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on 7 May 1997
Don't let the overly long title frighten you. This is a mustread! For anyone who cares about the wellspring of our culture, namely the Greco-Roman tradition, from Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" to Virgil's "Aeneid", from classical mythology to the early versions of the Bible, you need to know the story of how the Irish monks carefully and lovingly preserved these masterpieces after the sack and fall of Rome.<P> Author Thomas Cahill blends his genuine enthusiasm for the Irish with many interesting nuggets of historical scholarship to unravel this obscure period of history. He somehow manages to tie together Ireland's epic "The Tain," the "Confessions" of St. Augustine and the life of St.Patrick himself into a cohesive narrative about how Irish scribes preserved and protected many of our most cherished literary heirlooms. No small feat this, as the monks had to labor by candlelight in such inauspicious places as a stone church on a rocky crag (Skellag Michael) , all the while avoiding piratic raids and marauding Visigoth hordes. fter I read this book, the "Dark Ages" lightened up quite a bit! Now you go read the book and we can join in celebrating the Irish, who saved the seeds of Western thought. Erin go Bragh!
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on 23 November 1998
This book was an enjoyable book and entertaining, but it didn't really discuss too much of how the Irish saved civilization. Sure we learn about the saints and other influences in Irish history, but it didn't live up to my expectations (of the title). I do recommend this book, but you need to pick up something else as well.
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on 20 April 1997
This thoroughly entertaining book is sometimes weak, sometimes strong in its arguments. The evidence to back them up can't always have been easy to find. Overall, though, a vivid picture comes through: of how life-giving Christian faith is; how it changes individuals, peoples...and civilisations.
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on 27 April 1999
This book really gave me a feel for WHY the Irish of the time saved so much of western literature when the rest of Europe lost it. Showing the different world views and the behaviors that came from them was what I found most interesting. The book is an easy read while having something to say.
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on 23 March 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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on 12 June 1998
I am apparently one of the great (historically) unwashed who never took a course in world history, not even in high school. So for me this book filled in a lot of missing pieces of how western civilization got from the Roman empire days to the Medieval days. It was entertaining and gave me a feeling for how things were during and after the Roman empire and what actually happened in and to Ireland. The title's claim was supported by the text though not as strongly as I expected. The book clarified for me some of the origins of the Catholic church which I found quite enlightening. As a historical non-schollar, I can only hope that the facts are accurate. I happened to listen to the book on audio tape while on a long drive so I don't know if there are many references to historical research in the printed version. Still, it made me want to find out more about this topic. Isn't that what popularized versions of history are supposed to do?
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on 30 April 1997
Cahill has taken not just an episode or chapter of our history, but an entire epic and brought it out of the gloom that is what we have been taught regarding the Dark Ages. The story of the Christianization and civilization of Ireland and the effect it had on the whole of the western world is as phenomenal as the treatment it receives by the author in this book. To call the presentation even-handed is nearly condesension: the not-so-beautiful aspects of the people who are the history itself are not buried but convey a closer approximation of elusive truth that allows celebration beside respect of the accomplishments and an understanding of the humanity of the towering personas. Cahill's tone and just-right amount of detail should be copied shamelessly by other authors and continued endlessly by Cahill himself.
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on 21 December 1997
I'm surprised by the number of negative reviews complaining this is weak history. I know almost nothing about the historical material Cahill covers, but unless he is simply lying, the general story he tells appears to be not only accurate but (among historians) commonplace. There is no original research here, nor any pretense of originality of scholarship. Rather it's an attempt to make sense of the known historical facts, to turn them into what used to be called a "usable past." And in that it succeeds, wonderfully. It is a bold and delightful attempt to redefine--and recapture the charisma of--what is means to be Irish, or civilized, or Christian. And for my money, the versions--the myths--it offers of those identities is way better than the conventional ones. Giver this book to yr kids.
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on 29 August 1998
I love history, especially medieval and religious history. This book (on tape) was absolutely riveting. I had a little trouble with Liam Neeson's Irish accent and soft-spoken style, finding myself raising the volume very high and rewinding the tape often. That speaks well for the book content, however, because I didn't want to miss a word. I purchased a copy of the book for a friend after listening to the tape. I'll probably borrow the book from him eventually, so I can read the unabridged version.
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on 30 April 1997
Informative and entertaining at the same time. Worth the read, although a little too much reference to poetry for this technician, it did not distract from the overall work.

Mr. Cahill did an excellent job of presenting this history of in a context easy to track and understand. Opened up a few doors for me and answered some questions.
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