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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


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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
  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st edition (February 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385418493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385418492
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (389 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,478 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.

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

The rest of the book felt padded.
Slavic Critic
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 informative and entertaining book, popularized history at its best.
William C. Greene

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

193 of 231 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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53 of 62 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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239 of 294 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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186 of 228 people found the following review helpful By ???????????? on June 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have been reading the history of this period for over forty years. This is the worst bunk I have ever read. Here are my reasons. 1, He fails to cite his sources. 2,He fails to prove his thesis. 3,He contradicts the very title by stating that books never vanished from Italy, Greece, and the most Romanized parts of the western Roman world. 4,He pads the book with a ton of extraneous info that has nothing to do with the topics. 5,He inexplicably bashes other groups for no reason. Lastly, the so-called style is a disorganized, and incoherent rambling. I suggest that before anyone wastes their money. They read all of the reviews of this book wih a fine tooth comb and an open mind.
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88 of 106 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Thomas Cahill's book is a feeble (and cheap) attempt to whip up Irish-American patriotism. In fact, a catchy title and an attractive cover are about the only things this book has "going for it." Cahill is completely misguided and presents his arguments with a chaotic incoherence. He is also misinformed. For ex., he states that the art of the medieval period was filled with smiling and playful demons, as it was meant to be perceived as "light" by the audience. It is common knowledge that medieval art, religious art, was on the apocalyptic end of the church propaganda spectrum. His tone is always condescending, as if he were speaking to a group of children who could never possibly comprehend the sophisticated arguments he's making. He attempts to elevate the Irish to the status of the saviors of civilization, but does so by mocking other groups, such as the Mormons (whom he calls uneducated). His style makes the topic itself less interesting. It is not scholarly or even acceptable for main-stream readers. I would love to read a book which deals with the same subject written by someone else, as the topic itself, divorced from Cahill's inaptitude, is fascinating and definitely overlooked by true scholars, since it deals with a transitional period. Probably THE worst book I have ever read.
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