age cultures. It is clear their worldview and life stand in stark contrast to that of today. We take so much for granted in our Christianized cultures. Yes, we've lost so much of this heritage and are working to squander it. But our world is tame and predictable compared to that of the ancient world. The ancients were a vicious lot--violently demonic in truth. We can scarcely even imagine the truth of this today, for it is so unimaginable as to be thought fictitious. But it was real, and it is there for the historian and archaeologist to see. May this be a lesson to those who dismiss the Christian transformation of cultures that has come with the advancement of the gospel. Christ has truly transformed the world from one of vicious, violent, and demonic forces into his advancing kingdom of light and grace. In this way, this book is not simply about the way the "Irish Saved Civilization" but a retelling of the great transformation the world has undergone from barbarism to Christian peace through the spreading of the gospel in Europe. The best part of the book is the very end where Cahill projects this model on the future. For that is what history is truly about--how the lessons of yesterday become models for tomorrow. In this case, we may take great hope in the advancing gospel in Africa, Asia, and South America. I suspect that the resurgence of Western Christianity will largely be due to the recolonization of the West by the Third World. This is a great book--one of my favorites.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    As the Roman Empire crumbled, so too did literacy and libraries suffer. By the seventh century, however, Patrick had converted enough men into being Christians and scribes that many ancient Greek and Roman books were preserved in Ireland, even as the originals crumbled elsewhere. The preservation of ancient texts is a fascinating theme upon which to relate a history, but alas, the majority of the book concerns how awesome Plato is. Seriously, there is a three page quote from Plato, followed by a As the Roman Empire crumbled, so too did literacy and libraries suffer. By the seventh century, however, Patrick had converted enough men into being Christians and scribes that many ancient Greek and Roman books were preserved in Ireland, even as the originals crumbled elsewhere. The preservation of ancient texts is a fascinating theme upon which to relate a history, but alas, the majority of the book concerns how awesome Plato is. Seriously, there is a three page quote from Plato, followed by a good fifty page digression about what all that philosophy means. First off, I don't much like Plato--his logic is fuzzy and his arguments are based on premises that are easily proven false. So telling me that the Irish saved some Plato texts doesn't impress me all that much. Plus, it seems like many of these texts were saved elsewhere anyway, so its not like we would have no ancient philosophy at all without Irish monasteries. Second, two-thirds of this book is a recounting of Greek and Roman philosophy and ways of thinking, one-third has to do with the conversion of the Irish to Christianity, and about three pages actually address scriptoriums and scribes and all the rest of that good stuff. Not as advertised! I assumed we'd get at least a few pages on how copying out manuscripts actually worked, with maybe a little information about early monasteries, but Cahill is too busy endlessly telling us how super-cool Greek philosophers are to recount any actual scholarship. This is particularly frustrating because the little tidbits Cahill does share about early Irish scholars are fascinating: the punny poems in margins of manuscripts, the fights with European Christians over everything from tonsures to orthodoxy, the melding of pagan and Christian ways of thinking into something new and unique. We only get about a sentence on each of these things, though, and then the book abruptly ends.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    I do get why this book on "How the Irish Saved Civilization" was a bestseller. Not only is it the perfect gift for St Patrick's Day, it is entertaining and readable. But I also found it superficial and not reliable. It may be the contrast with some really fine histories and biographies I've read lately, but several things in this book made it suspect to me. Cahill isn't a historian. The short biography at the end says only that he has a MFA in "Film and Dramatic Literature" and that he has studi I do get why this book on "How the Irish Saved Civilization" was a bestseller. Not only is it the perfect gift for St Patrick's Day, it is entertaining and readable. But I also found it superficial and not reliable. It may be the contrast with some really fine histories and biographies I've read lately, but several things in this book made it suspect to me. Cahill isn't a historian. The short biography at the end says only that he has a MFA in "Film and Dramatic Literature" and that he has studied theology. His pro-Catholic bias is notable throughout. (He even takes gratuitous slams at Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.) I don't claim a writer of a solid history has to be a historian--some of those great histories and biographies recently read were by journalists. And all writers have their take, from conservative to Marxist, that are evident to me. But notably, the good ones, whatever their background or worldview, have pages of sources and notes to back up their claims--this didn't. But the reason I ended up feeling the book was dubious was the actual content, starting with the title and the very premise: Irish monks saved civilization by preserving classical literature. Other reviewers have pointed out that the Western world isn't the whole of civilization. (Even as Cahill at one point conflates "the whole of the civilized world" with the Roman Empire. What about China, for instance?) And others preserved the old Latin learning. Not just in Europe, the Eastern Roman Empire remained in existence until 1453. Cahill though claims the Irish were more liberal in what they copied than those on the continent. And of the Eastern Romans, he claimed that the "literature of ancient Greece were well enough preserved at Byzantium, but Latin literature would almost certainly surely have been lost without the Irish." I find that hard to credit. They didn't read Vergil at Constantinople? I think part of why I also find it hard to swallow his encomium to Christianity as a preserver of classical Greek and Roman civilization is that it also did so much to destroy it. One poignant illustration of that is the fate of the works of Sappho. Cahill himself notes that among the treasures of antiquity lost were almost all her poetry. What he doesn't tell you is that her poems were preserved until nearly A.D 1000, at least according to A Book of Woman Poets, "when a wrathful church destroyed whatever it could find. In 1073 her writings were publicly burned in Rome and Constantinople by order of Pope Gregory VIII." So, I guess I wonder, why is it these "great gift-givers" of civilization didn't preserve her for us? But Cahill doesn't give me a good answer for this, especially because so little of the book even focuses on that part of the story. We don't get to Ireland at all until Part III starting on page 71. The section that tells us how the Irish saved this learning doesn't begin until Part VI on page 145--in a book of 218 pages. Between that we get a biography of St Patrick, who Cahill claimed was "the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery." And he'd be wrong by nearly a millennium--look up the "Cyrus Cylinder," called the "first charter of human rights" from the Persian king who ended the Jewish Babylonian exile--a biblical scholar such as Cahill should know better. Other things irked me. Particularly the comparison of the barbarian "hordes" that destroyed Rome to "the Mexicans, Haitians, and other dispossessed peoples seeking illegal entry" to the United States. It's a point he repeats at the end, and seemed all the more ironic considering Cahill's condemnation of the prejudice their fellow Catholics, the Irish, experienced in America. It's not that there weren't interesting points in the book I'd like to read more about. Such as the case for Augustine's Confessions as the first real autobiography and "story of a soul" and the indomitable Brigid of Kildare, an abbess with the power of a bishop. Cahill might even be right in his take on history--but I didn't find the case presented in his book convincing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Cahill may occasionally engage in exaggeration and speculation, but he increased my interest in history. I have read the first four books in the Hinges of History series, starting book 1 almost 20 years ago, so my memory is not bright. However, the books stuck with me fairly well. Kudos to the author for that. Since then, Cahill wrote two more books, but I have not read them. This is quasi-history told in a fairly accessible narrative style -- if at times meandering. Cahill is not a historian, Cahill may occasionally engage in exaggeration and speculation, but he increased my interest in history. I have read the first four books in the Hinges of History series, starting book 1 almost 20 years ago, so my memory is not bright. However, the books stuck with me fairly well. Kudos to the author for that. Since then, Cahill wrote two more books, but I have not read them. This is quasi-history told in a fairly accessible narrative style -- if at times meandering. Cahill is not a historian, per se, but his education reflects an interest in history, theology, classic texts, and performing arts. Each book examines how a particular European people changed the world (alas, no gifts mentioned from Asia and Africa). The four cultures (one per book): Irish, Jewish, Christian (of mixed ethnicity), and Greek. I enjoyed them all but am not a historian, so cannot adequately argue Cahill's points. He probably stretched the "story" to make a strong case for the particular "gifts" he suggests the culture brought to the world, but I always read history through a strainer. I cannot recall whether Cahill included the contributions women made. I think not. This book -- How the Irish Saved Civilization -- is the most memorable in the series, for me. It's set primarily in the Dark Ages, after Rome fell, when Visigoths, Goths, and Vandals plundered, burning books, libraries, monasteries, etc. I found some bits riveting, but doubtless there are holes in the author's argument that Irish monks "saved civilization" by saving various classic texts from extinction. They did this by copying and illustrating ancient Greek and Latin writings (Ptolmy, Euclid, Cicero, Plato, etc), as well as ancient scrolls and scriptures. I was rather captivated by these industrious monks, safe from invaders across the Irish Sea, scribbling away in their beehives, creating illuminated manuscripts. However, I felt Cahill overplayed his hand, making more of his grand theory than history warrants, and his own Irish ancestry may have led him to wax poetic, suggesting bias. I was also interested in the descriptions of Augustine and St. Patrick, even though Cahill admittedly embellished what little we know about Patrick. Other Books in the Series: According to The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (book #2), the Hebrew people introduced various concepts to Western Civ: hygiene and kosher food, the written word (along with Phonecians, Greeks, Sumarians, etc), a code of law, and monotheism, including caring for widows and orphans via a tithing system -- much like paying taxes. That's all I remember. Book #3, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus , is thought-provoking. Cahill describes how the message of Christ changed civilization. He attributes to Christ (and to Christians) the gradual propagation of widespread principles of mercy, forgiveness, eleventh-hour second chances, and unconditional love (opposed to the eye-for-an-eye system of retribution encoded in Hamurabi's Code used by ancient Babylonians, Old Hebrew, the Romans, etc. ). Cahill also attributes to Christianity the transformation of cultures that had engaged in human sacrifice, as well as the spread of literacy, eventually enabling commoners to read sacred scriptures. He was a little scattered in his arguments. It felt at times weak, yet he makes some good points. However, he made slight mention of the atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish Inquisition. I have mixed feelings about book #4, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. I was anticipating a rich account of who the Greeks were and how much they influenced modern civilization, but in that sense, it fell short of expectation. The entire book felt a little flat. However, I was intrigued by the notion of the Greeks as intellectual scavengers, sailing the Mediterranean to various ports and bringing the best ideas and inventions back to Athens and integrating them into their culture. Eventually, these ideas trickled or gushed into other cultures, and remain part of civilization today.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David A.

