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Perfect Heresy: the Revolutionary Life and Spectacular Death Hardcover – Jul 2000

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Co; annotated edition edition (July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802713505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802713506
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 3.1 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,101,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

"The Cathars of Languedoc defy obscurity because their story has become legend", yet the Albigensian Crusade, sent to destroy them, is far less well known than the crusades to Palestine. Inspired by his travels in France, Canadian historian Stephen O'Shea's tale of this medieval sect and its destruction is empathetic, evocative and sometimes refreshingly witty. The book's recreations of the "medieval phantasmagoria" of siege warfare are superb at bringing the medieval world alive. Present from the 12th century to the first quarter of the 14th, Catharism was "a pacifist brand of Christianity embracing tolerance and poverty". Rejecting the authority of the Church, and clasping a series of unorthodox beliefs, it was considered "perfect heresy". Strong in the towns of southern France, Catharism was initially protected by the "tacit assent--or fecklessness--of its overlords". Nobles, monks, popes and kings star in this story of the "abattoir Christianity" of decades of conflict encompassing religious and secular motivation. Catharism was finally eliminated by the Inquisition whose operational methods are fascinatingly and clearly explained. A highly accessible text for non-specialists, The Perfect Heresy draws on modern scholarship and ancient manuscripts (detailed in the notes) of "chroniclers, commentators, inquisitors, clergymen, and lords". Given the resplendent narrative it's a shame that the meagre illustrations are of such poor reproductive quality. But maybe the book doesn't really need them. --Karen Tiley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Stephen O'Shea is a Canadian historian and journalist. His earlier books Back to the Front: an accidental historian walks the trenches of World War I and The Perfect Heresy: the Life and Death of the Cathars were acclaimed as popular history at its best. He lives in France. Click here for his webpage. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By PD Miller on 7 Nov. 2006
Format: Paperback
Cathars / Albigeois / Albigensians : it would be difficult indeed to live - as I do - in south-western France and remain unaware of them. I knew about them long before leaving the UK, though, and it seems that vast numbers of people all over the world now take considerable interest in the life, times, persecution and (presumed) extinction of this apparently harmless sect, whose history will forever be entwined with that of the Languedoc. The Inquisition was instigated in order to wipe them out (the "Spanish Inquisition" was merely a subsequent phase of this long-running road-show - which ran, in fact, until 1834).

Among the countless books available on the subject, ranging from the unbendingly scholarly and drily indigestible to the hack-written and downright fanciful, with all shades of the literary spectrum in between, The Perfect Heresy stands out as an intensively-researched work, smoothly and compellingly written.

Easily absorbed, and fascinating in its detail, O'Shea's account encompasses not only the overt religious bigotry which fuelled the wholesale slaughter now generally referred to as the Albigensian Crusade, but also the hidden agendas : the before-and-after political map of France is a real eye-opener, as are the clearly-described political machinations by which, concealed behind a screen thickly embroidered with self-righteousness, those in power trampled and manipulated their way towards loftier and loftier personal status, and greater and greedier financial gain. (Good job things are different now, eh?).

My only real criticism of this work concerns O'Shea's eccentric and random anglicism of some French forenames. Perhaps his (slightly patronising?
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Max Cairnduff on 18 Mar. 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a well written and lively introductory book covering the Albigensian crusade in Southern France (but not, as the title might suggest, the Cathar movement more generally). As with Jonathan Sumption's similar book "The Albigensian Crusade" it is an overview of the period, the personalities and the reasons for the crusade. It is well written, concentrates on history rather than myth (although it does touch briefly upon the myths that have later arisen) and does an excellent job of bringing the period and the people who lived in it to life.
Both this and Jonathan Sumption's book work very well as guides to this period of history, and in fairness either would make a good choice if you have an interest in this topic. My personal preference of the two was for this book as I found it somewhat fresher in tone and lighter in touch while still containing much the same level of information, it makes a surprisingly good holiday read whereas Jonathan Sumption's book has a slightly drier and more academic flavour. Ultimately though, both are good and both are well written, with this book being a little more accessible and Jonathan Sumption's book having better illustrative maps and plans.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on 2 Dec. 2000
Format: Hardcover
In my library I have three books that cover the Crusade to destroy the Cathars in Southern France. This is one of the first I read and I found it be very enjoyable. In around 264 pages the author, Stephen O'Shea, gives you a decent overview of the life and death of these so-called 'heretics'. The author also supplies numerous notes and a decent bibliography along with a guide to recommended reading. There are a number of small black & white illustrations within the narrative but it would have been nice to see a few colour photographs of the locations visited by the author during the preparation of this book.
The story of the Crusade against the Cathars is truly horrifying in some places. The atrocities carried out by men of God against a peaceful population all in the name of religion is outstanding. During the Albigensian Crusade in 1209 Catholic Knights stormed the village of Beziers. Before breaching the walls they asked their spiritual leader, Arnold Amaury, how could they distinguish Catholic occupants from the heretics. His reply was "Kill them all, God will know his own."
That one line sums up this terrifying period of French history. The continual battles, sieges and murders where followed by the Inquisition where friend betrayed friend, family betrayed family, all just to survive under the 'just' rule of the Catholic Church. We read about that famous French Knight, Simon de Montfort and we find out that in reality he wasn't all that nice! We read about ordinary people, the true heroes of this story, just trying to survive and elk out a living during extraordinary times.
The narrative flowed along and you found yourself drawn into the story with the occasional tourist guide information. This is a great introduction to this period and it should appeal to all that enjoy good historical writing. I would also recommended Jonathan Sumption's 'The Albigensian Crusade' and Zoe Oldenbourg's 'The Massacre at Montsegur'.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Jun. 2003
Format: Paperback
Stephen O'Shea's book reads as an adventure, bringing to life the main charactors of their time. Explaining the wheeler dealing of the church and state. How and why the crusades were started, populations exploited, ordinary people killed and all for individual power and influence. History seems to always repeats it's mistakes. It is a well researched book which makes history enjoyable and readable. This book is a must, bringing to us Cather life and religion from days of orthodox religious darkness, which are still with us today. The epilogue is fasinating in how the Cathers still live on in diverse ways in peoples minds and beliefs.
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