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Customer Review

on 8 May 2007
The book 'How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization' was a book I enjoyed reading. It presents an often overlooked idea, the importance of one of the longer-lasting and widely influential institutions in the Western world. It reminded me very much of Thomas Cahill's book, 'How the Irish Saved Civilization', both in content and in tone. Indeed, one of Woods' early chapters deals with some of the same information - the Irish of Cahill's text were primarily the monastic communities, and Woods develops this theme more generally (and more briefly) in his chapter.

Author Thomas Woods, Jr. states that one of his intentions is to remedy the generally pervasive attitude toward the Roman Catholic Church these days in historical studies which is either negative or lacking in reference altogether. There are history books (quite often those used by the public school system) that try to downplay the role of the church in Western history or eliminate it altogether. In part this is due to church/state issues and fears on the part of textbook buyers; in part it is also anti-Catholic bias in society that pops up in different ways.

I do have a few quibbles with the book. In trying to combat the negativity of much of the tone of the history of the Catholic Church, Woods goes a bit too far in the other direction at times. This is a balancing book, but it is not a balanced book - it is the argument in favour, and as such, overlooks at times the very real responsibility the church had in certain historical situations. Woods minimises where other histories tend to overplay, and neither stance is the best to take in interpretations. However, this is not a fatal flaw in Woods' narrative, it is the case that history built upon facts, and Woods doesn't play fast and loose with the facts.

Woods primary intention does work fairly well - to give credit where credit is due, and much credit is due to the church for its influence in government, art, culture, education, and even in areas such as science (where the church is often most heavily criticised). Law in both the domestic and international sense owes much to the church, as does the idea of community charity, education, and civic engagement. Perhaps the most surprising chapter to me was the one on the church and economics, which introduced the idea of currency exchange and inflation being described in the literature of the Scholastics.

There is a good index, a good collection of notes, and the style is written in a manner that is both accessible to the general reader yet interesting to those looking for something with substance. Overall, this is a reasonable response to the general negative tone in other texts. The importance of the church in Western history should not be denied, and Woods' book helps bring that to life.
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4.6 out of 5 stars