Cahill, Thomas 1940- (Thomas Quinn Cahill, Tom Cahill)
Cahill, Thomas 1940- (Thomas Quinn Cahill, Tom Cahill)
Born March 29, 1940, in New York, NY; son of Patrick Thomas (an insurance executive) and Margaret Mary Cahill; married Susan Jane Neunzig (a writer), November 4, 1966; children: Kristin Maria, Joseph Neunzig; grandchildren: three. Education: Fordham University, B.A., 1964, Ph.L., 1965; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1968.
Home—New York, NY, and Rome, Italy. Agent—Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022.
Writer. New York Review of Books, New York, NY, advertising director for New York Review presentations, 1968-70; Seton Hall University, Center for Humanistic Studies, South Orange, NJ, instructor, 1968-73, assistant professor of humanistic studies, beginning 1973; also taught at Queens College and Fordham University. Doubleday, New York, NY, formerly director of religious publishing; founder of the Cahill & Company Catalogue.
Christopher Award, 1999, for The Gifts of the Jews; honorary doctorate from Alfred University, 1999.
(Coeditor, under name Tom Cahill, with Susan Cahill) Big City Stories by Modern American Writers, Bantam (New York, NY), 1971.
(With Susan Cahill) A Literary Guide to Ireland, Scribner (New York, NY), 1973.
Literary Calendar series, Universe Books (New York, NY), 1973-1976, Cahill & Co., 1977-1985.
Jesus' Little Instruction Book: His Words to Your Heart, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Pope John XXIII ("Penguin Lives" series), Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Also served as North American education correspondent for London Times. Contributor to periodicals, including Los Angeles Times Book Review and Horizon.
"HINGES OF HISTORY" SERIES
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World before and after Jesus, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2006.
A classical scholar and professor, Thomas Cahill had an epiphany of sorts in 1970. On a trip to Ireland, "I went to what turned out to be a prehistoric fertility festival called Puck Fair," he told Alden Mudge in an interview on the BookPage Web site. "It was pretty wild and raunchy and quite unlike anything I ever expected. Except that I found myself connecting it to classical literature, to what you might call pre-Biblical literature." He began to reassess his views on Western culture and civilization, and was eventually compelled to frame a seven-part series called "Hinges of History." The mission of these books, he told Elizabeth Bernstein in a Publishers Weekly piece, is "to view history from the moments of great gifts—to look at things we want to hold on to and why. We should know where we came from; that's how we know who we are right now."
In the first book of the series, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, Cahill recounts the dissolution of Roman civilization and the spread of the Germanic invaders on the European continent, events covered in nearly every history of this period. What is new in Cahill's account is his attention to Ireland, isolated and distant from the epicenter of this historic upheaval. According to Cahill, Peter Finn wrote in the New York Times Book Review, in "those Dark Ages, between the classical and medieval worlds, remote Christian Ireland became the sanctuary of Western thought." Finn added: "Remarkably open-minded and uncensorial monks cherished the great books, beautifully and painstakingly copying them, before missionaries reintroduced them to the ignorant Continentals."
Cahill chronicles these events through the lives of those who shaped them: Ausonius (a Latin poet and philosopher from Bordeaux), St. Augustine, St. Patrick, Irish warrior Cuchulainn, Irish queen Medb, and others. In bringing together these lives, the writer "contrasts medieval Irish Catholicism—which after St. Patrick developed with virtually no influence from Rome—from that which was brought to the Angles and Saxons a century and a half later by the Roman missionary St. Augustine," noted Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. After the Irish reseeded Christianity and civilization on the continent, their influence was lost as Augustine's vision won the day, the church was centralized in Rome, and the English grew in power. With the loss of Irish influence also came, in Cahill's view, "the loss of gaiety, liberality, a celebration of the world's beauties, and even a touch of the bawdy," observed Eder.
Because it offers a different account of a well-traveled portion of history, and because its author is not a professional historian, How the Irish Saved Civilization raised some controversy. Yet, as Richard Bernstein commented in the New York Times, even when Cahill's "conclusions are not entirely persuasive—they do in places hang on rather slender reeds of evidence—they are always plausible and certainly interesting." Peter Finn found that Cahill "has written a bracing book, brimming with freewheeling learning and unbridled enthusiasm. Professional historians might occasionally blanch at his exuberance, but his readers will revel in his deft and casual storytelling." Another value to this book suggested by Finn and by David Nyhan of the Boston Globe comes in the parallels that Cahill draws between that time of historic upheaval and our own. Concluded Bernstein: "Scholars, perhaps, will now evaluate these claims. But whatever they may find, Mr. Cahill's book will remain an entirely engaging, delectable voyage into the distant past, a small treasure."
In 1998 Cahill advanced the "Hinges of History" series with The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. This volume presents the Bible as both a literary and an historical document. It is the author's premise that all that is known about Western culture derives from the Old Testament—or, as he puts it in the book's opening page: "The Jews started it all." To that end, wrote Paul Gediman in Commonweal, "Cahill emphasizes three features in particular as the gifts of the Jews: the notion of historical time; the individual sense of self; and the moral foundation laid down by the Ten Commandments."
