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St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography: A Modern Biography Paperback – 1 Feb 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; New edition edition (1 Feb. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743256344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743256346
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 314,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Freeman is the Orlando W. Qualley Chair of Classical Languages at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Classical Philology and Celtic Languages and Literatures. He has taught at Boston University and Washington University in St. Louis and lectured at the Smithsonian Institution. His books have been reviewed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other national publications.

Product Description


"Freeman's imaginative but fact-based reconstructions of significant events in Patrick's life, such as his kidnapping, read like the most exciting popular fiction." -- "Library Journal"

About the Author

Philip Freeman is Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a former professor of classics at Washington University in St. Louis. He was selected as avisiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for January 2012. He earned the first joint Ph.D. in classics and Celtic studies from Harvard University, and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. The author of several previous books including Alexander the Great, St. Patrick of Ireland and Julius Caesar, he lives with his family in Decorah, Iowa. Visit him at

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Pablo on 25 July 2009
Format: Paperback
Writing a biography of Saint Patrick is not an easy task, given the limited facts and abundant legends, but Philip Freeman does an excellent job. On the basis of scholarly knowledge, he manages to create - through reconstruction - an eminently readable book accessible to all.
Drawing largely on the two lengthy surviving letters of Patrick, and supplementing this with archaelogical evidence and the works of Greek and Roman writers, we get a fascinating insight into the man and his times. Patrick's upbringing in Britain, his kidnapping and six years of slavery in Ireland, his later escape and return to Ireland in response to a "divine call" are all vividly portrayed. Even when the author has to resort to pure speculation, it is done in a most interesting way. We also get a clear view of many aspects of Patrick's theology and personality. And this against a vivid background of tribal kings, druids and the customs of the time and place, including women's position and rights.
The book also includes full transcripts of Patrick's letters.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Lea on 30 April 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is exceptionally readable, and introduces us to one of the most likable and admirable characters of the ancient world. Patrick could easily have been lost to history, and yet by a quirk of fate two of his letters survive which give us a great insight into the man, his struggles and his times. Philip Freeman does an outstanding job of weaving together what we know of the man in a biography that will change your view of the early church in unexpected ways. For example, I had never considered the fact that women taking vows of chastity in Ireland were actually asserting their sexual independence, nor had I realised the powerfully redemptive nature of Patrick's mission... that someone who was brutalised and enslaved by the Irish would later risk his reputation and career to fight for enslaved Irish Christians. To then read Patrick's letters in light of these facts we see him as a champion of women's rights, and someone who champions the worth of every individual. Patrick towards the end of his life so identifies with his former abusers that he calls himself Irish, and wants nothing more than to be allowed to remain in his adopted homeland and die there. This is a profoundly moving and enlightening book, and I would recommend it to anyone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 41 reviews
60 of 66 people found the following review helpful
St. Patrick of Ireland 8 Mar. 2004
By Lee Freeman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Having read other, classic studies on Patrick, I wasn't expecting much from this book. But I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Philip Freeman's "St. Patrick of Ireland" is a well-researched, scholarly, yet very readable book. While there is little new information in the book, for readers who wish to know something about St. Patrick but don't care to go in-depth, this work should serve adequately. The book should also serve as a good introduction to readers who wish to proceed to more in-depth scholarly works such as the late R. P. C. Hanson's, J. B. Bury's or other more studies.
Instead of concentrating on the vexing questions of dates, chronology, Patrick's missing years, and other intriguing though problematical issues in Patrician studies, Freeman concentrates on what is definitely known of Patrick's life and career, giving little space to speculation. He does a particularly good job of setting Patrick in the context of his times, describing fourth-century Romano-British and Irish society and religion.
Freeman also includes his own translations of Patrick's only two surviving works, the "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus," and the "Confession."
The maps of Britain and Ireland and the black-and-white photos at the beginning of each section are a nice change from other books on Patrick, and the book has a handsome dust jacket. The time line at the back of the book was convenient and helpful, as was the pronunciation guide for Celtic words. One wishes more works on Celtic history/theology provided pronunciation guides. The book also contains an index and a list of suggested readings for each chapter.
In "St. Patrick of Ireland" Philip Freeman does a very good job of presenting the life, career and writing of this mysterious and humble man of God.
As St. Patrick's Day pub-crawlers don green sweaters, sing Irish folk songs, quaff copius amounts of green beer, and radical gay activists fight for their right to march in St. Patrick's Day parades, one can only hope that some of them will pause for a moment to remember the great man and Christian Saint whose feast day this is.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
helpful but biased 2 Dec. 2012
By K. Helton - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This biography was helpful because it presents a lot of information about St. Patrick in a clear, concise way that's easy to read. However, anyone with even the pretense of an orthodox Christian view will notice a bias--in some chapters more than others. It took me a while to get past p. 61: "We can admire the spirit of Pelagius and declare that Augustine was a killjoy who burdened Christian thought forever with the idea of original sin..." Really, can we? (That statement is not historically accurate, since original sin [yes, even Augustine's view of it,though his was better articulated] wasn't exactly a novel idea.) That said, Freeman does present a fairly balanced historical view throughout the book.

I don't claim any expertise on the matter, but one point of contention: It's odd that in quoting St. Patrick's beliefs from his "Confessions," (pp.77-78) Freeman references the Apostles' Creed. It would seem much more relevant to point to the revised Nicene Creed from 381 AD, the structure of which Patrick closely follows.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By D. Blankenship - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There certainly is a very large amount of information packed into a very small book (by comparison) here. This is an excellent work for those who have been curious, or are curious, about this famous Irish Saint, yet who are not so curious that they want to dig through a mind numbing academic work which would be better than xanax to provide a good nap. I am one of those people and I am one who greatly appreciated this work. In other areas of history, yes, I want something more in depth, but not on this particular subject. It is written in a scholarly manner, appears to be very well researched, yet I found not one page that I did not learn something from nor one page that caused my eyes to roll back into my head and wish the author would just get on with it. It was a good and informative read.

