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on 5 September 2011
I have been reading this book in tandem with Norwich's "The Popes" (which of course will sell better), and I have to say that despite being a big Norwich fan I preferred this! Don't be put off by the slightly intimidating look of the thing, or the fact that Collins is a practising academic, or the footnotes; this is a beautifully clearly written, entertaining and accessible account of the popes. And the history of the papacy is a fascinating one, taking in a wealth of interesting, worthy and hopelessly unsuitable men who have stood in St Peter's shoes over the years - and an institution itself which has undergone huge changes to reach the position where it is today. Most people come across the popes in edited highlights as side stories from another bit of political history; this book enables one to put those side stories in context, and understand a great deal about theological and political history which is a given in the modern context, but which one often wonders about (why is the Vatican a country, for example).
My only real grouch about the book compared to Norwich's version is that the list of popes was to my taste less user friendly. However overall I would go for this if I were choosing one, particularly if one might want to read around particular popes - the footnotes make that so much easier!
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on 30 March 2009
I am about half way through reading this book and have been very impressed by the manner of writing. A lot of theology / history is dry, academic and somewhat difficult to access, but Mr Collins' book is written in such a way that, even though it is quite academic, it is by no means over complicated or filled with jargon and is accessible by every Joe Bloggs or Jane Doe, not just highly intellectual academics.

The subject matter is of huge interest and there is a certain element, that is often found in fiction books, of conspiracy theories and excitement. Anyone who has read books (whether fictional or non-fictional) involving the Vatican/Catholic heirarchy/Papacy will appreciate this element even though it is a purely historical piece of work. This may sound incongruous, but read it and see what I mean! Well worth it!
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on 7 May 2011
This book is what its subtitle claims: a history of the Papacy. Collins clearly knows his subject in enormous detail, and I would imagine anyone doing historical study or research on any topic involving the Papacy would benefit from reading the book. It is quite compelling for the lay reader, too, to see such colourful characters and incredible (mostly appalling) events paraded in front of your eyes as the centuries pass, though there was a lot I didn't understand, as the author assumes a fairly detailed background knowledge of European history, and I don't really know my Lombards from my Lotharingians.

But I'm only giving this book three stars because it never steps back and address what for me, as a (non-Catholic) Christian and a non-historian, are the really interesting questions. What has made the Papacy such a durable institution, and how has it continued in some sense to support and nurture the undeniably genuine spirituality of the Catholic Church (St Francis, St Ignatius, St Teresa, St John of the Cross, ...) over 2000 years despite the quite dreadful corruption, violence and hypocrisy displayed by (it seems to me) a majority of those who have held the post? How can the men at the head of an institution allegedly founded and guided by the Prince of Peace, for whom "he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword", have presided over the Crusades, the burning of witches, the extermination of the Cathars? Such important questions are never addressed; Collins shows you the trees in sharp focus, but not the wood.
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on 12 April 2014
It’s a combined review. Because in this one I’ll write some words about Norwich’s “The popes: a history” and Roger Collins’ “Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy”. Both books tell the history until Pope Benedictus XVI. I have learned not to rely on only one source, so the books gave me a perfect moment to read them at the same time. Once finishing one or two chapters in one book I switched to the other one to catch up.

I have enjoyed reading both. Both books and especially together they give a good insight in the history of the RC Church. But I also prefer Norwich his book above Collins his book.

A praise for all the research they have done. It’s quit a task to write such an enormous history into a book. Therefor it’s impossible to write something about every pope. Some have to do with one or two lines, some are only mentioned by word.
The differences between the books is that Collins has more a dry way of telling the stories while Norwich adds expression and is not afraid to give more emotion to the story that you are reading. If things went wrong , then Norwich is not the one to cover that up. If the Pope did excellent things, then Norwich is there to explain why.

With Collins his book many times it gave me the feeling it was about “let’s not talk too much about the bad things that have happened, let’s continue”. It feels like sections that were too harsh for the RC Church have been left out.

Good examples are the legend (?) about the female pope (not mentioned in Collins’ book), the sexual orientated popes in for example the 10th Century, the WO II Pope Pius XII (very strong opinion by Norwich) and even the Polish Pope John Paul II. I’m no Christian, I do believe the Polish Pope has done many, many wonderful and excellent things, but you can also question his conservatism. As long as that is done with respect.

Collins his book has more details and facts. It makes it more the history book compared to Norwich his book. Then, Norwich sometimes takes a side road to include important historical events before continuing his story about the pope. Norwich skips more, but includes more background information.

For both books: you don’t have to be religious to have a good and interesting read.
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on 17 July 2012
Hard going but a very thorough analysis of the history of the Papacy and the political machinations in its past which were instrumental in its long term survival.
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on 15 August 2015
An academic and readable history with much included to interest and provoke thought .
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