Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Review of How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill

This book review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History

Short Description

Elaborate Description

The purpose of this book is to rectify a wrong, the wrong being leaving Irish history in the fringes and not providing the Irish the credit it deserves for preserving civilization.  A social and religious history of Ireland.  As (Western) Rome fell, Europe saw many libraries destroyed and people become illiterate.  Intellectual life in Europe ground to a halt, but fortunately, many works survived via Ireland.  When Patrick turned the Irish towards Christianity, the monks gathered and transcribed as many books as they could.  As the monks traveled and expanded their reach, they brought their knowledge with them.  In this way the Irish saved civilization because otherwise, many foundational ideas would have been forgotten. 

The fall of Rome had precipitated in destruction of its social and intellectual standards.  Libraries burned and no opportunities to learn.  Roman law survived the destruction of its civilization as bishops remained.  With the fall of intellectual standards, the people became more illiterate but desired the lost peace provided by a rule of law.  Bishops were used to read and write the laws.  The kings were educated by bishops in diplomatic elements of justice. 

Although Rome’s civilization fell, many works escaped destruction.  The surviving works preserved many intellectual topics.  Patrick managed to convert many Irish to Christianity by transmuting Irish virtues to Christian equivalents.  Loyalty, courage and generosity turned into faith, hope, and charity.  Many Irish wanted to be Romanized and saw that becoming Christian conferred its privileges. 

As membership and monks grew, the monks started to gather and teach.  Soon after, students came from all over to Ireland to learn.  The monks turned no one away due to the Irish virtue of hospitality.  Tolerant of people and ideas.  Rather unlike the orthodox tradition of uniformity, the monks tried to obtain as many books into their libraries.  Monks began to set up libraries in different communities which brought even more students to Ireland.  As the monks expanded their reach, they brought their learning with them.  Illiterate Europe was reconnected with its own past via scribal Ireland. 

This book tries to rectify a wrong, that the Irish are generally left out of history of civilizations, but this book only briefly discusses the Irish and gives more prevalence to other societies.  For a book on Irish history, there is not much Irish history in it.  Although the Irish should get credit for their part in preserving intellectual thoughts, it is wrong to give them all the credit as the empire of Islam did the same and more.  Pretentious credit is a wrong as much as not giving enough credit.  It is generally true that intellectual life was difficult in Europe after Rome’s fall it is not true that there was no learning.  There were trends to learn and gain knowledge that did not come from the Irish books, such as from underground philosophical movements.  Another reason for the fall of intellectual life was not Rome’s fall, but because Christian communities banned opposing ideas. 

The story does need more Irish history but what it does tell is a story of intellectual life.  That tolerance to different people and ideas is very effective in convincing change.  Knowledge and information are tenuous and fragile as by not passing them on, they are lost.  The transmission of knowledge and information to the future is paramount to the progression of the human intellect and civilization. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What was lost when Rome fell?
•What was preserved when Rome fell?
•Why did the fall of Rome precipitate in the creation of the Feudalistic era? 
•Why was Roman law used after Rome fell?
•What do you think of Irish culture?
•How did the Irish save civilization? 
•How did Patrick convert the Irish to Christianity?
•Why did the monks start education students?
•Why were the monks tolerant of different people and ideas? 
•Why were monks important for the transmission of information? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780307755131
Pages to read:   162
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      1995
Format:           eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          3
Overall           3