I certainly am not going to rewrite the entire work in this form and call it a review. That has already been done. For greater detail refer to one of the well done and very in depth reviews already posted here. What I found most interesting about the book was the author's ability to paint a very vivid picture of the cultural and religious clash that too place in Ireland during St. Patrick's time. I enjoyed the brief look at the state of the Christian Church at that time and how it affected the people of that time. That story, to me, was just as fascinating as the one told by the author of the Great Saint himself. The brief look at the Celtic religious practices and beliefs was excellent. I also appreciated the author's ability to separate fact from all the fiction that has been dished out for years and years and do it in a nonoffensive way. This was quite refreshing. The author is quite careful to note fact from fiction, speculation from written and archeological fact. This was most helpful.

The author has a wonderful popular history style, yet writes in a mode that does not insult your credulity nor does Freeman sensationalize events simply to hold the reader's interest. The facts alone, and the way the author presents them, are enough to keep you turning the pages on this one. The black and white maps provided are quite helpful as is the "dictionary" and foot noting. I enjoyed the translation of the two surviving letters of St. Patrick's "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus" and the "Confession." Both are a nice touch and added much to the value of the book.

A work such as this, where so much has been lost down through the years is not an easy thing to write, but this author, Philip Freeman has done an excellent job. Now there are books out there that go into much greater depth on the subject of this obviously great man and I certainly would recommend further reading for those who are interested or who want to become experts on the subject. For myself, this work fit my needs perfectly. I wanted to know a bit about the man and I certainly learned it here.

Recommend this one highly.

Don Blankenship
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Biography of the Man, St. Patrick. 11 May 2004
By C. Stephans - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Although the holiday bearing his name has become associated with legend and myth, St. Patrick, the man, lived such a life that warrants admiration and commendation from Christians everywhere. The man behind the myths exemplifies the Christian life of sacrifice, reliance on God, love and passion for souls, and unfoundering hope in eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Philip Freeman's book St. Patrick of Ireland presents the life and times of St. Patrick. Patrick's story is inspiring and astonishing. It reads like an addition to the Book of Acts in the Bible.
Patrick was born in Britain in the late fourth century to an aristocratic family. Irish marauders kidnapped him from his home when he was 15 years old and took him as a slave to Ireland. He labored endlessly for six years before escaping and returning to Britain and his family.
Patrick had atheistic beliefs when kidnapped, but during the course of his slavery he was transformed into a devout Christian, burning with love for Christ. After several years of religious study, Patrick willingly journeyed back to Ireland on a mission to share the message of salvation with a godless people known for their barbarianism and paganism which he had experienced first hand.
Freeman tells the story of Patrick's life from information garnered from the two writings left by Patrick. These are two letters Patrick wrote from Ireland to Britain that relate significant events of his ministry and life in simple, honest language. Freeman also references other historical texts and archeological discoveries to explain the culture of Patrick's world.
Freeman displays his expertise in Irish history by offering the reader a comprehensive picture of the cultures in which Patrick lived. Freeman is a professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis and earned his Ph. D. in Classical Philology and Celtic Studies from Harvard University. His expertise in Irish history is apparent by his writing. He adroitly fills in many of the blanks concerning Patrick's life.
This biography illustrates the ordeals and sufferings of Patrick while a slave and while a missionary in Ireland, as well as highlighting his amazing accomplishments. At every turn Patrick faced opposition from Satan and from men. Freeman's writing reveals Patrick's closeness to God by emphasizing portions of Patrick's two letters that Freeman interpreted and included in full in this book.
Through Patrick's own words, we see his enthusiasm and love for the Irish. His words are reminiscent of Paul's writings to the Thessalonians and Philippians. They are the words of a shepherd about and to his sheep.
In his letter of confession, Patrick writes of his compulsion to preach to the Irish, "I must proclaim my good news, I must pay God back in some way for all that he has done for me here on earth and what he will do in eternity-blessings no one can even imagine...The love of Christ carried me here to be a help to these people for the rest of my life."
Freeman's biography of Patrick tells a story of transformation-the transformation of a selfish boy to a Christian man and the transformation of a pagan people to a people brimming with love for Christ. This story will change your perspective of the Christian life and will give you a reason to celebrate St. Patrick's Day as a day of devotion to God.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
More than your money's worth 22 Feb. 2005
By M. McGaha - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Philip Freeman's biography on St. Patrick is an excellent read. The reader receives a very enriching view on the Patrick of history, rather than the Patrick of legend, which is precisely what I was looking for. Freeman's prose is academic and very thought provoking, without being so academic that it prones one to narcolepsy or repetitive trips to the thesaurus. It easily holds one's interest, but leaves the reader desiring more information. This desire is not a result of any fault of the author's, rather than the limited available information on St. Patrick. Should one seek further knowledge on the saint, Freeman helps the reader's search by providing a detailed Suggested Reading section for each chapter and aspect of Patrick's life and ministry.

There is a pleasant surprise contained in this book, which I appreciated most. That surprise is the treasure-trove of additional information on Celtic society and history within and without Ireland, Roman civilization throughout the Empire, early church structure, theology, and politics, and numerous other jewels. Freeman doesn't just settle on simply telling the story of a great man. He paints the world that Patrick lived in and struggled against to rise as a great historical figure. The author doesn't paint the picture of Patrick's greatness. The reader arrives at this conclusion on his or her own, by reading this great book.
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