Author: Thomas Cahill
Series: The Hinges of History
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Anchor Books
The period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the High Middle Ages is a difficult one to study and learn about, due mostly to the state of almost total chaos the entire civilized world had fallen into. Much of the knowledge accumulated over the centuries was lost completely, and what did survive did so just barely.
In this book, author Thomas Cahill makes the compelling assertion that, thanks to the work of Saint Patrick and the fervor with which the Irish embraced the Christianity he brought to them, the tenets of civilization - complete copies of the Holy Bible, great works of literature such as The Iliad, and other writings - were preserved and eventually redistributed to the world by the Irish.
While I would naturally want to do some more research and investigation before taking Cahill's conclusions as gospel, I'll admit that it makes a lot of sense. The Irish were an isolated people group relatively untouched by the influences of Rome until Saint Patrick's time, and remained isolated throughout the period of Rome's decline and fall, so it seems completely reasonable that knowledge and literature could have been preserved there.
The author's worldview was somewhat difficult to determine, (though I suspect he's probably Catholic based on some of his statements) but nothing he said seemed at all disdainful towards Christianity - a refreshing find in a history book!
The only real problem I had with this book was in regard to the pagan religion held by the Irish prior to Saint Patrick's work among them (and even held by many afterwards). Many of the practices recorded and described by the author are distasteful at best, obscene at worst. I know that such practices are historical fact, so I'm not saying the author should pretend they didn't exist, but it still made this a book I definitely wouldn't want anyone but a mature adult to read. (Fortunately, these passages made up an extremely small portion of the book.)
Along that same line are two or three of the photographs included in the book, which are of pagan sculpture and artwork. Again, I understand that those sculptures and carvings do exist, and we shouldn't pretend that they don't, but I still would much prefer not coming across them in a book I'm reading.
Overall, How the Irish Saved Civilization made a compelling historical read and a fascinating look into what is perhaps the most uncharted period of western culture.