About Thomas Cahill

About_Graphic_1Thomas Cahill is the author of the best-selling books How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval EuropeThe Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and FeelsDesire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After JesusSailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks MatterMysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World, and, most recently, Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World. These six books comprise Volumes I, II, III,IV, V, and VI, respectively, of the Hinges of History, a series in which the author recounts formative moments in Western civilization, published in North America in hardcover by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday and in paperback by Anchor Books. In the Hinges of History, Thomas Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western world through little-known stories of individuals who had pivotal impacts on history and contributed immensely to Western culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today. Thomas Cahill was best known, in his books and lectures, for taking on a broad scope of complex history and distilling it into a remarkably accessible, illuminating and entertaining narrative. His lively, engaging writing animates cultures that existed up to five millennia ago, revealing the lives of his principal characters with refreshing insight and joy. He writes history, not in its usual terms of war and atrocity, but by inviting his audience into an ancient world to commune with some of the most influential people who ever lived. Unlike all too many history lessons, a Thomas Cahill history book or speech is impossible to forget.

How the Irish Saved Civilization tells the story—scarcely known outside of Ireland—of fifth-century Irish monks who copied and thereby preserved the great heritage of Western civilization: almost all of what has survived of Western classical poetry, history, oratory, philosophy and commentary. Published in March of 1995, How the Irish Saved Civilization spent nearly two years on the New York Times Bestseller List, peaking at #2. With over 1,300,000 copies in print, its sales are increasing annually as it is being adopted into Western civilization college courses throughout the USA. It has been published throughout the English-speaking world (UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa), and in translation throughout Latin America (in Portuguese and Spanish), Europe (in Czech, Dutch, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, and Spanish), and Asia (in standardized Chinese and Japanese). How the Irish Saved Civilization also became a bestseller in Italy.

In The Gifts of the Jews, published in April 1998, the author illuminates how Jews essentially invented Western civilization and shaped Western consciousness today, as they were the first in human history to claim individual freedom, and to presume they could make the future better than the past. Thomas Cahill explores how Israelites gave the world a sense of history and destiny, concepts of individuality and justice, and the idea of monotheism. The Gifts of the Jews enjoyed 39 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, peaking at #3. Over 650,000 copies are in print, and it is also being adopted as a required text in Western civilization collegiate courses in the USA. It is currently published throughout the English-speaking world (UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), and in translation throughout Latin America (in Portuguese, and Spanish), Europe (in Croatian, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish), the Middle East (in Hebrew) and Asia (in standardized Chinese, Japanese, and Korean). The Gifts of the Jews also became a bestseller in Brazil and China. In February of 1999, Thomas Cahill was the recipient of a Christopher Award for The Gifts of the Jews.

Desire of the Everlasting Hills was proclaimed by The New York Times Book Review as “a stunning success, the best of the series.” Published in hardcover in November 1999 on the occasion of the two-thousandth birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, it hit bestseller lists across the United States, with nearly 500,000 copies in print. The paperback debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List at #4 on March 11, 2001. This volume brings a fresh and engrossing look at the impact of Jesus and early Christianity on the shaping of Western civilization. Again, with his unique and stimulating ability to re-create ancient times, Thomas Cahill vividly brings to life Jesus and the people who wrote about him, and offers a stunningly original interpretation of the New Testament. To date, Desire of the Everlasting Hills has been published in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America; Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and China.

