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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 (The Hinges of History) Paperback – February 1, 1996


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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.

From Publishers Weekly

An account of the pivotal role played by Irish monks in transcribing and preserving Classical civilization during the Dark Ages.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Hinges of History (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st edition (February 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385418493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385418492
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (435 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

This is a very interesting book-- even if you're not interested in Irish History (or even History period!)
R. Scully
Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization..." is the kind of written history that was born in the oral tradition.
Susan Gill
The title of the book for one thing is one of the things that make you want to instantly pick up the book.
Joshua Lee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

205 of 244 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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58 of 68 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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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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56 of 66 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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Bass on May 29, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The eyebrow-raising title pretty well says it all for this book, which presents, in a popular format, the rich heritage and influence of Irish Christianity upon the whole of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. (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!). The author does a creditable job of casting light on a part of Western history that often gets short shrift in the history books: how the Irish monks of the 6th and 7th centuries "jump-started" literacy and learning during the darkest part of the Dark Ages. A very informative and enjoyable read!
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95 of 115 people found the following review helpful By danica@mills.edu on August 30, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Cahill fails to cite almost any sources for his historical "facts," and the few he does cite are either mistranslated or misquoted. The gist of the book is that the way in which the Irish saved civilization was by embracing Christianity. His definition of civilization is any Christian society; the surrounding Pagan cultures are referred to as barbarian hordes living in darkness till the light of God is thrust upon them. His point seems to be that Christianity took hold of Europe and the rest of the world largely because it managed to take hold of Ireland, but he fails to understand or tell us that Christianity was repeatedly rejected by the Irish, and that the older Pagan ways continued on for a VERY long time underneath a thin cover of Christian rule. In short, he Pagan-bashes like crazy and has the WORST historical methods I have seen in years of study
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