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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2007
Baigent and Leigh are perhaps most famous for being two-thirds of the authors of the infamous The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a work not noted for its adherence to strict historical method, or indeed strict history. So I was intrigued to see how they would handle this more factual area. Depressingly, the answer turned out to be less with science than with tabloid sensationalism.

This book alleges to be a wide-ranging study of the activities of the Papal and Spanish Inquisitions from the time of their creation in the thirteenth century to their modern day incarnation. However, my doubts were raised before we'd even left the introduction, as I read:

"Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor has seared itself into our collective consciousness as the definite image and embodiment of the Inquisition." [p. xiv]

Frankly, the only Inquisitor burned into my mind is Michael Palin's soft cushion-brandishing one, and in any case, what has this to do with the historical issues they are supposed to be examining? This was not the last example of this, sadly: works of Umberto Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Arthur Miller and André Gide being waved around in a quite inexplicable manner, as though they were primary sources!

When, finally, we do come to some history, this is sadly lacking. There might be nothing wrong with the facts cited by Baigent and Leigh, or with the conclusions they draw from them - but they've given no proof of that. Almost without exception, no sources are cited: when the odd direct quote does appear and has a footnote, this turns out to be a secondary source. One entire chapter ('Enemies of the Black Friars') appears to be not much more than a straight precis of Norman Cohn's excellent The Pursuit of the Millennium: one is left wondering if there is any original research here at all.

My other complaint about the first half of this book can be amply illustrated by one prudish sentence:

"And there were numberous additional refinements [to methods of torture], to obscene to be transcribed." [p. 73]

Play fair, guys. Half the reason we're reading the book is for the graphic descriptions of torture, so don't titillate.

So far, so mediocre. If they'd stopped halfway through, this would have been an acceptable, if short and unoriginal, introduction to the subject. Then suddenly it all goes horribly wrong.

The second half of the book is a confused mess of ecclesiastical and political history of the last three centuries, coupled with utterly pointless rants relating to the authors' previous work (the Dead Sea Scrolls and Freemasonary). They seem to take very personal objection to certain individuals within the Vatican hierarchy, and abandon any pretence of scholarship in favour of piling up every bit of negative speculation they can: they claim, for example, that the Church's attempts to control the interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls to coincide with its own doctrines - what monotheist would do differently? - is a "conspiracy", not the feeble defensiveness it so plainly was.

I am no fan of the Roman Church myself, but surely it deserves better enemies than these.
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on 12 September 2014
A masterly work that gives both an overview of the Inquisition and plenty of useful details about its various aspects. Well-researched and thorough, as well as being well written. The ideas are well organised and the story is told in such a way that one can follow the thread of the argument, or of the action, whilst effortlessly learning a great deal at the same time. Thank you Michael Baigent for making available your depth of understanding of this subject!
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on 1 August 2000
This single volume history of the inquisition starts well, with racey portraits of the perscution of the Cathars, the roles of the Dominicans and Jesuits and the political background to the founding of the Spanish inquisition. However, it is frequently marred by the use of irrelevent modern parallels (especially the Nazi Holocaust and the term 'ethnic cleansing') and an apparently unquestioning use of contemporary accounts.
The second half of the book tails off, though, as the rather non-eventful activities of the inquisition in the New World and England are chronicled and ends with absurdly long descriptions of the frankly comical Vatican forbidden books list and the tired old story of the Dead Sea Scrolls conspiracy (cut and pasted from the authors' previous work, I imagine). The authors justify the inclusion of these latter episodes on the basis that they were carried out by the beaurocratic descendents of the Holy office but they really have no place here. One can only assume this book was finished before the film 'Stigmata' dredged up the Dead Sea Scrolls Vatican conspiracy stuff again or the authors would have cited Gabriel Byrne as a source!
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on 5 January 2001
Begins as a highly readable and light study of the reasons for the formation of the various European inquistions as well as a survey of the religious orders which propelled it, but then loses steam completely by the third quarter once the the late 18th century spells the inquisitions' doom.Also the authors are exceedingly squeamish about the actual tortures used, for lets be honest, part of the enormous fascination of this subject is its grisly blood spattered chambers of horror. The last part is made up of some tedious rants against the evils of this pope or that cardinal and bits and bobs of the authors' own previous books used obviously to both pad out and push the sales. Love the engraving though, of the witchfinder and the names of the imps he has cast out:Pyewackett,Jarmara,Pecke in the Crowne,Vinegar Tom.
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on 11 August 2004
As Henry Kamen revealed in his study,The Spanish Inquisition:An Historical Revision, which Baigent and Leigh appear not to have read, the Spanish Inquisition was soon reduced to toothless impotence. Most scholars now agree that its fearsome reputation post-1500 is a Protestant myth.
Are the authors unaware of such research (their thin bibliography includes not one Spanish source)or does it simply not accord with the story they wish to tell ?
My guess is that the subtext of The Inquisition has to do with Baigent and Leigh's imagined persecution at the hands of orthodox scholars. Their effort is littered with schoolboy howlers: Galileo was not thrown in prision for the last eight years of his life, the anti-contraception encyclical Humane Vitae was not an infallible statement, Catholics pray to Mary but do not worship her.
What offended me most about this book was not its contents but its seductively smart presentation by Viking: it makes my blood run cold to think that someone might mistake it for the work of scholarship.
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on 22 August 2013
Yes, would highly recommend this book - covers the subject in an extremely easy and readable way. Have learnt a great deal about the subject and the thinking of the Roman Church.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 November 2002
This book is an amalgam of various items, which have sometimes nothing to do with the Inquisition (e.g. Schliemann, Garibaldi).
It spends three pages on one tortured freemason, and half a paragraph on Wycliffe and Hus.
The authors don't explain clearly the theories of and the conflicts with, for instance, the Cathars, with Wycliffe and Hus.
Into the bargain, being superficial, they are very approximative in their statements. For instance, they fail to mention the crucial reason why the Order of the Knights Templars was eradicated by the king of France. The king contracted a big loan from the Templars and didn't have to repay it if the Order was destroyed. More, he could confiscate their possessions in France.
On the other hand, they give a good analysis of Malleus Maleficarum and good information on perhaps the next pope Cardinal Ratzinger.
A very mixed bag.
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