Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe ” as Want to Read:
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe 
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe 

(The Hinges of History #1)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  35,377 ratings  ·  1,529 reviews
From the fall of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne - the "dark ages" - learning, scholarship, and culture disappeared from the European continent. The great heritage of western civilization - from the Greek and Roman classics to Jewish and Christian works - would have been utterly lost were it not for the holy men and women of unconquered Ireland.

In this delightful and illu
Paperback, 246 pages
Published February 1st 1996 by Bantam Doubleday Dell (NYC) (first published 1995)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about How the Irish Saved Civilization, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Shawn Through his portrayal of religious evolution, Cahill relates how certain things once considered factual may ultimately be categorized as myth (for…moreThrough his portrayal of religious evolution, Cahill relates how certain things once considered factual may ultimately be categorized as myth (for example, the Roman and Irish paganism that proceeded Christianity). As a result, what some ancient historians may have written under the belief that it was factual, might indeed turn our to be myth, hearsay, or both. Thus, we have to carefully scrutinize history and consider the perspective and conditions under which the author wrote. Perhaps a better way to phrase this is that humanity advances slowly toward the truth, which means history must be something less. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  35,377 ratings  ·  1,529 reviews

Sort order
John Wiswell
Mar 11, 2008 rated it did not like it
Mind-numbingly written, building up to a nearly inconsequential conclusion on how Irish monks might have helped preserve some of Europe's classic literature. I'm descended from the Irish and was looking forward to a little nationalist pride, but this failed by underdelivering from its title and being nearly unreadable from the first chapter. It hurts even worse to hear that the claims may have been false.
Jan 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
This was awful. Many reviews say things like "charming" and "pleasant," but I thought it was tedious and meandering. Not all history has to be chronological; there's interesting stuff in here but it's too long with details of Roman society. Also, the author writes like a blow-hard, and interjects things like "Alas!" and "Dear Reader" and "It is up to the reader to decide." That kind of stuff irritates me to no end.

Searching for info online, I found references that refute much of what the author
Jan 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Though not exactly news to anyone who went to school in Ireland (Cahill seems to have an Irish-American readership as his target audience, particularly given-away by his repeated and annoying generalizations about the 'Irish Spirit' and such like: what does he mean, Jameson or Bushmills?), this nevertheless has lots of good stuff in it and the overall argument is strong.

I particularly liked the early material contrasting the moribund writing of Roman Gallic poet Ausonias with St. Augustine, and
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, favorites
This is the kind of book where the title really seems to over-commit to an idea and overstate the reality of history. I went into this book thinking that Cahill was surely using hyperbole to say that the Irish saved civilization. He may be, but this is still a remarkable and relevant history. This is a great, great book that deserves the wide readership it has received.

The book begins with a retelling of the fall of Rome. Cahill does this to show the peril in which Western Civilization was steep
Lisa (Harmonybites)
I do get why this book on "How the Irish Saved Civilization" was a bestseller. Not only is it the perfect gift for St Patrick's Day, it is entertaining and readable. But I also found it superficial and not reliable. It may be the contrast with some really fine histories and biographies I've read lately, but several things in this book made it suspect to me. Cahill isn't a historian. The short biography at the end says only that he has a MFA in "Film and Dramatic Literature" and that he has studi ...more
As the Roman Empire crumbled, so too did literacy and libraries suffer. By the seventh century, however, Patrick had converted enough men into being Christians and scribes that many ancient Greek and Roman books were preserved in Ireland, even as the originals crumbled elsewhere. The preservation of ancient texts is a fascinating theme upon which to relate a history, but alas, the majority of the book concerns how awesome Plato is. Seriously, there is a three page quote from Plato, followed by a ...more
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-quasi
Cahill may occasionally engage in exaggeration and speculation, but he increased my interest in history. I have read the first four books in the Hinges of History series, starting book 1 almost 20 years ago, so my memory is not bright. However, the books stuck with me fairly well. Kudos to the author for that. Since then, Cahill wrote two more books, but I have not read them. This is quasi-history told in a fairly accessible narrative style -- if at times meandering. Cahill is not a historian, ...more
David A.
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm Irish. Don't let my last name (Zimmerman) fool you. I'm the proud son of a guy whose surname unfortunately obscures the fact that my mother (of whom I'm also a proud son) is 100 percent Irish, so assuming my dad has a little Irish in him (who doesn't?) I'm at least 50 percent.

