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 treasury. When stability returned in Europe, these Irish scholars were instrumental in spreading learning, becoming not only the conservators of civilization, but also the shapers of the medieval mind, putting their unique stamp on Western culture.
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From Publishers Weekly
With the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, Ireland, according to the author, "had one moment of unblemished glory"-when Irish monks copied almost all of Western classical poetry, history, oratory, philosophy and commentary. But this book is more than the story of monks preserving manuscripts; it is an irreverent look back at how Ireland came to be. Celts who had traversed Europe, Irish warriors and their women were primitive and blatantly sexual. Next came a taming of the land with the help of St. Patrick, who hated slavery and loved scholarship. Patrick was followed by St. Columcille, a great lover of books who became embroiled in a war and, as penance, exiled himself to the island of Iona, off Scotland. It was here that Ireland became "Europe's publisher," as other warrior-monks followed Columcille's example and began to colonize barbarized Europe. They put Ireland in the vanguard of intellectual leadership, a position the Irish would not surrender until the Viking invasion of the 11th century. Cahill (A Literary Guide to Ireland) has written a scholarly, yet cheeky, book that will have strong appeal to Celtophiles. Illustrations not seen by PW.
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