    I'm Irish. Don't let my last name (Zimmerman) fool you. I'm the proud son of a guy whose surname unfortunately obscures the fact that my mother (of whom I'm also a proud son) is 100 percent Irish, so assuming my dad has a little Irish in him (who doesn't?) I'm at least 50 percent. Not sure why that's so important to me, but it is. There's a mystique to Irishness that simply isn't there with other countries of distant origins. Ireland is ever green, it's charmed and charming, thick with thin spac I'm Irish. Don't let my last name (Zimmerman) fool you. I'm the proud son of a guy whose surname unfortunately obscures the fact that my mother (of whom I'm also a proud son) is 100 percent Irish, so assuming my dad has a little Irish in him (who doesn't?) I'm at least 50 percent. Not sure why that's so important to me, but it is. There's a mystique to Irishness that simply isn't there with other countries of distant origins. Ireland is ever green, it's charmed and charming, thick with thin space. So you would think that by now I would have made my pilgrimage there. But I haven't; Ireland remains a place of fanciful imagination for me. You would also think that by now a proud wannabe Irishman would have read the 1995 national bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization, but again you would be wrong. It's been on my shelf for at least fifteen years, waiting for me to finally crack the spine and dig into it. I'm not sure what kept me otherwise occupied; it might be that my copy has a very distracting manufacturing error on the cover (the spot gloss over the title is offset by about an inch, or it might be that I have so much time-sensitive reading to do that I just left this one slow-cooking on the back burner, or it may be that I know that calling myself Irish is absurd and vaguely insulting to people who actually are from Ireland, so I felt guilty and avoided the uncomfortable feeling. Whatever: 2012 is the Year of Overdue Books, so I swallowed my pride and indulged my self-perception and dug in. How the Irish Saved Civilization is popular history at its apex. Part of a series of audacious arguments from Thomas Cahill ("The Hinges of History"), this one observes that the fall of the Roman Empire, and the corresponding neglect of the archives of Western Civilization, was paralleled by the Christianization of Ireland, whose nascent monks saw their calling as twofold: with no real opportunity to experience the "Red Martyrdom" of persecution unto death for their faith, the Irish took first to "Green Martyrdom," or the cloistered life of studying the Scriptures and the works of the early church. The prodigality of the Irish mind (from p. 131: "In Patrick's world all beings and events come from the hand of a good God, who loves human beings and wishes them success. And though that success is of an ultimate kind--and, therefore, does not preclude suffering--all nature, indeed the whole of the created universe, conspires to mankind's good, teaching, succoring, and saving") was such that enthusiasm for these early works extended to pagan classics and other ancient culture. Irish monks became archivists for the ancient West at a time when Roman civilization could no longer be bothered by its own history, its own legacy. Simply archiving history wouldn't save civilization, of course. And the Irish historically were not known for sitting around all day. Irish folk history, told compellingly by Cahill, is lusty and brazen, sometimes violent and always earthy, painting a portrait of a culture consumed with life. Such virility informs monasticism in unique ways, and the Green Martyrs eventually created an outlet for Irish wanderlust with "White Martyrdom," self-surrender that involved taking to sea and going where the waves took you. White Martyrs went everywhere--some undoubtedly to their death--and some of them wound up in Europe, where they reintroduced Europe's classics to itself. Not only Western civilization's culture was restored but a culture of being cultured was introduced: the love of learning and the life of the mind, and ethical responsibility that flows from it, can be traced back to the missionary efforts of these White Martyrs. Thomas Cahill made me want to be more Irish, not less. His writing is elegant and exhilarating; you assume the truth of his absurdist claim--that a tiny island in the North Atlantic known mostly for famine, fantasy and fatalism gave Western civilization its life and soul back. I'm struck by the lessons from Cahill's take on European history for people today invested in the mission of the church. There are plenty of parallels between late antiquity and the modern day, from the comparable dominance and moral vulnerability of ancient Rome and the contemporary United States to the increasing cultural irrelevance of the Christian church. Cahill does a great job of noting the different worldviews of the two great Confessors of the era--Bishop Augustine of Hippo and Patrick of Ireland--one who developed an intricate and complex theology that over time proved oppressive and confining, the other whose theology was informed by and responsive to the people who surrounded it. Patrick's Christianity, focused as it is on God's good desire for his creation, is more welcoming than Augustine's, which emphasized the fall from grace and led to an emphasis on human depravity and eternal conscious punishment. If the church wants to "win some," it could stand to learn from Patrick's winsome approach. From the last paragraph of Cahill's book: "Perhaps history is divided into Romans and Catholics--or, better, catholics. The Romans are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies, . . . instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide. . . . If our civilization is to be saved--forget about our civilization, which, as Patrick would say, may pass 'in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind'--if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I've noticed that history books on Goodreads are often given lower star ratings by people who are upset to find that the author was using information to present a cohesive thesis rather than providing an unbiased account. Although it is right to bring up slant in evaluating the truth of a thesis, it's somewhat sad to see these complaints for Cahill's defense of pre-Joycean Irish civilization when one of Cahill's major arguments is that biased English historians prevented any appreciation of Iris I've noticed that history books on Goodreads are often given lower star ratings by people who are upset to find that the author was using information to present a cohesive thesis rather than providing an unbiased account. Although it is right to bring up slant in evaluating the truth of a thesis, it's somewhat sad to see these complaints for Cahill's defense of pre-Joycean Irish civilization when one of Cahill's major arguments is that biased English historians prevented any appreciation of Irish civilization in the past. I haven't read enough on Irish history to know if Cahill's desire to show an "unblemished" era of Irish greatness allows him to present Ireland entirely falsely, but I can't help thinking that even if it does, it's about time that the early Christian Irish get a book slanted towards them. And though I want to give Cahill and his peaceful, practically polytheistic Christians as much chance to greatness as I can, I will admit that Cahill is at least exaggerating the title. The Irish didn't exactly "Save Civilization"; they saved Latin writing of the pre-Christian Roman Empire, thus allowing us to read Cicero and Seneca today. Cahill, to his credit, seems to use that contribution of the Irish as only a part of his claim for an Irish golden age. The Irish's greatest contribution to civilization, he argues, was their counter-Augustinian Christianity. In the Irish hey-day, St. Patrick wrote of God's love for all creatures and people despite their foibles, the Irish developed universities and brought limited literacy to lay people, and Irish missionaries brought their tolerant Christian beliefs and love of writing across Europe. Cahill is a gentle writer, often stopping to say, "Let us explore this world a little more before we move on," and presenting a picture of what life may have been like in the capital in the last century of the Western Roman Empire, and in Britain, and also in Ireland. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the miseries of Roman tax collectors and shepherds all over. Cahill is a convincing writer too. His version of Irish history may be as compelling for the Irish today as the Christian resurrection was for the Irish of St. Patrick's day. I only wish that Cahill had made the book longer and more scholarly. As fascinating as the epic Tain is, it doesn't seem quite right to base the entire view of pre-Christian Irish civilization on literary works and the evidence of a sacrifice victim/volunteer in a bog. I would have appreciated some more archeology, riotous debate between scholars who've argued about when human sacrifice in Ireland took place, and careful footnotes. (Most disappointingly Cahill doesn't like to do normal bibliographies; he prefers to write about his favorite sources and hope you'll be encouraged to read them yourself.) As the book is, it's a light history that shows the Irish as a scribal powerhouse of the early mediaeval period.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kelsea Dawn Hume

