Sunday, December 05, 2004
Finally, I've finished reading a book! This fall my reading has gone way down. It seems reading has been relegated to a few short minutes in bed at the end of the evening before I tuck under the covers. I've also had a hard time settling on one book. There are about half a dozen books on my nightstand, none of which seem to grab me.
Then I found How the Irish Saved Civilization stashed under the spare bed. I've been collecting books all year for gifts, and the other day I pulled out the stash to see what treasures I'd collected. I might just have to hold onto this one. The book claims to be "The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe." The book did much more than this for me. The book distilled what life might have been like during the last years of the Roman Empire, how things fell apart slowly at first, and then crashed to the ground in the last chaotic years. Thomas Cahill also brings to light characters from the past I'd thought of only as comical figures at a St. Patrick's Day parade. He paints Patrick himself as a religious innovator that catches the imagination of an entire country, and he insists Bridget was a real woman, a hot-tempered woman with the moxie to run an entire city.
More than anything, Cahill is gifted at distilling dry historical tracks into a living story. Cahill is a historian that is able to capture his reader's imagination. He's able to write with wit and insight, and make long-gone people come alive again. History professors seem to be the best at translating their professional writing into works that the general reader can enjoy. While literature professors seem to want to make their writing more distant and more abstract than the works they analyze, some historians are gifted and taking their work in the other direction, sharing their insight into the workings of the past with more than just a few colleagues in the ivory tower. How refreshing to find a writer than appreciates his readers.