How the Irish Saved Civilization
Thomas Cahill’s delightful book focuses on the period between the collapse of Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages, between the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the medieval. As the great libraries of Europe were looted and burned by Germanic invaders, much of the literature of Western civilization was saved by unlikely Irish scribes, only one generation past illiteracy. Under the leadership of Patrick, a former slave who became a missionary bishop to Ireland, these scribes copied thousands of manuscripts that served as the repositories for Greco- Roman and Judeo-Christian culture, later carrying them along as they went forth to Christianize Europe.
Cahill illustrates the changes of this period through the fifth century figures of Patrick and his classical counterpart, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and great scholar of the early Christian church. Each man was part of the transition from a rational, classical world to one that was more intuitive, mystical, and passionate. Under Patrick’s influence, Ireland became an inclusive Christian culture in which pagan influences were embraced and transformed.
Cahill’s easy tone, his wry and delightful humor, make this a book to be read with pleasure. He has a wonderful ability to synthesize all kinds of information, and he offers a new perspective on a crucial period in Western civilization. His book is accessible, fascinating, a glimpse into the ancient world. It is also a paean to the Irish people, descendants of warriors, a race blessed with a love of words and an irrepressible spirit.
Sources for Further Study
America. CLXXIII, September 23, 1995, p. 2.
Booklist. XCI, April 1, 1995, p. 1374.
Library Journal. CXX, March 15, 1995, p. 84.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 12, 1995, p. 3.
The New York Times Book Review. C, August 13, 1995, p. 15.
The New Yorker. LXXI, April 24, 1995, p. 115.
San Francisco Chronicle. April 9, 1995, p. REV10.
Whole Earth Review. Fall, 1995, p. 83.