Top critical review
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Keep your distance!
on 28 December 2007
Firstly, I'd just like to point out that I'm a huge fan of Duffy's work : "The Stripping of the Altars" is a masterpiece and "The Voices of Morebath" deserves to be in any book collection worthy of the name.
"Saints & Sinners" is nowhere near the same standard, unfortunately. I looked forward to reading this perhaps more than any other history book I've bought in years and I'm afraid it's a bit of a disappointment. Yes, it's well researched and yes it's readable and, for those reasons at least, enjoyable in it's own way. The major problem, to my mind anyway, is one of objectivity when it comes to the subject matter - in that there's precious little to go round.
"Saints & Sinners" is a blatant revisionist history of the papacy, where bad popes are rehabilitated, their failings and even crimes either apologised for or - worst of all - glossed over or not even referred to. The section on the papacy during the crusades is a whitewash, Duffy all but airbrushes the Vatican out of the Inquisition and as for more modern history, the age of the dictators presents an opportunity for close critical analysis of papal attitudes and behaviour which is passed up in favour of yet more apology and even more whitewash. Institutional anti-Semitism over centuries is hardly mentioned, despite scores of references in papal bulls throughout the ages. The modern pressures on the papacy in an increasingly secular world are left hanging like so many loose ends, missed opportunities to at least add some kind of meaningful analysis to this book.
On the whole, a great shame. Duffy is better than this, believe me. When on form, there is scarcely a living historian who can touch him for sheer ability. He is not on form with "Saints & Sinners".