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Publisher's Summary

The perfect St. Patrick's Day gift, and a book in the best tradition of popular history - the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled on Europe.

Every year millions of Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but they may not be aware of how great an influence St. Patrick was on the subsequent history of civilization. Not only did he bring Christianity to Ireland, he instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become "the isle of saints and scholars" - and thus preserve Western culture while Europe was being overrun by barbarians. In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. 

Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization - copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost - they brought their uniquely Irish worldview to the task. As Cahill delightfully illustrates, so much of the liveliness we associate with medieval culture has its roots in Ireland. When the seeds of culture were replanted on the European continent, it was from Ireland that they were germinated. 

In the tradition of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, How the Irish Saved Civilization reconstructs an era that few know about but which is central to understanding our past and our cultural heritage. But it conveys its knowledge with a winking wit that aptly captures the sensibility of the unsung Irish who relaunched civilization. 

©1997 Thomas Cahill (P)1997 Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio Publishing, a Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Liam Neeson's rich, smooth voice delineates each element of political, religious, and cultural alliance." (AudioFile)

"Cahill's lovely prose breathes life into a 1,600-year-old history." (The Los Angeles Times)

What listeners say about How the Irish Saved Civilization

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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Audio Quality So Bad I Can't Listen

What disappointed you about How the Irish Saved Civilization?

I love Liam Neeson; I love Thomas Cahill's writing. But the audio was SO distracting I could not listen past the first 20 minutes. I thought it might improve, but it did not. It sounded as though Neilsen was rocking back and forth, toward the mic and away from it, as if he were stoned or high. I assume that's not the case because the sound engineers would have compensated for that.

What was one of the most memorable moments of How the Irish Saved Civilization?

I don't know; I couldn't stand to finish it. I will read the paperback I have tucked away in my bedside table.

What does Liam Neeson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He's Irish.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

I won't know until I READ it so I won't have to abide this horrid audio quality. It's an affront to Neeson and Cahill.

Any additional comments?

I am returning this book.

10 people found this helpful

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Great story...too bad you couldn't hear it clearly

What disappointed you about How the Irish Saved Civilization?

I love the book, love the history, love the story, and of course, love the narrator (Liam Neeson)... but the audio quality of the recording was so horrible!!! Very difficult to understand, especially when played over my car's speakers through the AUX. Other audible selections have no problems whatsoever with that. But this one was ghastly. I spent so much time trying to make the audio understandable, I missed half the telling of it. What a shame. :-(

Would you be willing to try another one of Liam Neeson’s performances?

YES! But ONLY on a better quality recording!!!

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Frustration... that I could not hear it clearly.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Exceptional Audiobook

I have about 500 audio books. I count this one in my top 5. Liam Neeson's reading is brilliant and poetic. For anyone interested in history this book is an absolute must have.

12 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

I read the book when it first came out, so to listen to it, with Liam Neeson narrating was the crowning touch to a masterpiece.

This is one of those books that needs to be assigned to every student in Western civilization to read. It also demonstrates how Christianity tamed the savage tribes that made up Europe at the time.

A very enjoyable narrative and completely brought to life by Liam Neeson's reading. Thank you! All's needed now is for Audible to offer higher quality sound files - it sounded a bit like you were listening through a long tin can. But I can say that to all the books I've listened to through Audible so far.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Liam does a great job, so does Cahill.

I found this book interesting as a History major with a focus on the middle ages. We really don't learn much about the Irish, just that St. Pat was there, and they converted to Christianity. There was much more then that. Cahill goes into depth about Irish literature, Christianity, and Culture during the Middle Ages. I found interesting ideas about Irish history in this book. On top of all that it's "performed" brilliantly by Liam Neilson, breathing life into the poetry and literary excerpts in the book. It's definatly a 3 hour treat worth listening to.

6 people found this helpful

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Did not live up to the title

I have to laugh when I read that Freud, who was exasperated by the Irish, said that they were the only people that could not be helped with psychoanalysis.

The book did not live up to its title but was rather a stroll through the dark ages. Most was an overview of the Roman Empire, and the monks who inhabited Ireland and copied the history and literature of the Romans and Greeks. The rest covered the liturgical history of Ireland through which we learned about the saints and other Irish influences. As I said, it didn't live up to the title.

1 person found this helpful

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Good book, annoying ending

For the most part, I loved this book, but I could have done without the preaching at the end.

1 person found this helpful

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Beautifully written

Thomas Cahill wrote a beutiful history. Liam Neeson was great. Just wish the production was better.

1 person found this helpful

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Came for Liam Neeson

I am a fan of Liam Neeson, which is why I got this book. It seems to glorify Ireland to no end, and feels more like propaganda than actual history.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Five Stars is not Enough

The writing is scholarly, clear, and elegant, opening a view of the Irish both fresh and surprising. Cahill paints an illuminating canvas of the collapse of the Pax Romana, clearing up some of the dark historical period which followed. Liam Neeson's reading is excellent, his smooth resonant voice lending clarity and understanding to the text. Wish it had been unabridged, for now I will have to order that version.

1 person found this helpful

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  • A. Crean
  • 11-03-20

Excellent review of a much forgotten period

Fantastic use of words and imagery that lets you really appreciate how the world changed gradually and effectively through the spirit of the Irish and St Patrick. Liam Neeson really adds to the dept of drama that the book relays from start to finish.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Liam Murphy
  • 09-12-20

Homage to St Patrick

Very disappointing.
Where it lacks in history it makes up for with a homage to St Patrick.
I got a third of the way through and had to put an end to this Catholic propaganda.
Religious diatribe.

I'm returning this title.


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  • Blake
  • 05-27-20

Not what u expected but a very good listen

Genuinely enjoyed this book, though 50% is about St. Patrick which I was not expecting. Overall a very enjoyable listen.

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  • darren oleary
  • 12-09-19

amazing books

amazing books much history not taught in school and Liam Neeson was the best person for the narration

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  • ferne/mark
  • 10-03-18

historically interesting but that music

as an Irish person I am annoyed that I wasn't educated in the early history and I wish I had known more. this book was enlightening and I enjoyed most of it but the musical interludes made it come across as cheap in a stereotypical Irish way and that was very off-putting

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  • Sam
  • 08-23-17

Saved by Liam Neeson

Heavily religious, biased and jumpy when it could have easily focused better on language and the practical saving of knowledge.
The tone of the text is quite out dated and the musical jingles feel cheap. My ability to finish it was almost entirely due to the soothing voice of the reader.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Rosie
  • 05-18-21

lovely listen

Beautifully written and expertly read by the incredible Liam Neeson. Life as it was lived by the Irish, with all the background cultural knowledge necessary for the reader to be fully immersed in this evocative, passionate commentary