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How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 15, 1995


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (February 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385418485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385418485
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (421 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, is the bestselling author of the Hinges of History series.

Customer Reviews

Don't get me wrong- this is a very entertaining book.
Jeffrey L. Thurston
(Although the citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire would have laughed at the notion that their civilization was in any sense "saved" by the Irish!).
Michael E. Bass
Thomas Cahill does great honor to his ancestors with his book, a must read for anyone interested in the history of Western Civilization.
Susan Gill

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

204 of 243 people found the following review helpful By John B. Maggiore on April 13, 2001
Format: Audio Cassette
The title of this book is misleading, though not inaccurate. For some reason I assumed the title to be tongue-in-cheek. Some vague kind of Irish humor. I also assumed that the Irish in question were the contemporary Irish, perhaps even Irish Americans. I was pleasantly surprised to be completely wrong. I usually listen to tapes of books that I am mildly interested in and don't want to spend the time and effort to read. This one far exceeded my initial casual interest. It was a joy to listen to and worth sitting down with in print form. The book is a piece of serious history. It focuses on the transition in Europe between the fall of Rome and the early Middle Ages. The story is literally how Irish clerics saved the books and teachings of classical Western civilization, then re-introduced them to Europe after the fall. This is not only a period in history that I am not especially familiar with - I genuinely don't think there's much writing on it (at least not popular historical writing, like this book). The author makes a point that this particular story - of how, well, the Irish saved civilization, is especially downplayed or ignored in part due to who writes most of the history books (such as the English). So I learned quite a bit. Cahill is a great storyteller. I imagine that this will be enjoyable even for people without a particular attraction to history, and certainly to people with no particular interest in Irish history. Again, this is a book worth getting and reading in print form, however the audio version has one advantage - the narration by Donal Donnelly. His rich voice and well-timed delivery was a joy to listen to and kept me driving the long way home so I could hear more of the tape.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 1998
Format: Paperback
This was not as compelling or thoughtful as this subject deserved. It seems to be written (or transscribed) with the audiotape in mind. Cahill's statement in the preface that this subject (How the Irish Saved...) has not been addressed before is wrong. I recommend James Charles Roy's Islands of Storm. This is an earlier book and does a far better job of explaining this subject. In addition it adds far more Irish geography and meanderings about Irish religious development and influences. At 280 pages a far more worthwhile and enjoyable read. In fact after reading Cahill's, I immediately re-read Roy's.
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57 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Susan Gill on January 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization..." is the kind of written history that was born in the oral tradition. This is a book not only scholarly in content, but eminently readable by all. Certainly, it has become a monument to the Irish monks who one can see painstakingly copying the ancient books of the Greeks for posterity. Cahill's recounting of Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, brings this Roman slave's life to the people without compromising his inherent holiness. Thomas Cahill does great honor to his ancestors with his book, a must read for anyone interested in the history of Western Civilization.
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55 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Rick Zuma on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
To live up to the title, Cahill would have to answer the following questions? What ancient works were necessary for civilization's rebirth? Did the Irish save these works? Did only the Irish save these works?
The crucial works were the writings of Aristotle - which Aquinas studied and reconciled with Christianity. This helped lay the ground work for a renewed respect for the secular and rational. Notice that this influence is absent in the Eastern Orthodox Church. From the renewed influence of reason proceeds the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
The works of Aristotle, lost to the west, were reintroduced after the Crusades. Copies were saved in the Mid East, often in Arab hands. The Irish monks contributed and deserve credit - as do many others.
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241 of 298 people found the following review helpful By I'm Irish on March 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
Goethe: "Choose well, your choice is brief, and yet endless." This propaganda was endlessly FALSE!!!!! As a history buff I have to take issue with the positive reviews of this Fluff. The most recent rev. by Mr. J. Egolf was largely wrong. First, Ireland did not have 8 million people untill 1840. The climate changes in 535 led to the island losing half its population to famine. The Irish did not precede the Benedictines or most other orders of monks! The Benedictines grew in part out of the earlier orders founded by "Origen in the second century." As the astute rev's have poignantly mentioned THE IRISH GOT THERE BOOKS FROM THE HIGHLY ORGANIZED BENEDICTINES AFTER THE YEAR 500 and from others before that. Despite, Monte Cassino being sacked in 580 and 846 the Benedictines did not lose any books since they hid them in caves were the Lombards and Arabs could not get to. Mr. Cahill even mentioned that the Irish monks were very de-centralized and often at odds with all authority and each other. That removes most of the authors claims in their BIAS TOTALITY. I found the authors remarks about non-Irish very offensive. Why do we Irish have to mock others to build ourselves up? Pieter Balsetiers "Saint Benedict, The Father Of Western Civilization" is a far more in depth and FAIR WORK OF SCHOLARSHIP. He gives the Italians, Jews, Arabs, Armenians, and Greeks the credit they DESERVE! I am returning this book.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By James on August 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
I first read this book a few years ago and then again recently. While it is written in an easy way and is a quick read I find that Cahill is not good at presenting recent scholarship or indeed in backing up what he is saying with references. Some of his "facts" are actually mythology but he does not state this and there is no clear line between actual Irish history and myth. In this he does a disservice to Irish scholars. I recommend that readers also read "In Search of Ancient Ireland" the more recent publication that gives a better overview of the same period in Irish history and with greater clarity and detail.
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