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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

Book 1 of 6 in the Hinges of History Series

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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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (469 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,790 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

I kept going thinking I really need to see if this book starts making sense for my dad's sake.
Gary D. Wilson
Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization..." is the kind of written history that was born in the oral tradition.
Susan Gill
This is a very interesting book-- even if you're not interested in Irish History (or even History period!)
R. Scully

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

221 of 261 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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28 of 30 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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63 of 73 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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20 of 21 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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27 of 30 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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100 of 121 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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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Dabney on February 28, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
I won't weigh in on the merits of the work itself--it is fine for my taste, though not to others. But you ought to be warned that the narration for the unabridged edition, by Donal Donnelly, is deplorable. He reads with almost comically exaggerated vocal inflections. He often pauses after ever few words (sometimes after every single word) so that you can hardly follow the flow of the ideas. I found it so annoying that I had to stop listening, though I was engaged by the book itself. This criticism does not apply to Liam Neeson's reading of the abridged edition--I haven't heard it, but it seems to get good reviews. This is the rare instance when I wish I had bought the shorter version.
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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)
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