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am 2. Januar 2002
"How The Irish Saved Civilization" is the tale of how Irish Monks preserved the culture of the Roman Empire during the roughly century and a half after the Fall of The Roman Empire in the West.
The basic premise of the book is that at the same time that the barbarian hordes were destroying the culture of Rome, classical civilization was first being introduced to Ireland, where it would be preserved beyond the reach of the invading marauders.
The Irish monks spent centuries copying books, thereby preserving classical texts which had ceased to exist on the continent. Ultimately, the successors of these Irish Monks would emigrate to the continent. By carrying their books to their newly established continental monasteries they restored the basis of classical civilization and thereby enabled the evolution of Medieval Civilization.
Cahill devotes much of the early part of the book to describing what was lost. He does this by focusing on, perhaps, the last classical man, St. Augustine. He then contrasts the classical civilization of St. Augustine with the barbaric culture of Celtic Ireland.
Much of the book is devoted to the lives of two contemporary giants who probably never heard of each other, Sts. Augustine and Patrick. Whereas Augustine represented a dying culture in need of preservation, Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, where it took root and, beyond the reach of the Invading Barbarians, was preserved for future generations.
For over a century, Christianity survived by clinging to rocks such as Skellig Michael off the Coast of Ireland. During this time Christianity was reshaped by its Hibernian exile.
As interested as I am in Irish History, I found this book to be a bit disappointing. The extensive writing on St. Augustine and St. Patrick seem, while interesting in themselves, as not contributing particularly to the overall story of the book.
This book is largely a collection of stories which get the main idea across with a somewhat discoordinated writing style.
Overall, this book is a fair introduction to the Irish contribution to the interim period between the Classical and Medieval Ages.
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I do not disagree with the author's central premise, that in the dark ages, much of Western Europe's literary and historical heritage would have been lost without the assistance of Irish monks. HOWEVER, the author's historical research is painful. He refers to theories about Ireland's pre-history and early history that have been questioned, if not completely discredited. He never cites a dissenting view, most probably because of his inadequate research. Few (if any) scholars consider the Book of Invasions a historical document. (To those who have never heard of it, it's like believing in Atlantis) Many scholars argue with the idea that Patrick had ever been to the continent, let alone to Rome. The authors biases against pagan literature and history are offensive. He doesn't miss a chance to cite pagan sources that refer to sexual or bodily functions and his "analysis" of these sources constantly refer to them as lustful and unintelligent. The discerning should be able to recognize bad scholarship, even if they are not familiar with the subject matter. If you read this book and believe its contents, you will know less about Ireland than when you started
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am 3. Juli 2000
Several of my peers repeatedly told me that I should read this book. I've already done some considerable study in Irish literature in my graduate work, so I thought it was about time that I got around to reading this best-seller. Cayhill is a clever word-smith. However, I was sorely disappointed in the book. As a scholar, Cayhill is irresponsible and sloppy. He includes many details -- such as his description of a river running through Jerusalem in Jesus' time (Jerusalem doesn't have a river, only a spring) and his account of the Morrigan -- which are either inaccurate or misleading. His condescending tone and attitudes toward other ethnic groups, namely the Chinese and Mexicans, are also troubling. All of these problems lead me to distrust all his scholarship and writing.
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am 31. August 1997
Cahill fails to cite almost any sources for his historical "facts," and the few he does cite are either mistranslated or misquoted. The gist of the book is that the way in which the Irish saved civilization was by embracing Christianity. His definition of civilization is any Christian society; the surrounding Pagan cultures are referred to as barbarian hordes living in darkness till the light of God is thrust upon them. His point seems to be that Christianity took hold of Europe and the rest of the world largely because it managed to take hold of Ireland, but he fails to understand or tell us that Christianity was repeatedly rejected by the Irish, and that the older Pagan ways continued on for a VERY long time underneath a thin cover of Christian rule. In short, he Pagan-bashes like crazy and has the WORST historical methods I have seen in years of study
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am 30. Januar 2000
This is one of the worst books I ever read. It is inaccurate, poorly documented, racist, and calculated to appeal to ethnic pride alone. He even compares "hordes of unwashed barbarians" to Mexican immigrants! He denies to give many sources, saying they are all in his head "like radiation from the big bang." He compares Confucius' lack of personalization to "a Chinese fortune cookie." He says without the Irish we would have "a world without books"! This book does a disservice to the Irish, whose contribution to Western culture is considerable, by its exaggerations, sloppy documentation, condescension and outrageous statements. This is not a history. He mixes legend and fact and opinion, without making clear which is which. One star is too high a rating.
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am 27. Mai 1998
Very disappointing. Unfortunately, I fell for the catchy title. I felt the whole book's tone was summed up by Chahill's statement on the final pages that Jackie Onassis Kennedy had been kind enough to review the book and give helpful comments (or words to that effect). Well, unless I am much mistaken she is hardly the most eminent scholar of Irish history and nor is Cahill judging from this book. It is badly written, lacks both profondity and originality, and has a most irritating and condescending tone. I could have written it myself based on what I remember from school history classes a few years ago.