Not sure why that's so important to me, but it is. There's a mystique to Irishness that simply isn't there with other countries of distant origins. Ireland is ever green, it's charmed and charming, thick with thin spac
Jan 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book, history
I've noticed that history books on Goodreads are often given lower star ratings by people who are upset to find that the author was using information to present a cohesive thesis rather than providing an unbiased account. Although it is right to bring up slant in evaluating the truth of a thesis, it's somewhat sad to see these complaints for Cahill's defense of pre-Joycean Irish civilization when one of Cahill's major arguments is that biased English historians prevented any appreciation of Iris ...more
Sep 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
The title may be a slight exaggeration, but it's a good read for students of western history. Lots of good Middle Ages as well as the expected Irish background.

Multiple readings pull out a wealth of details and insights.
Jon Newswanger
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In college I took a class entitled "Christianity in History." It turned out to be merely a church history class.

This book is everything I wished that course had been, but wasn't. It does an amazing job in pointing out how Christians have impacted history, summed up best in it's final sentence:

If our civilization is to be saved -- forget about our civilization, which, as Patrick would say, may pass "in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind" -- if we are to be saved, it will
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Own. I'm going to actually give it 3.5 because the first half of the book was so good.

I started this on the beach and read for about 4 hours straight (ish) what with watching kids and people and dogs thrown in. I did manage to sit there and get sunburned though. I found the chapters interesting and the comparisons easily (too easily?) applicable to modern day. Ausonius' poetry being politically correct and expected; Augustine being a robust thinker. The description days of the Roman Empire being
Aug 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Here Cahill provides a popular-level history of the early middle ages with mixed success. His greatest asset is a suprisingly strong prose style, which allows him to effortlessly, and even peotically, lead his readers through a complicated and fuzzy period of history. No doubt this is the reason the book was a bestseller. But it also proves to be his downfall in that his efortless sentences ellide the complexity of his subject matter. Perhaps this is the fate of all popularizers, but I found mys ...more
Nov 08, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Latin and Greek scholars
It seems to me that the basic thesis of this book is absurd. The "Irish" didnt save civilization - a few scholarly monks set to work on preserving the classics, all very noble, but meanwhile the rest of the Irish were cavorting around not being like fucking Romans or Greeks and living a different kind of anti-state and somewhat anti-authoritarian "civilization".

This from wikipedia -
Celtic Ireland (650-1650)
In Celtic Irish society of the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, courts and the law we
Michael Gerald
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
The "Dark Ages". Now, whoever was the idiot who coined that term did not know history.

This book again sets the record straight that the Medieval Period was a time of cultural and technological stagnation. It was actually during the Medieval Period when the seeds of many cultural and intellectual advancements were sown.

If you enjoy reading books, then you have the Medieval Church men and women, like the Irish, who laboriously and lovingly copied the Scriptures and other classics that the world st
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
An entertaining little history of Irish scholarship, culture, and monk/saint heroes of antiquity who greatly respected early learning, writing etc. This very much has a catholic bias but still well written and worth reading if you are interested in Irish history.
Jon Beadle
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thomas Cahill is a fun author with an interesting take on how communities impact society. Sure, it’s pop level but so what. Cahill respects religious faith and it’s clear impact on society.
M.K. Gilroy
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In 406 A.D the Rhine River froze solid - and the barbarians crossed this temporary bridge to strike one of the final blows to a lazy, corrupt, and aging empire. When Alaric, king of the Visigoths, showed up at Rome's gates in 410 A.D., the citizens still didn't know the end was at hand. Unable to defend themselves - it was a lot of effort after all - they negotiated a "sack" to spare the city from bloodshed:

"So they kept their lives, most of them. But sooner or later they or their progeny lost a
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it
My first Cahill and it just didn’t resonate with me. I’m sure it was engaging for some, but I was never very interested in his content or his writing style. He took two chapters of Rome to finally get around to mentioning the Irish, and the whole book still never felt very much about the Irish. He constantly quotes songs and poems and stories, drops names, but nothing was very... tied together? I won’t say it was a disappointing book, but I was disappointed in my experience of it.

Read John's 5-s
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, history
What a great book! A pleasure to read.
Todd Stockslager
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review Title: When in Ireland,...