    First, let's get this ridiculous title out of the way: challenging a racist assumption (that the Irish are lazy, wild, etc.) by buying into a broader racist assumption (that western civilization is the ONLY civilization) isn't really all that radical. And it's bad history. And it's a very bad start to a rather mediocre book. It's not that I didn't enjoy anything in this book. Cahill meandered to places I found quite enjoyable -- a good history book should meander a bit, the side trails of histor First, let's get this ridiculous title out of the way: challenging a racist assumption (that the Irish are lazy, wild, etc.) by buying into a broader racist assumption (that western civilization is the ONLY civilization) isn't really all that radical. And it's bad history. And it's a very bad start to a rather mediocre book. It's not that I didn't enjoy anything in this book. Cahill meandered to places I found quite enjoyable -- a good history book should meander a bit, the side trails of history are where you find all the best stories. Reading a bit about the religious history of early Ireland was great. But Cahill strayed too far from his subject. The most interesting parts of this book had nothing to do with the thesis, which, to be fair, is too narrow in thought and too broadly phrased to actually be discussed efficiently. He speaks of saving Western civilization, but what he's actually referring to is preserving a few classical texts which he claims were not preserved elsewhere. The scope isn't as grand as the lead, and so he tries to widen the scope of the book by meandering about, talking about Augustine and Plato and Brigid. And then he never gets around to actually proving his actually very narrow thesis. He just mentions that some texts weren't preserved elsewhere, and expects us to take that on faith. Ugh. *This review written while a bit tipsy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jon Newswanger

    In college I took a class entitled "Christianity in History." It turned out to be merely a church history class. This book is everything I wished that course had been, but wasn't. It does an amazing job in pointing out how Christians have impacted history, summed up best in it's final sentence: If our civilization is to be saved -- forget about our civilization, which, as Patrick would say, may pass "in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind" -- if we are to be saved, it will In college I took a class entitled "Christianity in History." It turned out to be merely a church history class. This book is everything I wished that course had been, but wasn't. It does an amazing job in pointing out how Christians have impacted history, summed up best in it's final sentence: If our civilization is to be saved -- forget about our civilization, which, as Patrick would say, may pass "in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind" -- if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    The title may be a slight exaggeration, but it's a good read for students of western history. Lots of good Middle Ages as well as the expected Irish background. Multiple readings pull out a wealth of details and insights.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Here Cahill provides a popular-level history of the early middle ages with mixed success. His greatest asset is a suprisingly strong prose style, which allows him to effortlessly, and even peotically, lead his readers through a complicated and fuzzy period of history. No doubt this is the reason the book was a bestseller. But it also proves to be his downfall in that his efortless sentences ellide the complexity of his subject matter. Perhaps this is the fate of all popularizers, but I found mys Here Cahill provides a popular-level history of the early middle ages with mixed success. His greatest asset is a suprisingly strong prose style, which allows him to effortlessly, and even peotically, lead his readers through a complicated and fuzzy period of history. No doubt this is the reason the book was a bestseller. But it also proves to be his downfall in that his efortless sentences ellide the complexity of his subject matter. Perhaps this is the fate of all popularizers, but I found myself time and again cringing at the frequent bald assertions with which he moves the narrative forward. This is not to say that he cannot reach the deeper parts of his story. Indeed, he does go deep at many points, but I was left wishing that he would do this more. His readings of early Irish vernacular literature are excellent, and his discussion of Augustine of Hippo is lively in the best of ways. And yet at times, especially in the later parts of the book, it feels like he is telling a story rather than explaining it. And explanation is what is required when you provacatively title your book How the Irish Saved Civilization. And about the title: it's completely wrong for the book! Its unfortunate hyperbole begs caveats, which Cahill is eventually required to give. His actual claim is that the Irish people, specifically the Irish monastic communities in Ireland and the rest of Europe, played an important part in human history by preserving Latin learning in a time when no one else was doing so. And this is a fair assesment of the situation in the early middle ages. But it is a long way from the Irish people as saviors of the Western World. As he himself notes, it was only the Roman, not the Greek or Jewish or Christian books that the Irish needed to save. "Yes," he seems to write between the lines late in the book, "Without those monks, we still would have had the vast majority of the Western cultural heritage, but that isn't the point." And yet it IS the point if your going to say the Irish SAVED CIVILIZATION! But I guess you can't title a book How the Irish Saved the Roman Heritage and Made It Possible That We Could Read Cicero and Virgil ... but We Still Would Have Had Plato, Aristotle, the Greek Dramatists, Augustine, the Church Fathers, the Bible, and a Whole Mess of Other Stuff. Oh well, I can still say that I enjoyed reading the book. Particularly refreshing was Cahill's understated but evident respect for Christianity. Indeed, I suspect he is a Catholic, or at least was at one point in his life. This mercifully saves the reader from having to slog through anti-Christian nonsense. Moreover, it means he actually understands Christian theology and can write clearly on the topic--a decided advantage in studying this period--though, in truth, he is woefully simplistic when it comes to heretics like Pelagius and Arius. It seems to me that Cahill's Christianity also provides the underdeveloped but interesting subtext of the book: a comparison of late Roman culture in all its decadence and blindness ot its own weekness to current American culture. Once in a while he provides salient (though perhaps none too original) parallels between the fifth century and our own that we would do well to scrutinize. And it is with this concern that he ends his book. In discussing the differences between the markedly radical, mystical, and borderline-heretical Irish monastics and the institutionally minded Roman church, he gives us this gem to chew on: "The twenty-first century, prophesied Malraux, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved--forget about our civiliation, which, as Patrick would say, may pass 'in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scatterd by the wind'--if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints." Here, here.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mainzer

