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Ireland's Saint: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick Paperback – January 2, 2013
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From the Back Cover
Discover how one man became devoted to the people who enslaved him and changed Ireland forever.
Explore the life of St. Patrick---a story full of Druids and sorcery, tribal leaders and ancient curses, and the flowering of Ireland. J.B. Bury, the first modern biographer of the great saint, sought to find the man beneath the layers of myth and legend. Now, Jon M. Sweeney introduces Bury's classic biography for twenty-first-century readers, including sidebar notes from other biographers, mystics, historians, and storytellers of Ireland.
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This book is so "historical" that it verges on disrespectful. In fact, what I did read included what I sincerely believe was fully intended to be disrespectful, apparently gratuitously inserted to demean. I can't comment on anything from page 128 or later as that is where I stopped, sick to my stomach that I had wasted the time to drudge through the prior pages.
If you are a historian OF THE PERIOD with no concern for St. Patrick's contributions to Christianity, you may "like" it. However I do not recommend it to anyone, certainly not my worst enemy.
Finally, I cannot think of even 1 (one) positive thing to say about this book. I literally just threw it in the trash can.
Bury, an Irish Protestant, wrote what is considered the first modern scholarly biography of Saint Patrick, utilizing the two existing documents attributed to Patrick himself, as well as some of the earliest biographies of the saint combined with his own knowledge of the time Patrick lived in and occasionally cross-referenced with less trustworthy "Patrick lore" and place names in an attempt to flesh out a portrait of what can be known about the man. He approaches the task from an interesting angle, viewing it "as an appendix to the history of the Roman Empire," placing Patrick's work in the context of the spread of Latin religion and culture even as the Empire withdrew from Britain, Patrick's birthplace. In doing so Bury addresses the issue of Patrick's importance in Ireland's history: he ensured that Ireland entered the "Latin fold" of the Late Empire and emerging Christendom, rather than continuing in the relative cultural and linguistic isolation it had enjoyed throughout the era of Roman rule.
While the biography is relatively brief and a quick read, it covers the known episodes of Patrick's life, and analyzes some of his more legendary encounters and travels as well. Though, as Sweeney notes, some modern scholars question the viability of some of the sources which Bury considers at least partly reliable, Bury's work is an interesting demonstration of how much information can be drawn from a small number of sources. For his part. Sweeney provides notes throughout the book, generally concerning background historical or cultural information of varying usefulness, along with some of the developments in thought and study concerning Patrick, and a brief bibliography.
In its design and editing, this book is directed towards a general readership, and viewing it as such I give it 5 stars. It is well written with the insights of a first-rate scholar, and while scholarship on the subject has moved in different directions on some issues, Sweeney's notes tend to address these issues briefly, making the reader at least aware of them, and his bibliography leads the reader to some of the notable recent scholarly works on the subject for those interested. In sum, it does what it sets out to do, providing an "essential" biography of Saint Patrick.