The subtitle hints at the coffee table, but this is a serious, competent overview--at times too detailed for its likely readership--of an enormous subject. Scherman begins with the Stone Age and goes up to the Norman Conquest. In between she covers the prehistoric ruins of Newgrange and Carrowkeel, La TÃ¨ne Celtic culture, the Ulster Cycle of heroic tales, the Brehon Laws, the Tuatha De Danann (pagan gods), the coming of Christianity, Irish monasticism, the poetry, theology, architecture, illuminated manuscripts of the early Middle Ages, the Viking invasions, etc., etc. Scherman ""concentrates"" on the period from the 8th through the 12th century A.D. and, all things considered, does a good job with this immensely varied material. The only flagrant weakness comes in her treatment of Old Irish literature, which sounds vague and all too borrowed. Old Irish verse, she tells us, ""is a felicitous combination of the music of words to delight the ear and subtlety of thought to divert the mind."" No doubt, but how does that make it differ from Middle High German? On the central topic of religion, Scherman is generally reliable (though there are occasional clinkers, such as calling Simon Magus the ""presumed founder"" of gnosticism). On the other hand, just how much the layman will be interested in St. Columbanus' Regula Monachorum or John Scotus Erigena's mystical Nco-Platonism is another question. The book has 26 black-and-white photos (there ought to be more), mostly of churches and monasteries, and Scherman's account of her trips to these sites is spirited and engaging. Uneven but useful.