    It seems to me that the basic thesis of this book is absurd. The "Irish" didnt save civilization - a few scholarly monks set to work on preserving the classics, all very noble, but meanwhile the rest of the Irish were cavorting around not being like fucking Romans or Greeks and living a different kind of anti-state and somewhat anti-authoritarian "civilization". This from wikipedia - Celtic Ireland (650-1650) In Celtic Irish society of the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, courts and the law we It seems to me that the basic thesis of this book is absurd. The "Irish" didnt save civilization - a few scholarly monks set to work on preserving the classics, all very noble, but meanwhile the rest of the Irish were cavorting around not being like fucking Romans or Greeks and living a different kind of anti-state and somewhat anti-authoritarian "civilization". This from wikipedia - Celtic Ireland (650-1650) In Celtic Irish society of the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, courts and the law were largely anarchist, and operated in a purely stateless manner. This society persisted in this manner for roughly a thousand years until its conquest by England in the seventeenth century. In contrast to many similarly functioning tribal societies, preconquest Ireland was not in any sense "primitive": it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe. A leading authority on ancient Irish law wrote, "There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice... There was no trace of State-administered justice.[1] All "freemen" who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath's members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their "kings." In contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kinship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Professor Peden states, "the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its members constituted its territorial dimension.[2] The "king" had no political power; he could not decree or administer justice or declare war. Basically he was a priest and militia leader, and presided over the tuath assemblies. Celtic Ireland survived many invasions, but was finally vanquished by Oliver Cromwell's reconquest in 1649-50. [edit]

  15. 4 out of 5

    ladydusk

    Own. I'm going to actually give it 3.5 because the first half of the book was so good. I started this on the beach and read for about 4 hours straight (ish) what with watching kids and people and dogs thrown in. I did manage to sit there and get sunburned though. I found the chapters interesting and the comparisons easily (too easily?) applicable to modern day. Ausonius' poetry being politically correct and expected; Augustine being a robust thinker. The description days of the Roman Empire being Own. I'm going to actually give it 3.5 because the first half of the book was so good. I started this on the beach and read for about 4 hours straight (ish) what with watching kids and people and dogs thrown in. I did manage to sit there and get sunburned though. I found the chapters interesting and the comparisons easily (too easily?) applicable to modern day. Ausonius' poetry being politically correct and expected; Augustine being a robust thinker. The description days of the Roman Empire being fat and happy and their failure to be prepared for invasion. All of that made sense in a historical as applied to today sense. I enjoyed the writing and the pace of that section. He made an argument for Western Civilization and learning as was known through the fall of Rome. The next part was a lot new to me. I enjoyed the mythos of Ancient Ireland. My kids had just been reading and narrating about the Tain and other stories in their AmblesideOnline Year 7 readings, so that crossover of ideas was quite helpful. Cahill introduces an Irish people rife with story and as ready to hear the gospel as the Greeks had been. His tracing of where they came from and his discussion of a national character were interesting. His storytelling is a little bawdy in this section, but probably good. We come back to the church and to Patrick. Here is where some of Cahill's claims start to fall apart for me. His story of Patrick was engaging and interesting, the work Patrick did in Ireland to evangelize the people was miraculous for sure. Cahill's characterization of the Irish comes into play here and as the narrative continues the Irish remain Irish but believe the Gospel. There's less fighting, but in general the Gospel makes no real change in their lives and activities. This is contrasted sharply with the uniform whitewashing of culture that the Church is described as having over the rest of Europe. And, then, Rome falls. The last part was, IMO, the part that knocked stars off. Part of the issue, for me, is that while this isn't an academic work, it is presented as scholarly for the public. The bibliography is insufficient, IMO, for helping with the claims that he is making. All of the books in all of Western Europe were entirely destroyed? All of civilization imploded that completely? Now he had made an argument that they were already failing from within to advance in intellectual and cultural ways (cf. Ausonius and his poetry) I think he needed to make a much stronger argument that salvation was necessary for the continent. All of the sudden, out of nowhere the Irish come to save the day. These men who were exiled from their green isle and have been copying any scrap of paper that came their way. I did love that he portrayed the monks as loving learning and the creative impulse that came out of their copywork. I guess I wanted to see more than two paragraphs make the case that civilization needed saving and that the Irish swooped in like Superman to save it without any real danger to those who were in need. The sharp dichotomy he built between the Irish church and the Continental church is disturbing as well. He also seems to have dug to find many salacious stories to keep modern readers engaged and reflects on Saint Brigid, in particular, with a decidedly modern eye. He paints Ireland with a fine brush and European Christianity with a broad one and then compares distinctions. This is a book for a careful, mature reader IMO. I loved how he brought story, poetry, philosophy, and memoir together to build his story. It was fun to meet Beowulf in the pages as I had just finished it. His use of story to display the Irish character was very well done. Overall, I'm not disappointed to have read it. I greatly enjoyed vast swaths of it. I'm disappointed in the speed with which it was all wrapped up. The overall arc was good, but the last chapters felt rushed and not as carefully crafted and engaging as the beginning. They were more jumbled and a timeline of events was hard to follow. I'm also not totally convinced he made his case - that civilization needed saving and the Irish are the means by which it was accomplished.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael Gerald

    The "Dark Ages". Now, whoever was the idiot who coined that term did not know history. This book again sets the record straight that the Medieval Period was a time of cultural and technological stagnation. It was actually during the Medieval Period when the seeds of many cultural and intellectual advancements were sown. If you enjoy reading books, then you have the Medieval Church men and women, like the Irish, who laboriously and lovingly copied the Scriptures and other classics that the world st The "Dark Ages". Now, whoever was the idiot who coined that term did not know history. This book again sets the record straight that the Medieval Period was a time of cultural and technological stagnation. It was actually during the Medieval Period when the seeds of many cultural and intellectual advancements were sown. If you enjoy reading books, then you have the Medieval Church men and women, like the Irish, who laboriously and lovingly copied the Scriptures and other classics that the world still enjoys, to thank for. They saved the classics from oblivion and laid the basis for the modern book. As research had already shown, the "Dark Ages" were anything but dark. It was actually illuminated by the light of learning.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    An entertaining little history of Irish scholarship, culture, and monk/saint heroes of antiquity who greatly respected early learning, writing etc. This very much has a catholic bias but still well written and worth reading if you are interested in Irish history.