A bestseller, The Gifts of the Jews was critically greeted with both acclaim and skepticism. Neve Gordon, for example, reviewed the book for National Catholic Reporter and found Cahill's discussions "superficial." Another view was taken by Tim Callahan. In an article published in Skeptic, Callahan called The Gifts of the Jews "essentially, if unintentionally, racist" in its assertion that Jews somehow created ideas unique to themselves. "Once we begin to think in terms of unique contributions," Callahan argued, "the idea that peoples might well be unique slides imperceptibly into the belief that racial differences include unique temperamental and ethical qualities, and that national character is biological rather than cultural."
Though America critic Alan J. Avery-Peck found Cahill's interpretations "frequently marred" by the notion that Hebrew text is factual "unlike the mere myths told by other Semitic peoples," the reviewer ultimately lauded The Gifts of the Jews as a "delightful and frequently insightful retelling of biblical history…. Those who know nothing of Scripture will find here a welcoming introduction, marked by Cahill's wit and deft ability to enliven the mainstream of the narrative." "Some readers may object" to the author's universalities, wrote Gediman, "but [Cahill is] up front about it and makes no claims to be writing a history of Jews, Judaism, or even the Bible. In this age of clamorous identity politics, there's something refreshingly big-hearted about the first two "Hinges of History" books, both of which manage to give cultural particularity its due while eloquently embracing the respective contributions of the Jews and the Irish as part of the common inheritance of the West."
Cahill's third offering in the "Hinges of History" series "is, if anything, bigger, bolder and more engaging than his previous books," claimed Alden Mudge on the BookPage Web site. As the author told Mudge, the goal of Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World before and after Jesus, is "to answer the questions that are on the minds of most people—what was Jesus like, what would it have been like to have been in the crowd that listened to Jesus, what would it have been like to have been one of the apostles, and how can we find the answers to these questions in these materials?"
Jesus was a man "who sweat and spit and did everything that everybody else in the world does," Cahill continued. "You have to imagine that he was an extraordinary individual but that he would have appeared to everyone as a human being who talked the lingo of his time to pretty rough-hewn people who would not have been impressed by your typical clergyman." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt reviewed the book for the New York Times and felt it did not contain "the full delight and insouciance of Mr. Cahill's earlier books." Still, Desire of the Everlasting Hills "remains divertingly instructive and imparts gratifying dimension to the beginnings of what later became known as Christianity," concluded Lehmann-Haupt. "Most important, it makes of Jesus a still-living literary presence."
In contrast to this view, John Simon in the National Review found Desire of the Everlasting Hills to be lacking a serious historical approach. Cahill's "presentation shows no awareness," Simon noted, "of the methodological challenges that Jesus research presents and the ways modern scholars have met them. Don't waste your time here looking for a careful sifting of the evidence." Reviewing the book for Library Journal, David Bourquin admitted that "Cahill tends to smooth over thorny debates about the differences among the four Gospels," while Michael Spinella and Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, claimed that "he occasionally dismisses well-researched, oft-debated scholarship with a single, arrogant hand-swipe." But Robert M. Grant, writing in the Christian Century, believed that Cahill "is an enthusiastic and able student of his subject" who is "clear and consistent when the substance matters." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that Cahill's book "is an engrossing portrait of Jesus."
In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, another work in the "Hinges of History" series, Cahill "seeks to make the ancient Greeks accessible to a modern audience," observed School Library Journal critic Ted Westervelt. Cahill explores the rise of the Greek civilization and the development of Greek thought, and he examines the influence of Greek art, philosophy, and politics on Western civilization today. "The author parades a rogue's gallery of true subversives, from Homer to Solon …, from pre-Socratic notions of atomic theory and mystery to Socrates' questing and questioning to Plato's ultimate forms," stated a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Dennis P. Kehoe, writing in America, praised Cahill's use of original texts, noting that the author's "survey of Greek literature reminds us of its beauty and profundity, and he conveniently provides those interested in reading more of Greek literature with a guide to appropriate translations. Cahill also brings these texts to life by showing how they are relevant for grappling with the fundamental problems affecting the contemporary world." Though Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea garnered generally strong reviews, New York Times Book Review contributor Joy Connolly felt that the title falls short of its mark. "A cultural history in the Greek tradition would focus on the ideas and values that Cahill describes so eloquently," the critic stated, "but it would reject celebrations of them as gifts in favor of a hardheaded examination of their meaning and foundation in what is now a truly global culture." Despite her misgivings, Connolly also wrote that Cahill "is a talented writer, and his tour of Greek culture is a triumph of popularization: extraordinarily knowledgeable, informal in tone, amusing, wide-ranging, smartly paced."
Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe, the fifth volume in Cahill's "Hinges of History" series, focuses on cultural advancements during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, a period known as the high Middle Ages. In the work, Cahill "finds a ferment of implicitly progressive ideas that laid the groundwork for modernity," noted a Publishers Weekly critic. "‘The Middle Ages’ is a wishy-washy term, first established by Renaissance humanists of the sixteenth century," Cahill noted on his Web site. He continued: "These humanists looked down their noses at everything that had gone on in the middle period between the classical age and themselves. Till fairly recently their prejudice was accepted by most scholars. But now, we are coming to realize that many of the things we consider characteristically modern—the gradual emancipation of women, university life, modern philosophy and science, realistic art, and even something as seemingly unmedieval as the separation of church and state—got their start in these so-called Middle Ages."
In Mysteries of the Middle Ages, Cahill profiles such notable figures as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter Abelard, Francis of Assisi, and Italian painter and architect Giotto, using them as "a prism for viewing the larger changes during this period," noted America contributor Vincent Ryan. According to Bryan Cones, writing in U.S. Catholic, Cahill's "lively writing and love of his subjects put them in bold relief. Despite their mythic stature, Cahill makes them believably human." Though some critics found the author's informal approach distracting, New York Times Book Review critic Ingrid Rowland complimented his accessible prose, remarking: "Cahill loves to spin out a yarn as palpably as an old Irish bard by the peat fire, or the old Greek, Hesiod, at his blacksmith's forge, and his personal asides seem to add to this intimate, old-time atmosphere."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, September 26, 1998, Alan J. Avery-Peck, review of The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, p. 22; March 22, 2004, Dennis P. Kehoe, "The Dead Are Raised," review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, p. 23; February 12, 2007, Vincent Ryan, review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe, p. 20.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 11, 1995, review of How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, p. E6.
Booklist, March 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of The Gifts of the Jews, p. 1197; October 1, 1999, Michael Spinella and Gilbert Taylor, review of Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World before and after Jesus, p. 306; January 1, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of Pope John XXIII, p. 780; October 1, 2003, George Cohen, review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 295.
Boston Globe, December 30, 1994, David Nyhan, review of How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 19.
Christian Century, February 16, 2000, Robert M. Grant, review of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, p. 187; January 23, 2007, Sharan Newman, review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 35.
Christianity Today, December, 2006, John Wilson, "The God That Did Not Fail," review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 62.
Commentary, November, 1998, Yossi Prager, review of The Gifts of the Jews, p. 63.
Commonweal, May 8, 1998, Paul Gediman, review of The Gifts of the Jews, p. 22; March 8, 2002, Christopher Ruddy, "Good Pope, Bad Pope," review of Pope John XXIII, p. 21.
Contemporary Review, July, 2003, Michael Carver, "‘IL Papa Buono’: A New Life of Pope John XXII," p. 48.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2001, review of Pope John XXIII, p. 1528; September 1, 2003, review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 1109.
Library Journal, November 15, 1999, David Bourquin, review of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, p. 73; January 1, 2002, John-Leonard Berg, review of Pope John XXIII, p. 110; January 1, 2004, Clay Williams, review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 130; October 15, 2006, David Keymer, review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 72.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 12, 1995, Richard Eder, review of How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 3.
Maclean's, June 1, 1998, review of The Gifts of the Jews, p. A6.
National Catholic Reporter, May 8, 1998, Neve Gordon, review of The Gifts of the Jews, p. 16.
National Review, December 20, 1999, John Simon, "Driving in Circles," p. 66; November 6, 2006, Sarah Bramwell, "Getting Medieval," review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 56.
New York Times, April 5, 1995, Richard Bernstein, review of How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. C23; November 8, 1999, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Assessing the Impact of the Gift-Giver of Nazareth."
New York Times Book Review, August 13, 1995, Peter Finn, review of How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 15; February 24, 2002, Mark Oppenheimer, review of Pope John XXIII, p. 17; November 9, 2003, Joy Connolly, "Classical Education," review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 20; December 24, 2006, Ingrid Rowland, "Medieval Times," review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 22.
People, December 15, 2003, Neil Graves, review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, March 9, 1998, review of The Gifts of the Jews, p. 57; March 16, 1998, Elizabeth Bernstein, "Thomas Cahill: Saving History, Book by Book," p. 39; October 25, 1999, review of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, p. 71; November 1, 1999, review of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, p. 54; November 29, 1999, "The Hinges of Fortune," p. 30; December 17, 2001, review of Pope John XXIII, p. 80; August 25, 2003, review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 49; August 28, 2006, review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 42.
School Library Journal, March, 2004, Ted Westervelt, review of Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 252.
Skeptic, winter, 1999, Tim Callahan, "Rust on the Hinges of History," p. 90.
U.S. Catholic, November, 2006, Bryan Cones, review of Mysteries of the Middle Ages, p. 45.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (May 20, 2007), Alden Mudge, "Reimagining Jesus: Cahill Makes History Again," interview with Thomas Cahill.
Thomas Cahill Home Page,http://www.randomhouse.com/features/cahill (May 1, 2007).