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea was published in hardcover in October 2003. In this volume, Thomas Cahill leads a captivating tour of ancient Greek achievement, which encompasses dozens of facets, ranging from statecraft, philosophy, and architecture to militarism and science. In many ways, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea bridges the history brought to light in the first three volumes; Greek civilization witnessed the melding of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions and the birth of a new cultural outlook that permeates the West to this day. Bringing to life the dazzling array of mythological characters and historical figures who comprise the Greek narrative, this is a rich new look at Agamemnon and Aeschylus, Sophocles and Sappho—the complete pantheon of gods and mortals whose importance is still evident in the Western landscape. Exploring the aspects of our language, laws, even our fundamental sensibilities, that are infused with the often controversial spirit which defined ancient Greece, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea offers a magnificent new perspective on the evolution of the Western world. Mr. Cahill was delighted that Oceanida, a leading Greek publisher, chose to translate Sailing into Greek as its contribution to the 2004 Olympic games.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages was published in hardcover in October 2006. In the fifth book of the Hinges of History series, Cahill turns his eye on the dawn of the modern Western world—the High Middle Ages. After the long period of cultural decline known as the Dark Ages, Europe experienced a rebirth of scholarship, art, literature, philosophy, and science and began to develop a vision of Western society that remains at the heart of Western civilization today. By placing the image of the Virgin Mary at the center of their churches and their lives, medieval people exalted womanhood to a level unknown in any previous society. For the first time, men began to treat women with dignity and women took up professions that had always been closed to them. The communion bread, believed to be the body of Jesus, encouraged the formulation of new questions in philosophy: Could reality be so fluid that one substance could be transformed into another? Could ordinary bread become a holy reality? Could mud become gold, as the alchemists believed? These new questions pushed the minds of medieval thinkers toward what would become modern science. Artists began to ask themselves similar questions. How can we depict human anatomy so that it looks real to the viewer? How can we depict motion in a composition that never moves? How can two dimensions appear to be three? Medieval artists (and writers, too) invented the Western tradition of realism. On visits to the great cities of Europe—monumental Rome; the intellectually explosive Paris of Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas; the hotbed of scientific study that was Oxford; and the incomparable Florence of Dante and Giotto—Cahill brilliantly captures the spirit of experimentation, the colorful pageantry, and the passionate pursuit of knowledge that built the foundations for the modern world.

The newest addition to the series, Heretics and Heroes, was published in 2013. In this volume, Cahill brilliantly guides us through a time so full of innovation that the Western world would not again experience its like until the twentieth century: the new humanism of the Renaissance and the radical religious alterations of the Reformation. This was an age where whole continents and peoples were discovered. It was an era of sublime artistic and scientific adventure, but also of newly powerful princes and armies—and of unprecedented courage, as thousands refused to bow their heads to the religious pieties of the past. In these exquisitely written and lavishly illustrated pages, Cahill illuminates the great gift-givers who shaped our history—those who left us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong than the one they had found.

A lifelong scholar, Thomas Cahill studied with some of America’s most distinguished literary and biblical scholars. Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in the Bronx, he was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed both a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy, and a pontifical degree in philosophy. He went on to complete his M.F.A. in film and dramatic literature at Columbia University. He studied scripture at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, and also spent two years as a Visiting Scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he studied Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible in preparation for writing The Gifts of the Jews. He read French, Italian, and German. In 1999, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Alfred University in New York.

Thomas Cahill taught at Queens College, Fordham University, and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring to write full-time, he was Director of Religious Publishing at Doubleday for six years. Cahill addressed the U.S. Congress on the Judeo-Christian roots of moral responsibility in American Politics. He and his wife, Susan, author of Hidden Gardens of Paris: A Guide to the Parks, Squares, and Woodlands of the City of Light, founded the now legendary Cahill & Company, whose reader’s catalogue was much beloved in literary households throughout the country. He passed away in 2022.

List of Published Books:
Big City Stories by Modern American Writers, with Susan Cahill, Bantam, 1971
A Literary Guide to Ireland, with Susan Cahill, Scribner, 1973
Jesus’ Little Instruction Book, Bantam, 1994
How the Irish Saved Civilization, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1995
The Gifts of the Jews, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1998
Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1999
Pope John XXIII, Viking, 2002
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003
Mysteries of the Middle Ages, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2006
A Saint on Death Row, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2008
Heretics and Heroes, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2013