How the Irish Saved Civilization

  • by Thomas Cahill
  • Narrated by Donal Donnelly
  • 8 hrs and 0 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the fall of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne - the "dark ages" - learning, scholarship, and culture disappeared from the European continent. The great heritage of Western civilization - from the Greek and Roman classics to Jewish and Christian works - would have been utterly lost were it not for the holy men and women of unconquered Ireland. 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. With the return of stability in Europe, these Irish scholars were instrumental in spreading learning. Thus the Irish not only were conservators of civilization, but became shapers of the medieval mind, putting their unique stamp on Western culture. Thanks to Thomas Cahill, this pivotal era is brought back to vibrant life, its personages portrayed in all their seemingly contemporary humanity, its issues simply and compellingly spelled out. How the Irish Saved Civilization will change forever the way we look at our past, and ourselves.


What the Critics Say

"Cahill's lovely prose breathes life into a 1,600-year-old history." (The Los Angeles Times)
"Charming and entirely engaging, delectable voyage into the distant past, a small treasure." (The New York Times)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

How the Irish Saved Civilisation

What a shame that this wonderful, fascinating and sometimes moving book was spoiled by the unfortunate timbre and style of the voice of the narrator. The narrative and the stories which make it up, is so strong, that the damaging effect of the narrator's voice was subdued, thank goodness. With a less weary and strained-sounding narration the book would be of a five-star-plus quality, without question.
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- Alan

The secret history

I listened to this immediately after "A Brief History of the Celts", so it was an excellent sequel- a culture once so widespread and powerful, squeezed out of most of Europe (or assimilated), preserved knowledge and literature of the dying and fossilised Greco-Roman hegemony, as the Dark Ages enveloped mainland Europe, but also maintained their own, quirky, lively, adventurous, disputatious customs!
It is not general knowledge that the Christianity of most of this big island I live on (Great Britain) springs from Irish sources thanks to the great missionaries (Columba, Aidan, Cuthbert, etc) than to Augustine (of Canterbury) and his boss, Gregory "the Great", arriving rather late in the day to tackle the problem of the pagan Anglo-Saxon colonists. All due respect to Gregory as the first mainland European to even consider evangelisation, and to poor terrified Augustine who would rather stayed at home to wash his hair!
Celtic missionaries got about - Columbanus as far as Bobbio (Italy), via France, Brendan to Iceland, Greenland and ?N America.
But the victors write the history, (just think how Julius Caesar bad mouthed us Celts) and so in the end, Rome got the credit, as usual- and received wisdom reverted to the old stereotypes of barbaric, brutal, half-witted Celts Caesar promoted and which was far from unusual into the 20th Century.
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- Mary Carnegie

Book Details

  • Release Date: 22-02-2001
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio