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The Donation of Constantine: A Novel [Paperback]

Simon LeVay

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Book Description

9 Oct 2013
In the middle of the eighth century, the decaying city of Rome lies defenseless against the advance of the warmongering Lombards. The new Pope, Stephen II, appeals for help from the Eastern Emperor, but none arrives. In desperation, the Pope's younger brother and an English nun conspire to change the course of history-at the risk of their own souls. Based on real people and actual events, this is a story of intrigue, passion, war, and the struggle for control of medieval Europe.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 434 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (9 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 147013215X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1470132156
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.3 x 2.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 408,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The famous Donation of Constantine, an 8th-century document allegedly giving great swaths of temporal authority and ownership to the Catholic Church, is perhaps most famous today for having been spectacularly exposed (through linguistic and historical methods) in 1440 by Renaissance humanist Lorenzo Valla as a fraud. But the Donation has a complex and fascinating history of its own, which forms the backdrop of LeVay’s fast-paced and chatty novel set in the reign of Pope Stephen II and primarily featuring the Pope’s brother Paul and an English nun named Leoba in a surprisingly thrill-filled story about the intense political and personal dramas that gave rise to the creation of the Donation in the first place. The story travels over great chunks of the landscape of 8th-century Europe and involves a good deal of dramatic tension arising from the looming threat of Lombard war-making. LeVay invests all of this with great energy and historical precision, and the result is a fascinating novel of religion’s very real-world wheelings and dealings.

About the Author

Simon LeVay is a neuroscientist and writer. Born in Oxford, England, he was educated at Cambridge University and the University of Göttingen, Germany, and has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He is best-known for his research and writings on the biological basis of sexual orientation. LeVay is the author of 11 previous books, including the New York Times bestseller, 'When Science Goes Wrong'. The Donation of Constantine is his second novel. He lives in West Hollywood, California.

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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who knew that 8th century Rome could be so engrossing? 26 Oct 2013
By Deborah White - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The more I think about this novel, the more amazed I am that I picked it up and virtually was unable to set it down again until I finished it. The 8th century? The papacy? And me, a 21st century atheist....

But by p. 2 I was completely sucked in, by the action of the plot (difficult journeys, extensive battles, and much, much more), by the two love stories, by how the novel actually made me understand (or think I understand - it's the same thing, really) the belief system of the Catholics of that era, and even the Pope.

Historical novels must be awfully difficult to write, to make them sound authentic and of-the-period and yet comprehensible to us in today's world. I don't know how LeVay did it, but I'm glad he did.

He includes an Afterword that is very helpful in distinguishing what really happened in history from his embellishments.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read! 14 Oct 2013
By Laurie Saunders - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dr. Levay has brought his characteristic lively curiosity and compelling style to the turbulent period in European history leading up to the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. He recreates the historical mystery surrounding the Donation of Constantine and its dramatic impact through the intertwined lives of characters from all corners of mediaeval life - clergy, merchants, servants, and nobility. And like all good historical fiction, it is remarkably timely, with surprising echoes in our own headlines.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Donation of Constantine 16 Oct 2013
By Richard Hersey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This best selling author takes us into the eighth century.His free flowing prose is a delight.He has written a beautiful narrative around factual ancient history. This is a must read for history buffs and Christians curious of the conspiracies of those early days of the church.Two lovable teenagers described in the life of these times catch your interest and keep you from putting the book down.We watch the maneuvering for power by the world leaders.We become deeply involved in the great battles of the period - a great book and a good read.I shall read it again -and then-again. Richard Hersey author of "A Ship With No Name".
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun 7 Feb 2014
By Galla - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Who would have thought that a novel about an 8th century event would make for such entertaining reading? LeVay has written an engrossing tale that makes for an enjoyable mix of real history with imaginative fiction. The characters are fully developed (even though they sound very contemporary at times) and the plot absorbing, a bit of high level forgery by two members of the Papal court attempting to save Rome from the Lombards when it is evident that the Emperor, safe in Constantinople, has no intention of doing so.
Their ploy is to create a document that will justify the crowning of the Frankish king Pepin by the Pope. This forgery would ultimately lead to the Papal States and the Pope as one of the major political players in medieval Europe. The minor characters that LeVay has created add much to the story, as do the two young teenagers who manage to save Rome from the Lombardian attackers by diverting the waters in one of the aqueducts. The novel is great fun and an added bonus is the interesting information about how river mills, aqueducts, and siege machines worked, as well as the coronation of Pepin.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An esteemed scientist writes a brilliant novel about an historic deception that saved Rome 4 Dec 2013
By melskivite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: Simon LeVay, author of The Donation of Constantine, is an old friend of mine and a hero to our LGBT community. His research at Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute advanced our cause and raised signifiant questions about sexual orientation that even the skeptics could not ignore.

Before The Donation of Constantine Dr. LeVay had written a veritable library of books on such amazingly different subjects as earthquakes, the human brain, the scientific search for extraterrestrial life, Parkinson's Disease, human sexuality and the New York Times bestseller When Science Goes Wrong.

So you can imagine my surprise when just weeks ago the media announced that in his retirement Dr. Simon LeVay had returned to his computer to write a 420 page historical novel that is as fascinating and as hard to put down as The DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons. Look out Dan Brown! I'm hoping that very soon - if enough fans of epic historical fiction hear about this page turner - Simon LeVay will be climbing up the bestseller lists that you have dominated for so long.

Set in the troubled eighth century and based on real people and actual events The Donation of Constantine brings to life that moment in Rome's history when it lay defenseless before the Lombards, a warmongering nation that had conquered many Italian cities and was about to descend on Rome. When the Eastern Emperor refused to send help, Stephen II, Rome's new Pope, had to depend on his wily younger brother, Paul, and a brilliant and seductive visiting nun to hatch up a plot that would not only save Rome from the pagan hoards but guarantee its place in history as the undisputed headquarters of the universal Catholic Church.

If you love (almost) true stories laced with passion, intrigue, and romance, I suggest you overcome your resistance to the idea that an esteemed brain researcher can write a captivating novel. Simon LeVay is a brilliant scientist whose linguistic skills gave him access to a treasure trove of documents unveiling one of the great deceptions in history and whose scientific imagination and curiosity brings that deception to life. And though a great (meaning entertaining) read, LeVay's novel also raises fascinating spiritual and ethical issues that are as contemporary as those being raised by the words and actions of Pope Francis, words and actions that inspire and inform us all.
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