These two books look like they go hand in hand, but actually they tell very different stories in very different ways about very different things. One might say that they also reflect the troubles between the two Celtic heritages in Northern Ireland today, but that would be stretching the matter.
Cahill’s book originally came out in hardcover in 1995. I have the trade paperback which came out in 1996. It has full colour front plates and 8 pages of photographs as well as many in-line illustration and maps. It is about two-thirds (218 pages of text) the thickness of Arthur Herman’s book (429 pages of text) in paperback, and therein lies part of the point of this review.
Herman’s work has no front-plates, no photographs no maps, no illustration. That too is worthy of note and slightly puzzling.
I can understand why Cahill’s book is thinner and bulked out with illustrations. Its message is short and to the point. I can imagine it as a high school term paper running to about 5-8,000 words. But the we see the Irish as story-tellers and Cahill spins out this tale to continue to be interesting. Yes, it is engaging, and it has a simple can coherent theme – as I said, its really an essay. Side-by-side with Herman, the pages are actually the same line spacing and font side, but seem more relaxed and easier to read. It does leave me with the feel that I’ve been listening to him in an old Irish pub one evening over a relaxing drink. Its a comes across as a simple tale – though its obviously well researched and has no shortage of details to make its points – and is memorable.
By contrast. Herman’s book feels that you are studying history. Memorable? Not easily. It reads more like a PhD disertation, complete with a chapter titled “Conclusion” and “Sources and Gide for Firhter Reading” – which is really the bibliography. I foud myself using a yellow high-lighter; putting the book down for long periods and restarting; going back; listing names and dates and drawing charts and time-lines to make sure I understood who was who, who studied with whom and which charecters were contemporaries. The book needed those! Its not a quick read. Maps would definitely have been useful too.
Never the less, I can most definitely recommend Herman’s work.
A comparison of the two books is difficult. They are presented so differently. Re-reading the above I feel that I’ve made Cahill’s work to be a minor one by comparison, its not so weighty and doens’t come across as so … well “intellectual”. Which isn’t fair. The preservation of literature though the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, the politics of the European vs Roman churches and the imporance of the spread of Christianity through northern Europe while Islam was gathering momentum in North Africa and Asia Minor should not be belittled. Melvyn Bragg’s excellent historic novel “Credo” dramatizes the conflicts very well.
Herman and Cahill are both good reads. I recommend them both.