  18. 4 out of 5

    M.K. Gilroy

    In 406 A.D the Rhine River froze solid - and the barbarians crossed this temporary bridge to strike one of the final blows to a lazy, corrupt, and aging empire. When Alaric, king of the Visigoths, showed up at Rome's gates in 410 A.D., the citizens still didn't know the end was at hand. Unable to defend themselves - it was a lot of effort after all - they negotiated a "sack" to spare the city from bloodshed: "So they kept their lives, most of them. But sooner or later they or their progeny lost a In 406 A.D the Rhine River froze solid - and the barbarians crossed this temporary bridge to strike one of the final blows to a lazy, corrupt, and aging empire. When Alaric, king of the Visigoths, showed up at Rome's gates in 410 A.D., the citizens still didn't know the end was at hand. Unable to defend themselves - it was a lot of effort after all - they negotiated a "sack" to spare the city from bloodshed: "So they kept their lives, most of them. But sooner or later they or their progeny lost almost everything else: titles, prosperity, way of life, learning: especially learning. A world in chaos is not a world in which books are copied and libraries are maintained. It is not the world where learned men have the leisure to become more learned." While working through Gibbons' The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for my nightstand reading, I realized I needed a shorter "boost" to keep going, so I decided to reread Thomas Cahill's much heralded work that shows the disappearance of learning, scholarship, and culture from the European Continent from the fall of Rome to rise of Charlemagne. All the great works of western civilization would have been lost were it not for the fact that as the Continent became illiterate, one small "unconquered people" at the edge of the Empire were just learning to read and write with gusto. As peaceful Rome turned to chaos, chaotic Ireland grew more peaceful - the key word being more. Following the lead of their eclectic and spiritually patron saint, St. Patrick, and his spiritual son, Columcille, they built centers of learning that not only drew visitors from the Continent, but sent a wave of missionaries that restored and returned the Greek, Roman, Christian and even "pagan" literature to Europe. Just a fun note or two on Patrick. He was not actually Irish. He was a Briton - "almost Roman" - that was captured, enslaved and brutally mistreated by the Irish as a young boy. Following a vision from God - like King David he was a shepherd and solitude and deprivation turned his thoughts toward God - he escaped Ireland and received a seminary education. But his heart beat for Ireland. In one of history's unique footnotes, he became the first missionary since the Apostolic Age. Also, he didn't drive snakes out of Ireland, but he did curb the Irish passion for violence - curbing the passions of that day for hard drink and, um, ah, for a liberated sense of sexuality, is another matter. One of the reasons Patricus was so well received by his one-time tormentors was that he may have been the only man to stand up to the Irish of his century and say, "I am not afraid of you, I fear only God." That they liked and respected. I'm only one in a long line of many to recommend Cahill's short, poetic, sometimes rambling, but always charming narrative that brings history to life.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    What a great book! A pleasure to read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Darcey

    I picked up this book because I'm fascinated by the fragility of knowledge, and by how knowledge gets transferred down through the ages. I was especially fascinated by the idea of monks guarding and transcribing ancient books, since it seemed like a real-life version of Canticle for Liebowitz. I found this book well-written and engaging. I enjoyed reading it, and it was easy to breeze through its 200 pages. It also touched on several themes (in addition to the fragility of knowledge) which fascin I picked up this book because I'm fascinated by the fragility of knowledge, and by how knowledge gets transferred down through the ages. I was especially fascinated by the idea of monks guarding and transcribing ancient books, since it seemed like a real-life version of Canticle for Liebowitz. I found this book well-written and engaging. I enjoyed reading it, and it was easy to breeze through its 200 pages. It also touched on several themes (in addition to the fragility of knowledge) which fascinate me: how social structures change over time, and how consciousness changes. For the first, I'm extremely interested in how one social structure transitions to another, and Cahill spent a bunch of time describing this: he talked about how the Roman tax system became dysfunctional, and how, as the Roman empire collapsed, the land transitioned into the small kingdoms of the dark ages. He also talked about how individual hermitages transitioned into monasteries. All of that was fascinating. For the second, Cahill took it for granted that consciousness changes over time, and that the mindset of a previous civilization might be radically (and perhaps phenomenologically) different than the mindset of people today. I agree with Cahill on this, so I appreciated that he explored these themes. He gave descriptions of what the mindsets of previous civilizations must have been like, both the Romans and the Irish. Ultimately, though, I don't feel that I can rate this book any higher than 3 stars, because I'm not convinced it's a very scholarly work, and I'm not sure how much of it I can trust. I enjoyed reading it, but I think it might have been 200 pages of intellectual fluff. For one thing, it lacks a real bibliography; Cahill just names a few sources for each chapter that influenced him. Also, I'm skeptical of some of his statements because they just seem too convenient; he describes the Irish and Romans in what seem like stereotypes that too closely resemble peoples of today. According to Cahill, the prehistoric Irish had a lot of similarity to the modern Irish; this didn't seem well-justified, and also seems too convenient to be true. 2000 years is a long time, and I expect culture to change more during it. Cahill also bases a lot of his arguments on assumptions about how things might have been. Where the history is ambiguous, he outright says that he's just going to go ahead and choose one of the alternatives. In places, he says things like "suppose this were true", acknowledging that it's uncertain, and then later writes as if that same thing is established fact. So, it's an enjoyable read, but I don't particularly recommend it, because I don't know how reliable the facts in it are.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review Title: When in Ireland,... As I have gotten the chance in the last year to see some of the fabulous treasures of Christianity in the British Museum and Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and Dublin's Trinity College, and see some of the ruins of 6th to 10th Century England and Ireland, I have often referred to Cahill's only partially tongue in cheek title. I had read the book several years ago before I had started listing and then writing down what I thought about the books I read, w Review Title: When in Ireland,... As I have gotten the chance in the last year to see some of the fabulous treasures of Christianity in the British Museum and Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and Dublin's Trinity College, and see some of the ruins of 6th to 10th Century England and Ireland, I have often referred to Cahill's only partially tongue in cheek title. I had read the book several years ago before I had started listing and then writing down what I thought about the books I read, which turned into these book reviews that are now my life's avocation, and before I had the God-given gift to see these treasures firsthand. So of course, when in Ireland I had to find a copy and read it again. It didn't disappoint. Cahill is what I would call a "popular theologian", although he might be better known as a historian, as this small volume turned into a readable yet thoughtful series he calls "The Hinges of History" (perhaps growing out of a phrase he uses here). Not in chronological order, other volumes have covered Jesus, Judaism, and Greek philosophy. Just like his title here, his topics and viewpoints are a little off-kilter, but he knows when to drive a serious point home and how to deflate a historical figure or event of its hot air. So, for example, the one about the Irish saving civilization.... ... Except they really did. Of course making a statement like that and backing it up requires context, so Cahill backs way up and starts in Rome, in about 400 AD, when the borders of the aging Empire are about to be overrun by barbarians--are we allowed to still use that word without air quotes or irony? Defined as peoples from the north and east of the Empire with no exposure to the centuries of Greek and Roman language, literature, art, political order, and religion, and with no appreciable quantities of any of those cultural artifacts of their own, these were indeed barbarians at the gate, who burst through the weakened borders and even weaker institutions at the core of the hollowed out empire and quickly laid most if that civilization to waste. Meanwhile, far to the north and west was born a "Romanized Celtic Briton", as Cahill calls him. We know him as St Patrick, but as a young middle class son of a fading empire far away, he was kidnapped into slavery by marauding bands of Irish Celts, so far beyond the pale the Romans never attempted to invade, conquer or incorporate them into Roman civilization. His conversion while tending sheep on cold lonely Irish hills, his escape back home, and his call back to Ireland are the stuff of both history and legend, and while the dates as with most legends are speculative, Cahill places the fall of the Empire and the rise of St Patrick's mission as roughly contemporary. And rough that mission was, as the Irish landscape and people, ignored by history and civilizations both past and Roman, comprised what Cahill refers to as "Unholy Ireland." But unholy, as Cahill proves, is not uncultured. In fact he points out that Ireland, unconquered by larger more advanced cultures, developed the best documented vernacular history, legends, and language on the planet. Likewise, St. Patrick was the first missionary to take Christianity to, as it were, uncivilized people--"to barbarians beyond the reach of Roman law. " (p. 108) in the thirty years of his ministry in Ireland, Patrick is able to meld the wild heart of the Celt to the wild heart of Christianity in a vibrant religion (looked at with heresy-seeking skepticism when it interfaced with the Roman religion of the continent) and an explosion of literacy (Cahill claims that Irish is the first vernacular literature to be written down) and language that doesn't obliterate the Irish Celtic heritage but gives it a recorded voice and direction that would.... .... save civilization. How did that work? First the lost part (otherwise what's to save?): now overrun by the uncivilized, learning, literature, and literacy itself retreated to small isolated pockets while the barbarians looted and destroyed the artifacts of millenia of civilization. The shattered bits of Empire became tiny feudal kingdoms with little energy, interest or surplus to build or even retain their cultural heritage. While Cahill speculates that most of the Hebrew and Greek Bible might have been saved, he believes most of the rest of civilization (Greek and Roman literature, law, religion, and ways of thinking that developed into modern philosophy, science, and democracy) as we know it today from 2,000 years of development would have been lost without the Irish. Patrick's death in 461 and the deposing of the last Roman emperor in 476 seemed death knells for the great civilization borne by Greece and Rome. But following Patrick's leadership, his spiritual children like Columcille began planting centers of learning, libraries and scriptorium around the rocky edges of western and northern Ireland, then around the edges of "Hibernia," including the most famous places like Skellig Michel, Iona, and Lindesfarne among dozens of others. There they produced and reproduced the cultural heritage that, sheltered from from the barbarians long enough to incubate and rebuild the cultural stock, then spread east and south through England, meeting the Roman mission of Augustine's spreading north from Canterbury on better than equal terms: "All England North of the Thames was indebted to the Celtic mission for its conversion," claims one historian quoted by Cahill. (p. 200). Over the next 300 years they sailed across the North Sea and the English Channel to replant the cultural stock amongst the European remnants and settled-down barbarians populating the continent and ready to reclaim or adopt the nearly-lost heritage. So that by the time the Vikings began sweeping south through Lindesfarne and Iona to bring a new band of destruction from which the Book of Kells and the Lindesfarne Gospels were miraculously preserved, these great cultural symbols could survive today as representatives of the time when the Irish saved civilization. It's a great story, and if you have the chance you can and must make the trip to the British Library to see the Lindesfarne Gospels, and Trinity College, Dublin, to see the Book of Kells. Go see Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, mere ruins outside the walls of the massive Cathedral he also established on that first official Roman mission to England. Make the effort to visit one of the far flung islands that shelter the stone ruins of the once vibrant scriptorium that reproduced the works of men and angels. I missed Lindesfarne when I was in England, but made it to the Aran Islands off Ireland's west coast on a perfectly mystical foggy day to see the ruins of 6th and 8th century churches and the graves of the people who had the infinitely incredible power of faith to raise these monuments on a tiny island on the western edge of the civilization they would save. Because for me, Cahill's excellent account isn't just about saving civilization, but is more importantly the living proof thousands of miles away across dangerous bodies of water of the living Logos, the Word made Flesh of the first chapter of John's Gospel. When the Romans pushed the diaspora out of Jerusalem, it was only a handful of generations later that all of these living evidences of the living Logos in word and stone were created directly from their spiritual testimony and influence. They exist, they are real, the Logos is alive. The British Library calls its exhibition where the Lindesfarne Gospels are displayed "The Treasures". These are eternal Treasures we can see and hold in our hands and our hearts because, well, the Irish really did save civilization.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Barresi

