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Not just about religion
on 18 March 2011
This book would be best described as a short history of the position of Pope and some of the personalities who have held it. If you compare it to a book about the Roman Emperors say, or the British Royal Family, then you'll get some idea of the vastness of the subject matter and the difficulty of distilling it into 500 odd pages then becomes obvious. So it is not exhaustive, it is not particularly detailed but it is very, very readable and engages one's interest throughout. The author is apparently a well known agnostic and so has given, at least to my non-catholic mind, a reasoned and fair assessment of the various, disparate men who have held the post. There are one or two jarring moments however that pass without further reference or source quoted because although there is a bibliography there are few footnotes and no endnotes with specific reference to many of the statements made.
Some of the author's own comments such as, "A strong vein of anti-Semitism had always run through catholic thinking" when discussing the Vatican's response to the Holocaust while being backed up by a list of organisations that apparently professed such views, will no doubt be questioned by some.
Obviously some popes get more attention than others, especially if there has been some scandal attached, but all in all this serves as a decent introduction to the office of Pope and will ignite interest in seeking out some more detailed works.
I do hope that potential readers will not let their religion (or lack of same) prevent them reading this book as this would be like not reading a book about American Presidents because you are not from the USA.