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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy Paperback – 1 May 2012
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Praise for John Julius Norwich
"As a historian, Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer, he has a taste for beauty, a love of language, and an enlivening wit. He contrives, as no English writer has done before, to sustain a continuous interest in that crowded history."--Hugh Trevor-Roper, author of "The Last Days of Hitler" and "The Golden Age of Europe"
"Norwich is an enchanting and satisfying raconteur."--"The Washington Post"
"He has put readers of this generation more in his debt than any other English writer."--"The Sunday Times" (London)
"Norwich is a historian of uncommon urbanity: scholarly and erudite but never pedantic. His style is as graceful and easy as it is knowledgeable."--"Los Angeles Times"
"[Norwich] is certainly the English language's most passionate and dedicated chronicler of [Venice's] extraordinary history."--"The Seattle Times"
"From the Hardcover edition."
"A rollicking narrative . . . [Norwich] keeps things moving at nearly beach-read pace."--"The New York Times Book Review"
"A highly entertaining read . . . [John Julius] Norwich has a lightness of touch and caustic sense of humour. . . . As a lively romp through two millenniums of ecclesiastical history, ["Absolute Monarchs" is] well-nigh infallible."--"The Sunday Business Post"
"Very readable and rewarding . . . Norwich possesses an easy grace with words, a gift for condensation and a wonderful instinct for the memorable and defining detail.""--The Plain Dealer"
"Deeply researched, Norwich's history offers a wonderful introduction to papal lives.""--Publishers Weekly"
"Excellent, often surprising . . . An outstanding historical survey."--"Booklist"
"[A] sweeping history . . . [a] cacophony of temporal sin.""--Los Angeles Times"
A rollicking narrative . . . [Norwich] keeps things moving at nearly beach-read pace. The New York Times Book Review
A highly entertaining read . . . [John Julius] Norwich has a lightness of touch and caustic sense of humour. . . . As a lively romp through two millenniums of ecclesiastical history, [Absolute Monarchs is] well-nigh infallible. The Sunday Business Post
Very readable and rewarding . . . Norwich possesses an easy grace with words, a gift for condensation and a wonderful instinct for the memorable and defining detail. The Plain Dealer
Deeply researched, Norwich s history offers a wonderful introduction to papal lives. Publishers Weekly
Excellent, often surprising . . . An outstanding historical survey. Booklist
[A] sweeping history . . . [a] cacophony of temporal sin. Los Angeles Times
About the Author
John Julius Norwich is one of Britain s preeminent historians and travel writers. He has written the histories of Norman Sicily, Byzantium, Venice, and the Mediterranean. Other books have been on Shakespeare s history plays, on music, and on architecture.
From the Hardcover edition."
Top customer reviews
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".
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.
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.