    I recently wrote somewhere that Cahill is a great writer of popular history. I didn't really qualify that remark. Cahill doesn't write popular history, he writes about history in a way that the most readers possible, could enjoy. How the Irish Saved Civilization is a perfect example of this. His premise is fairly simple; while the Roman world is collapsing and being taken over by 'barbarians' across the continent, Irish monks, beginning with Saint Patrick, create a new civilization of religion a I recently wrote somewhere that Cahill is a great writer of popular history. I didn't really qualify that remark. Cahill doesn't write popular history, he writes about history in a way that the most readers possible, could enjoy. How the Irish Saved Civilization is a perfect example of this. His premise is fairly simple; while the Roman world is collapsing and being taken over by 'barbarians' across the continent, Irish monks, beginning with Saint Patrick, create a new civilization of religion and learning, outside the traditional Roman walls. When copies of the well known Latin books would likely have been destroyed by the raiding Visigoths and Vandals, the monks of Ireland, in their Catholic monasteries, are copying the books and scrolls by hand, for history. But it's the Irish-ness of these monks that is so enlightening. The songs and poems, the Irish personality and the Irish guilt are all first seen in these monks of the 6th and 7th centuries. I had already read Cahill's Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, and now I'm ready to read the next his historical series on transformational moments in time. How the Irish Saved CivilizationDesire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before & After JesusSailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This is a good and interesting book and although I think it's more a "3.5" than a straight "4", I'm willing to grade it generously. The author has clearly done a good job on his research and analysis. His writing style is clear and clean; more "popular" than "scholarly" - almost too much so for my tastes. But this is a book written for a widespread and casual audience, so his tone and phrasing is understandably directed to that level. I, having learned my Greco-Roman history and six years of Latin This is a good and interesting book and although I think it's more a "3.5" than a straight "4", I'm willing to grade it generously. The author has clearly done a good job on his research and analysis. His writing style is clear and clean; more "popular" than "scholarly" - almost too much so for my tastes. But this is a book written for a widespread and casual audience, so his tone and phrasing is understandably directed to that level. I, having learned my Greco-Roman history and six years of Latin, was fairly familiar with most of the material and the premise (one of the few topics that I've managed to avoid a televised PBS or educational documentary on, though.) So, I was looking for some deeper material in places, but not everyone passes through an institution whose catchphrase when I attended was, "We are not a cult of mediocrity." I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed his forays into the philosophies of Augustine of Hippo (aka St. Augustine) and St. Patrick and how they influenced the development of both the early and later church. I had forgotten a few of the more serious ramifications of Augustine's thinking. No, no spoilers here, I'd rather you pick up a copy and read it for yourself! On balance I think that this is one of the better books on how "Western Civilization" survived what used to be called the Dark Ages (now, named Early Medieval). Although the alternative channel of literature and scholarship via the Iberian peninsula is given little space, what the book does cover is highly readable and enjoyable. If the author really did follow through with the later books in the series, I will be reading them and soon.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    Bain of my 9th grade existence.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Edoardo Albert

