Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thomas Cahill's latest

The publisher sent me a copy of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, the recently-released book by the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization in hopes of getting a review. I've never read a Cahill book before, and I was a bit skeptical about this one. But I gave it a look anyway.

Well, it's not really a book for a professional historian. Cahill seems to specialize in writing about the great western tradition of Christianity + Classicism, and how much we owe to those ancient streams of thought. This is not exactly new territory for me. However, I can see why some people really like him. His writing is elegant. Also this book is illustrated with a plethora of gorgeous color photos. I once worked in a printing factory and was fascinated by how the pictures were done. Such high quality reproduction on uncoated paper! No doubt there's some new process that allows this and makes it possible to produce a book like this at a reasonable price.

One thing that usually puts me off about such appreciations of the Great Traditions is that they tend to be genteelly triumphalist: you and I, good reader, are the heirs of all this glory and we can be sure, as we sit over cigars and brandy in the library, that we are better than other people.

Well, Cahill's not like that. I found to my suprise at the end of his book that he is angry and alarmed about how the Great Traditions he values are being corrupted from within. I'm quite aware that this, too, might be a classical trope (see the opening pages of Livy), but since I'm alarmed by the present, too, I'll give Cahill credit for being an honest man with two working eyes in his head.


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