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Book Review of How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History)

How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History)
gentlymad avatar reviewed on + 29 more book reviews

As with all historical research you cannot rely on one source of information and it is important to look in the back of the book to see just how many sources the author used as well as what sort of sources.
Having said that, I found value in this book because it filled in gaps for me about the thousand years after Christ and traced the growth and development of the Christian church and European civilization. I have always been fascinated with how Europe went from being barbaric tribes to the sort of people who wrote Arthurian romances that embodied the ideal of manners, behaviors, and values so very much more sophisticated and merciful than the warring tribes that once populated (terrorized?) the continent.
Enter Thomas Cahill: According to him it was the Irish who started the ball rolling. How did they do this? By converting to Christianity, thanks to St Patrick.
Cahill actually starts back with the Roman Empire and how the church grew even as the empire declined but he contends that the Catholic church in Rome was not responsible for the advancement of European culture. Instead, this occurred after Ireland started sending out missionaries across the continent.
Cahill gives a thorough history of St Patrick's life and missionary work among the people who once enslaved him. I now feel I know a lot more about this early missionary than I had previously.
I suppose there is a fair dose of Irish snobbery in Cahill's pronouncement that it was the Irish who delivered Europe out of the dark ages but he does go into detail as to what monks went where, what the condition of the continental kingdom was prior to the Irish missionaries as well as after and also describes the ineffectualness of the Roman missionaries in the same areas. (I'm merely describing what he wrote not necessarily my opinion, I would need other sources to read first.)
Finally, Cahill has what I would describe as a typical Irish sense of humour which can border on the irreverant if not outright bawdy. Depending on who you are you'll either enjoy or be offended by it.
As I said, I wouldn't rely on this book as a sole source of early European history but it is certainly worth reading for those who are interested in that epoch of time, as I am.

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