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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult book to read, and review...
John Julius Norwich as written 500 page book, "Absolute Monarchs", which he subtitles, "A History of the Papacy". While he doesn't cover in detail - or even mention - many of the hundreds-odd pontiffs who've ruled the Catholic Church, he does write about 50 or so of the more important ones. Now, the problem with this book - and it is billed as being for "readers" and not...
Published on 9 Sept. 2011 by Jill Meyer

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Different title, same book!
This is the same book as The Popes: A History issued for the American market. I've reviewed that one and you can see what my views are there; but it seemed worth recording a protest (perhaps apt under the circs) about the increasing habit of publishers issuing the same book under two different titles.

When markets were truly separate maybe it could be...
Published on 12 Aug. 2011 by A. McGuire


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult book to read, and review..., 9 Sept. 2011
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
John Julius Norwich as written 500 page book, "Absolute Monarchs", which he subtitles, "A History of the Papacy". While he doesn't cover in detail - or even mention - many of the hundreds-odd pontiffs who've ruled the Catholic Church, he does write about 50 or so of the more important ones. Now, the problem with this book - and it is billed as being for "readers" and not "historians" - is, "how much will the reader actually read?" Is it proper to pick-and-choose the pontiffs the reader wants to know more about - and thus review it on that basis - or should the reader be responsible for reading - and reviewing - the entire book?

I chose to read about those popes and times that I am particularly interested in, i.e. - the early Church, certain Medieval periods, the Avignon Papacy, and modern times. I glanced through the other periods and popes that Norwich writes about. I probably read in detail half the book and skimmed the other half. Norwich writes more about history and contemporaneous events in the popes he covers; much less about doctrinal issues. It's a chatty book and he writes well. I was very interested in reading more about several popes and that's the mark of a good non-fiction work - I wanted more!

The point that struck me, I think, about the papacy in its roughly 2000 year period since St Peter, is the short duration of many of the popes' reigns. Elected as relatively old men, they had few years to influence church policy and the world outside the Vatican. Now, that's good if the pope was - as many were - a non-entity or an evil man - but certainly many would-be good or great popes were not given the time to affect changes that might have moved the papacy and the Catholic church forward.

Norwich has written an excellent, and readable, history that can be read in small pieces, or in the complete "pie".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well Writen History of the Papacy, 12 Sept. 2012
By 
James Gallen (St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Reporting the history of a two-thousand year old institution in a single volume is a daunting task that can only be accomplished by skimming the highlights. In "Absolute Monarchs" author John Norwich has done an excellent job. Knowing when to skim and when to dive in is a knack that he demonstrates with aplomb. From St. Peter to Benedict XVI this book introduces us to the men who have led the Church.

I found this book to slow and accelerate depending on my familiarity with the Popes being discussed. During much of the early Church and Middle Ages the names, both of Popes and laity with whom they worked, seem to roll by without making much of an impression. At times though a familiar name, such as Leo or Gregory the Great, Pius V, Henry VII or Napoleon spikes interest.

As a self-proclaimed agnostic Protestant (?), Norwich claims to have no agenda to push. While he does express opinions, he does seem to be true to his word. He critically examines the legend of Pope Joan and concludes that it lacks authenticity. It is mostly with the more recent Popes that the author's opinions can be easily ascertained. He accuses St. Pius X of maintaining a police state to reign in free thinking. I have heard the same from a Church historian in whom I have complete confidence. Norwich comes down hard on Pius XII for alleged indifference to the plight of Jews during World War II. I will only say that there are two sides to this story, both widely presented and which claim to document persuasive support. I caution the reader to recognize that Norwich presents only one side. As he proceeds from John XXIII through Benedict XVI he points out the highlights of each. In this part of the book Norwich identifies issues on which he thinks that the laity and many clergy have been disappointed by the lack of reform. In so doing, I think that the author views doctrine as something to be determined by majority opinion, not revealed truth. In this I believe that he displays a misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and its mission, that being to preach the Gospel, not to present a popular program.

In a book like this the reader can often learn from general trends more than from specific facts. Through much of this book the emphasis is on family and dynastic alliances and diplomatic initiatives more so than in theological and pastoral concerns. As I followed along I wondered if Norwich was emphasizing what he thought was the Popes' concerns but he did mention doctrinal disputes and, with the more recent Popes, the spiritual comes to the fore. Perhaps this book does reflect the changing focus over the centuries. It is, in the final analysis, a very well-written history of the Papacy, more so than a string of histories of the Popes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warts and all history of the papacy, 9 April 2012
I have to say as a general interest history book this is quite fantastic. The book is a history of the papacy from the earliest recorded times. It actually deals with how the papacy was actually formed and the power and money struggles as well as the intrigues of how everything worked. It was quite an eye opener in how the early papacy wasn't really "holy" and how a lot of things were done for money. Some of the really shocking tales are of the selling of indulgences, and the massacres of the Cathar population. The book is quite easily readable and will take a week or two reading chapter by chapter. Overall quite a nice easy reading book for general knowledge. Recommend!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Always a pleasure, 7 Mar. 2012
Like all books by Norwich, this was a pleasure to read. In one big swoop from Saint-Peter to Ratzinger, the author provides the reader with clarity (not obvious with all those popes and their numerals), expansive historical background, anecdotes and more - all beautifully written. Norwich is more sure-footed when talking about the Middle Ages, and hence some later passages (like the ones about the Italian Risorgimento) feel a bit soulless; but that is more than compensated by brilliant chapters on Napoleon's attitude towards the Catholic Church and an analysis of Pius XII's behaviour towards the Nazis. Highly recommended.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Different title, same book!, 12 Aug. 2011
By 
A. McGuire "Alec McGuire" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is the same book as The Popes: A History issued for the American market. I've reviewed that one and you can see what my views are there; but it seemed worth recording a protest (perhaps apt under the circs) about the increasing habit of publishers issuing the same book under two different titles.

When markets were truly separate maybe it could be justified, but when most books are bought on-line from multi-nationals in a global market then it certainly can't be anymore. It simply is not fair on the readers who are, after all, paying the publishers salaries.

The one star is for that, btw, not for the book itself, which though it has some serious drawbacks I'd rate quite a lot higher.
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5.0 out of 5 stars to the point and takes the good with the bad, 19 Oct. 2014
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Nothing held back, to the point and takes the good with the bad, completely enjoyed.
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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich (Audio CD - 5 Sept. 2011)
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