    There's many a detail I would quibble with in this book, but Cahill gets it spot on for his two big ideas: the vital role played by Irish monks in saving and renewing the culture of Europe after the fall of Rome, and the extraordinary personality of Patrick. First, the monks. While it's true that preference of modern scholarship is to emphasise the continuity between the late Empire and the early Barbarian states, yet this was a continuity that was mainly political - the successor kings appropri There's many a detail I would quibble with in this book, but Cahill gets it spot on for his two big ideas: the vital role played by Irish monks in saving and renewing the culture of Europe after the fall of Rome, and the extraordinary personality of Patrick. First, the monks. While it's true that preference of modern scholarship is to emphasise the continuity between the late Empire and the early Barbarian states, yet this was a continuity that was mainly political - the successor kings appropriated as much of the machinery of the Roman state, in particular its tax gathering abilities, as they could manage. But the cultural continuity was limited, and the barbarians, apparently self conscious about their own cultural limitations, brought little to the part. The Irish, on the other hand, were never part of the Empire. Once they adopted Christianity, and it gave them written voice and language, they kept what was best of their own tradition, while teaching and transmitting, with all the vigour and enthusiasm of those who had never felt the Roman lash, all the best of Classical and, naturally, Christian thought. But moving on to Patrick, none of this would have happened without him. Although other missionaries may have been conflated with Patrick, it's clear that he still had both the courage and, even more importantly, the open mindedness to be the first in the West to go beyond the bounds of Empire, to go beyond the ends of the world. Patrick went where his vision, his dream, told him to go. But others may have received such a commission, only to recoil before its unthinkableness. Patrick went. And he changed the world.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark Nangle

    The dramatic title of this book is a bit tongue in cheek is it not? Cahill's attempt at Irish exaggeration and humour is maybe lost on some erstwhile reviewers. Having said that, you do get the sense that Cahill is at least half-serious and would like to be taken that way. Published in the midst of the 'Celtic Tiger' nineties, Cahill points out in his introduction that he is attempting an untold history of 'transition', rather than stasis, meaning that most histories describe one period then anot The dramatic title of this book is a bit tongue in cheek is it not? Cahill's attempt at Irish exaggeration and humour is maybe lost on some erstwhile reviewers. Having said that, you do get the sense that Cahill is at least half-serious and would like to be taken that way. Published in the midst of the 'Celtic Tiger' nineties, Cahill points out in his introduction that he is attempting an untold history of 'transition', rather than stasis, meaning that most histories describe one period then another, while he wants get in between these well defined periods and describe the transitions. At the same time he seeks to remedy an omission in historical writing - namely - the forgotten voices, the weaker voices - Women, African American and in his case, Celtic and Catholic. Published amid a time of new found confidence in Ireland, Thomas Cahill presents his ideas and thoughts on a range of key characters that have inspired him deeply. These characters are taken from early Celtic mythology, Roman and Greek history and early Christianity. They include names like Augustine, Cicero, Columcille, Collumbanus, Cuchulainn and Saint Patrick. They are inspiring stories and they are told vividly and with warmth and humour. Structurally, Cahill seems to take an inordinately long time setting the scene as he straddles the worlds of the Holy Roman Empire and pre-Christian Celtic Ireland. It is not until well into the second half of the book that we come to a chapter with the same title as the book and he tells us the story of Irish monks fanning out across Europe to set up monasteries. By this stage though one has had to forgive Cahill for being a little bit misleading and giving the long way round directions instead of the more direct route (which has happened to me on Irish roads many's a time). But it is frustrating and you can't help but get that sinking feeling that someone is trying to proselytise you. I plodded on and was rewarded with many moments of sheer inspiration and beauty and I love his passages on manuscripts, the scribes and the aesthetics of the alphabet and letters. There's a lovely moment where he describes literacy as central to Irish spirituality. All in all this was a read that was, at times, inspirational, in the way that, say, 'Anam Cara' by John O'Donohue is inspirational (coincidentally published a year or so after Cahill's book), and at other times frustrating and, if I might say, slightly depressing (I'm not a fan of of the history of Christianity). But to give him his due, Cahill has managed to cleave out of said history a sense of identity for people who might consider themselves spiritual and unsung, marginalised and under appreciated. It is to this task that he set himself to work and it is to this task that he ultimately succeeded. To quote the final passage; "The twenty first century, prophesied Malraux, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilisation is to be saved - forget about our civilisation, which, as Patrick would say, may pass "in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind" - if WE are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints." Oh, and one last thing. I discovered a new word - "bishoprics".

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    The titular question of Thomas Cahill’s first Hinges of History book is one that gets people interested in picking it up. Yet the length of How the Irish Saved Civilization brings into question on if Cahill adequately answers his own question with such a slender book that promoted becoming a bestseller. Cahill’s focus is on the end of the Western Roman Empire and how the literary tradition, in fact literacy itself survived the end of the Roman era and begin in the new Germanic aftermath of the fa The titular question of Thomas Cahill’s first Hinges of History book is one that gets people interested in picking it up. Yet the length of How the Irish Saved Civilization brings into question on if Cahill adequately answers his own question with such a slender book that promoted becoming a bestseller. Cahill’s focus is on the end of the Western Roman Empire and how the literary tradition, in fact literacy itself survived the end of the Roman era and begin in the new Germanic aftermath of the fall of Rome. The survival of literacy in Europe is thanks to the efforts of the newly Christianized Irish, the people not considered worth the conquest by Rome that keeps the legacy of Rome alive in Western Europe. The Irish through the missionary effort of the future St. Patrick turn from a non-literate oral society into a literate and learning center in less than a century. The proud warrior-centered culture became “warriors” for learning that attracted scholars all over Europe to learn and read at the many monasteries, but then the Irish started spread away from their island home first across the Irish Sea to Great Britain than all across Europe founding monasteries as they went to continued their tradition. Cahill attempts to create portraits of the Irish before and after their conversion to display how their culture changed, but also how it stayed the same and influenced the Celtic Christian tradition of the British Isles. In contrast, Cahill portrayed the Roman worldview and culture including how it influenced Roman Christianity. Although both these attempts were somewhat successful, the result in the book came off as a little disjointed in cohesion. The lack of firm historical data or sources for some of Cahill’s depiction of St. Patrick, acknowledged in the book’s bibliographic sources hurts of the quality of the overall work as well. How the Irish Saved Civilization is a nice history for the general reader, however unlike later installments of the Hinges of History series it is lacking in a quality connected structure and solid sources. Cahill should be praised in giving readers understanding in how the society of Western Europe both changed and stayed the same with the fall of Rome and the beginning of the early Middle Ages, however the quality of the book is only so-so.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nanci McGraw

