Friday, September 27, 2013


How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. Published 1996 by Anchor. Audiobook narrated by Donal Donnelly. Nonfiction.

I've been to Ireland before, but I really don't know that much about Irish history so I thought it would be interesting and fun to listen to How the Irish Saved Civilization since it's one of the few books on the subject I was able to find on audio. It doesn't quite live up to its title but it's still a lively, informative and fascinating book.

The book starts off with a lengthy recap of the last days of Rome- its culture, political life and the reasons for its decline. This narrative leads into discussion of the barbarian invasions and the early Catholic Church, with particular emphasis on the influence of St. Augustine. From there we head north, and get to know a little about ancient Ireland- its economy, culture and literature. We learn about the Tain, an ancient Irish epic and through it gain access to the distinctly Irish joie de vivre, still alive in the culture today. Then, we meet a British man kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave, Patricius. He becomes St. Patrick, not the first but the most influential early Christian missionary, who converts the Celts. Afterwards we learn about Irish monastic life, the influence of the Irish monks on continental religion, and finally hustle through the Vikings, the British, and modern-day Ireland.

I really enjoyed this book. It is not an academic history by any stretch of the imagination but rather a fun and effervescent retelling of how Christianity become established in the western-most edge of Europe and how those religious men and women preserved the knowledge of the classical world that still informs ours. Along the way I learned how joyful and vibrant the early Irish church was, and by extension how different from its later incarnation. Cahill doesn't make the point himself but anyone familiar with the Ireland of the last and current century cannot help but notice the contrast.  It's a short book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in that lovely country, or in early Catholic history. Donal Donnelly is a great reader who held my attention and I recommend the audio. I learned that I want to learn more about Irish history, too, which is a great take-away from any book.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Iman Prabawa said...

Does this book cover Irish History in details? I think this book worth to read, I just got interested after reading your review.. thank you..

Anonymous said...

You might like his other brief history books as well. They're all pretty interesting and easy to read.