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am 2. September 1999
Mr. Cahill's book is very superficial. He does not deal with the real questions and complexities concerning Ireland in this time period. Instead he presents us with vague representations of Augustinian thought, or misrepresentations, and baseless conjectures. His reading of early Irish literature is specious, and shows no real acquaintance with the subject. It is typical that a book like this could become such a bestseller. It tells readers what they want, and requires no real intelligenmce or understanding.
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am 12. Januar 1999
The book had many interesting points to make but was in many ways unscholarly in it's complete lack of a objective viewpoint. Thomas Cahill obviously had a agenda of glorifying one group at the clear expense of many others. And his writing is tainted with bigotry of views of others even as he speaks of the non orthodox and open views of the early Irish Church. An example of this view is in the quote on page 180 - "Gothic illiterates ruiling over Gothic illiterates, pagan or occasionally Arian- that is following a debased, simpleminded form of Christianity in which Jesus was given a status similar to that of Mohammed in Islam.". This statement while not only being insulting to Islam is contradictory to a great deal of scholarship, based on Historical and biblical materials that show that perhaps these "Arian" were decendets of the Jerusalem Church, which could have been a more authentic following of the historical Jesus and his teachings and not the church created by Paul, who the gospels them selves show him to be a questionable Jew and more likely a pagan convert to Jewdiasm. I felt the author could have more objective and it would have been a more powerful book, without having to put down other traditions in favor of his own.(This includes his opinions on ancient Irish Druidic culture.) A worthy reading only if complimented by reading of other historical readings from other perspectives and given the reader's ability to read the book critically.
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am 24. März 1998
I am a college student with very little spare time. Although doing very well, I find it impossible to persue my education outside of the institutionalized learning killing our current "civilization." Occasionally however, I make time to read a book that I find interesting. My mother bought this book for me because she knew of my interest and, in fact, love for Ireland and Irish things. I read the first few chapters almost out of obligation. I quickly realized, however, how much I was enjoying my reading. With very little time to spend, I stayed up late on Sunday night to finish it, because I knew if I didn't, I would neglect studies the rest of the week to read it. Finally finishing and retiring at two in the morning, I was happy and had learned a lot.
While it's true what previous writers have said about the book, it is rather simple and touches fairly lightly on it's subject, it is a VERY good overview and focuses attention on an uncovered part of European history. In fact, it is mentioned by the paragraph in most textbooks. Imagine a society without almost any Latin literature, and you'll see how important their contribution was. When you add to it the realization that they retaught it to Europe before their tenuous surroundings destroyed their haven, you can realize they perhaps saved us from the historical "tar pit" that robbed us for thousands of years of the advances of civilizations like Egypt, Assyria and possibly Atlantis! Certainly, they deserve, at least, some notice for this.
The author recognizes that his book is not an in depth study or work of investigative academia and, in my opinion, addresses it. In his Bibliography, if you got that far, he gives details about each source and what they held. This would be a very valuable reference if one were to choose to pursue the area further. If not, it is a very informative, interesting and colorful introduction to the history of far western Europe. There were many little historical tidbits that took me by surprise such as the role of women in the irish church (Bishops!). I would recommend it both to the casually interested and the serious student.
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am 20. August 1999
Thomas Cahill's thesis, that the tradition of classical civilization would have been lost if not for some isolated Irish monks, is simply false. Constantinople, which had been the capital of the Roman Empire since A.D. 330, remained the center of that culture until its capture by illiterate marauders of the fourth "Crusade" in A.D. 1204; that fiasco ended in A.D. 1261, and the cultured Byzantines perdured until their final conquest by the Turks in A.D. 1453. If Ireland had never existed, the Greek language of the Church and the writings of the pagan writers would all have survived in Constantinople. In fact, the Latins' _real_ role in this story is that their looting in the years between 1204 and 1261 resulted in the destruction of the world's finest libraries and manuscript collections of ancient works, and then to the fatal weakening of the Roman (which the illiterates in Rome after the pope's corronation of a German impostor emperor in A.D. 800 called "Byzantine") Empire. Today, the Louvre, the Vatican, St. Mark's in Venice, the British Museum, and all of the major cathedrals and museums in Western Europe are full of relics and religious artwork stolen by these "crusaders." It is truly a perpetual blasphemy for the body of St. Nicholas to be in Bari or the relics of St. John Chrysostom to be in the Vatican, since they were thieved by marauding Roman Catholics from the Orthodox Christians to whose communities they rightly belonged (in body and in spirit). What cheek, then, for Cahill to credit Roman Catholicism with the survival of ancient civilization! Next he'll credit Islam for the survival of the Greek language!
There are several other idiotic aspects of this book. Its writing is awful, its tone is awful, its presentist self-esteem is intolerable. This book is pollution, a waste of trees, a truly ignorant work obviously calculated simply to appeal to the large book-buying population of descendants of Irish in America (of whom I am one). If you want to know something about medieval Europe, don't start here.
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