    I reached my goal: I read and finished this book in the month of March. So-ooooooooooooooooo glad. Way too many details for me to remember, recall, and reuse. However, I don't blame the author, ha! I did read everything from front to back and then went backwards to front again. Love the pronunciation guide for Irish names. Appreciate the chronology outline in the appendix. Read the unique chapter by chapter explanatory bibliography. The world has some fantastically dedicated scholars who just lov I reached my goal: I read and finished this book in the month of March. So-ooooooooooooooooo glad. Way too many details for me to remember, recall, and reuse. However, I don't blame the author, ha! I did read everything from front to back and then went backwards to front again. Love the pronunciation guide for Irish names. Appreciate the chronology outline in the appendix. Read the unique chapter by chapter explanatory bibliography. The world has some fantastically dedicated scholars who just love to research old, old documents and dig for data. Very grateful for the diligent, energetic, and artistic Irish monks who copied, enhanced, and (while they were at it) colorfully embellished the writings, plus proselytizingly left Ireland to share the love of learning. I can't even begin to give a critical analysis of Mr. Cahill's writing; I just know that it is breezily erudite and educated. I love the way he shares Latin poetry and prose, and then adds his very OWN translations. My two meager years of high school Latin leave me painfully aware of how little I recall. Cahill constucts sentences the way engineers build bridges--carefully, solidly. He selects just the right foundation of academically arduous words, adding plenty of rich, descriptive linguistic nuance. Many sentences I actually stopped to read aloud, just to hear them rise and fall and roll and --to understand. He makes historical figures pop out because he puts flesh on the dry bones by deducing and describing his own psychological and personality analysis. I give it 4 STARs because he bounces around somewhat in telling his tale and assumes the reader comes in knowing more than most of us do. It's a popularized history, for us layfolks, thank goodness. I'm positive that European history scholars should read it also. My bottom line: The Irish added much fierceness, energy, spirit, rather harmless superstition, humor, enthusiasm, love of learning and language to the world. Well, I knew that prior to reading this book. What I never fully appreciated until this reading is that the ancient Romans, Greeks, Germans, Vikings/Scandinavians, French, Italians, Britons, et al (i.e. the rest of the world) owe the Irish a huge debt of gratitude. The title seemed "over the top" at first, but now, I don't think so. Cahill convinced me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill is part of a series he wrote called The Hinges of History. Those “hinges,” as he writes in the book, are parts of history often overlooked. They are usually more complex than they seem and Cahill has decided to reexamine those parts of history with an emphasis on key figures in those time periods who made valuable contributions to history. If you are normally wary of reading history books because they are too long, too dry and too full of dates a How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill is part of a series he wrote called The Hinges of History. Those “hinges,” as he writes in the book, are parts of history often overlooked. They are usually more complex than they seem and Cahill has decided to reexamine those parts of history with an emphasis on key figures in those time periods who made valuable contributions to history. If you are normally wary of reading history books because they are too long, too dry and too full of dates and names, then you may enjoy this book. He limits the scope to exactly what the title states: how the Irish saved civilization. It’s an engrossing and enjoyable read. Before diving into the Irish, he explains how the Roman empire, clearly one of the most extensive and important civilizations in history, fell into decline and then gave way to successive waves of Germanic invaders. Cahill summarizes the basic theories that led to Rome’s fall: it was either inner weakness (social or spiritual) or outer weakness—the barbarian hordes. Then he gives the reader a much more in depth view of the last century or so of Roman civilization and, as an outsider, you can see why the Roman empire fell. The list of Roman ills should (as Cahill says) provide lessons for the contemporary reader. It did for this contemporary reader: “The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of its service by established families, while its officers present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were; the increasing concentrations of the populace into richer and poorer by way of a corrupt tax system, and the desperation that inevitably follows; the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature; ineffectual legislation promulgated with great show; the moral vocation of the man at the top to maintain order at all costs, while growing blind to the cruel dilemmas of ordinary life—these are all themes with which our world is familiar…(30).When the illiterate invaders stormed through the Roman empire, they tore apart the fabric of society. Libraries were ransacked, books burned, people murdered and captured as slaves. Formal education, intelligent thinking, and even Christianity succumbed to the savagery. After describing the desolate state of the crumbling (and crumbled) Roman empire, Cahill turns to ancient Ireland and examines its cultural traditions. Up through the century of Rome’s fall, Ireland was a country little disturbed by outside influences. “This was an illiterate, aristocratic, seminomadic, Iron Age warrior culture, its wealth based on animal husbandry and slavery” (81). This slowly changed with the introduction of Christianity to the Irish by one man, Patricius. He was a Roman youth captured by an Irish king and put to work as a sheep herder. Six lonely years of hunger and deprivation led to Patricius’s wholehearted conversion to Christianity, a religion he’d previously ignored because he found it foolish. One day God (although the author never states this outright) told Patricius to leave Ireland, and he did, taking a chance with his life that he’d be discovered as an escaping slave. Patricius trusted in God to protect him, and eventually he made it home to his family in Britain. However, he cannot forget the people he left behind, and heeding God’s call he travels to a monastery in Gaul to begin his training to be ordained as a priest and a bishop. Patricius transforms into St. Patrick, apostle to the Irish nation. And this is how the Irish saved civilization (a least for a little while). Patrick, through his genuine love of his adopted Irish people, spreads the word of Christianity. He established bishops throughout Ireland: “With the Irish—even with the kings—he succeeded beyond measure. Within his lifetime or soon after his death, the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare, decreased. In reforming Irish sexual mores, he was rather less successful, though he established indigenous monasteries and convents, whose inmates by their way of life reminded the Irish that the virtues of lifelong faithfulness, courage, and generosity were actually attainable by ordinary human beings and that the sword was not the only instrument for structuring a society” (110). These religious Irish men and women (for women could be messengers for God as well) kept knowledge and learning alive by seizing books where they could, copying them, and creating their own. Because they were not subjected to the Roman way of thinking, the Irish were free to inject their own cultural identity into their Christian teachings (at least for a while): “It is a shame that private confessions is one of the few Irish innovations that passed into the universal church. How different might Catholicism be today if it had taken over the easy Irish sympathy between churchmen and laymen and the easy Irish attitudes toward diversity, authority, the role of women, and the relative unimportance of sexual mores” (178). Not satisfied with keeping Christianity and learning to themselves, the Irish traveled outside their borders and set up religious centers in Europe’s mainland, settling among people who were once as illiterate as themselves and educating them. We do not know much about these Irish exiles but we do know that without them: “Latin literature would almost surely have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of the Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy but all the habits of mind that encourage thought” (193). This is a well-written account of a very specific time in history. Cahill writes with affection for the Irish and their literature and has a charming sense of humor. To display Irish literary talents, Cahill quotes not just religious writings, but ancient Irish myths and tales and humorous poems written by ninth century scribal scholars. During this golden time for the Irish, books were not documents to keep on dusty shelves, but “glorious literary smorgasbords in which the scribe often tried to include a bit of everything, from every era, language, and style known to him. No one would see their like again till James Joyce would write Ulysses” (163).Like the Jews before him, the Irish enshrined literacy as their central religious act. In a land where literacy had previously been unknown, in a world where the old literate civilizations were sinking fast beneath successive waves of barbarism, the white Gospel page, shining in all the little oratories of Ireland, acted as a pledge: the lonely darkness had been turned into light, and the lonely virtue of courage, sustained through all the centuries, had been transformed into hope (164). I highly recommend this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    George Bradford

    (If you’re curious about the life of St. Patrick, this book contains an excellent account.) Some books have titles so awesome that the text can’t possibly live up to it. Here is a book whose title does just that. Whether “How the Irish Saved Civilization” lives up to its self-imposed challenge is up to the reader. Lovers of all things Irish will buy it and be filled with pride. Skeptical historians will find errors and omissions to criticize and debunk it. During Europe’s Middle Ages most of the (If you’re curious about the life of St. Patrick, this book contains an excellent account.) Some books have titles so awesome that the text can’t possibly live up to it. Here is a book whose title does just that. Whether “How the Irish Saved Civilization” lives up to its self-imposed challenge is up to the reader. Lovers of all things Irish will buy it and be filled with pride. Skeptical historians will find errors and omissions to criticize and debunk it. During Europe’s Middle Ages most of the great texts of science, philosophy, history and literature were imperiled. According to Thomas Cahill, during the fall of western classical civilization (the Dark Ages) these works would have been lost forever. However, a group of monks in Ireland dedicated their lives to preserving these treasures. This book documents this history and tells the story of how it was done. “How the Irish Saved Civilization” is a non-fiction / history book. It relates Celtic history with all the essential events and personalities. But it is not dry or slow. It is written in an accessible manner that is brisk but not superficial.

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