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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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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) + The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History) + Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Hinges of History)
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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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (453 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,594 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.

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.

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

215 of 254 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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60 of 70 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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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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98 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Bruce on May 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers have pointed out - this book is all about its clever title. Cahill does a very poor job at his subject. He really is not in touch with Ireland and the book reads like it is padded from sources that are not familiar with current information. I found particular irritating the way he "patronized" the Irish as an island of children. Irish contribution to world scholarship is better described elsewhere. I would not recommend this book for those really interested in medieval Ireland - I would recommend McCaffrey's In Search of Ancient Ireland as a better alternative for those really looking for a quality read.
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149 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey L. Thurston on October 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Don't get me wrong- this is a very entertaining book. If you've ever hung out in a bar and met one of those droll sons of the Esmerald Isle spinning a hilarious tale or two after a wee bit of the ol' poteen just imagine a whole book of such tales purporting to show how the Irish saved Europe's bacon. No pesky historical FACTS get in the way of a single-minded Irish Catholic view of the past. Reading this reminded me of the Cold war Soviets who claimed the Russians invented everything or the Greek dad in the recent popular movie who thought every word had Greek roots and the Greeeks were best at everything. And the Greeks is where this book's theory comes CRASHING down because of...BYZANTIUM!...in this work described as "a small defensible state"!!! The fact is the the Byzantine Empire continued the Roman Empire for centuries after the "fall" of the western Roman empire and all of the supposedly lost civilization of Rome was there all along in a huge area of eastern and southern Europe. This is mentioned on ONE! page in the book. In fact the so-called Dark Ages were really never as dark or uncivilised as they popularly thought to be. The West is Better prejudices of our time come through clearly- its as if Eastern and Central Europe didn't exist. I think the Germans would be surprised to find out that it isn't Romanesque architecture and art from German towns that count but Irish inspired manuscripts. A topsy-turvy view of the world and history is displayed here- the classic Romans and Greeks are "pessimistic and dark" whereas the newly christianised Irish are humanistic and freedom-loving! We have here a great example of a new kind of popular history where entertainment and prejudice mix to prove whatever you want. If you're Irish and Catholic you'll love this book- everybody else bring your grain of salt!
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More About the Author

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