As I have gotten the chance in the last year to see some of the fabulous treasures of Christianity in the British Museum and Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and Dublin's Trinity College, and see some of the ruins of 6th to 10th Century England and Ireland, I have often referred to Cahill's only partially tongue in cheek title. I had read the book several years ago before I had started listing and then writing down what I thought about the books I read, w
Jun 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, books-i-own
I picked up this book because I'm fascinated by the fragility of knowledge, and by how knowledge gets transferred down through the ages. I was especially fascinated by the idea of monks guarding and transcribing ancient books, since it seemed like a real-life version of Canticle for Liebowitz.

I found this book well-written and engaging. I enjoyed reading it, and it was easy to breeze through its 200 pages. It also touched on several themes (in addition to the fragility of knowledge) which fascin
Nanci McGraw
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I reached my goal: I read and finished this book in the month of March.
So-ooooooooooooooooo glad. Way too many details for me to remember, recall, and reuse. However, I don't blame the author, ha! I did read everything from front to back and then went backwards to front again. Love the pronunciation guide for Irish names. Appreciate the chronology outline in the appendix. Read the unique chapter by chapter explanatory bibliography. The world has some fantastically dedicated scholars who just lov
Mike Barresi
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone with a passion for history, Ireland, literature
Shelves: own, non-fiction
I recently wrote somewhere that Cahill is a great writer of popular history. I didn't really qualify that remark. Cahill doesn't write popular history, he writes about history in a way that the most readers possible, could enjoy. How the Irish Saved Civilization is a perfect example of this. His premise is fairly simple; while the Roman world is collapsing and being taken over by 'barbarians' across the continent, Irish monks, beginning with Saint Patrick, create a new civilization of religion a ...more
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is a good and interesting book and although I think it's more a "3.5" than a straight "4", I'm willing to grade it generously.

The author has clearly done a good job on his research and analysis. His writing style is clear and clean; more "popular" than "scholarly" - almost too much so for my tastes. But this is a book written for a widespread and casual audience, so his tone and phrasing is understandably directed to that level.

I, having learned my Greco-Roman history and six years of Latin
Douglas Wilson
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Quite good.
Laura Jean
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was wonderful. I highly suggest reading it soon after Canticle for Liebowitz and Buried Giant, because both were running through my head as I read this.
May 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Bain of my 9th grade existence.
Edoardo Albert
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
There's many a detail I would quibble with in this book, but Cahill gets it spot on for his two big ideas: the vital role played by Irish monks in saving and renewing the culture of Europe after the fall of Rome, and the extraordinary personality of Patrick. First, the monks. While it's true that preference of modern scholarship is to emphasise the continuity between the late Empire and the early Barbarian states, yet this was a continuity that was mainly political - the successor kings appropri ...more
Seán Lee
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
An idea, that’s a little stretched at times, but still fun to think about. By the end, my inner Irish nationalism has risen to the top. Warriors monks who loved to read had me dreaming of Ireland. Here are a few gems about my Irish family.

“Daniel Patrick Moynihan was heard to say that to be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”

“Respect for differences was written into the rule books of Irish monasteries.”

“Wherever they went, the Irish brought with them their books.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Old date cover 11 29 Mar 31, 2019 01:24PM  
It's interesting--and true! 15 110 Jun 19, 2014 05:08PM  
Goodreads Ireland: November Read: How The Irish Save Civilization 17 23 Dec 02, 2011 07:24AM  
  • Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland
  • The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History of Ireland
  • In Search of Ancient Ireland: The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English
  • Wars of the Irish Kings: A Thousand Years of Struggle, from the Age of Myth through the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I
  • The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World
  • Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland
  • Paddy's Lament, Ireland 1846-1847: Prelude to Hatred
  • Sun Dancing: Life in a Medieval Irish Monastery and How Celtic Spirituality Influenced the World
  • The Course of Irish History
  • The Celts
  • The Oxford History of Ireland
  • How the Scots Invented the Modern World
  • The Civilization of the Middle Ages
  • The Irish Americans: A History
  • The Celts
  • The Celts: A History
  • The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849
  • The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium
Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in Queens and the Bronx, Cahill was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy in 1964, and a pontifical degree in philosophy in ...more

Other books in the series

The Hinges of History (6 books)
  • The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels
  • Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe
  • Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World
“They understood, as few have understood before or since, how fleeting life is and how pointless to try to hold on to things or people. They pursued the wondrous deed, the heroic gesture: fighting, fucking, drinking, art - poetry for intense emotion, the music that accompanied the heroic drinking with which each day ended, bewitching ornament for one's person and possessions.” 8 likes
“In becoming an Irishman, Patrick wedded his world to theirs, his faith to their life…Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.” (161)” 6 likes
More quotes…