Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Earthly Powers” as Want to Read:
Earthly Powers
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Earthly Powers

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  1,669 ratings  ·  121 reviews
Book jacket/from back: Anthony Burgess has long been regarded as one of the most original and daring writers of our time. In Earthly Powers, Burgess has writtena book rich with astonishing powers and surprising events.
Paperback, 608 pages
Published November 18th 1993 by Carroll & Graf (first published January 1st 1980)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Earthly Powers, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Earthly Powers

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Paul Bryant
Some people really like this big old thing. But it was yet another in the tedious catalogue of huge masculine overbearing egomaniacal penis novels about a Big Man like, say, I the Supreme or Illywacker or Gould's Book of Fish or The Book of Evidence or Mein Kampf - boy, there's a lot of em. And it's the egomaniac's voice who narrates it. So you volunteer to have the guy bending your inner ear for page after page and no break. Maybe some readers channel their inner masochist and lie back and wall ...more
Whitaker
That two-star rating might be a little unfair. I actually had fun reading large chunks of the book. If all you're looking for is something entertaining to read, and you enjoy British snark and bitchiness, then this is the ticket.

As a work of literature, however, it fell far short. And since it purports to seriously discuss the problem of good and evil, I think that's a fair yardstick. This is not, at the end of the day, the novelistic equivalent of Monty Python.

The novel follows the life of Ke
...more
Abby
A monumental novel, recently back in print, that has stuck in my mind for thirty years as an all-time favorite but needed to be reread to remind me why. An octogenarian British writer, asked to attest to a miracle that will support canonization of a Pope writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. Examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. Linguis ...more
Carol Storm
Just as Bela Lugosi will forever be known as Dracula, and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster, so Anthony Burgess will forever be known as the author of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Alex casts a long shadow!

Nevertheless, take this book on its own terms and read honestly, and you will find that by and large it stinks on its own merits. Burgess has a sense of humor and can talk entertainingly about literature, history, and religion. But that's about it. Emotionally this book is a galactic void. Toomey
...more
Chris
"Sin? Such nonsense."

Earthly Powers is a magnificent book, one of the best books I have ever read, no exaggeration. It's difficult to categorize since so many adjectives apply to it: historical, sexual, political, religious, artistic, comedic, playful, supremely literary. Most of all, it's relentlessly, uncompromisingly, unashamedly, intellectual. Thus, unfortunately it's little read today, it if ever was, and serves as no modern model—hardly a negative attribute.

(Here's a dangerous rant: Due to
...more
Leftbanker
This book is sort of a fictitious pastiche on the life of William Somerset Maugham; at least that was my take on it. I still remember the sadness I felt when I finished reading this for the first time, not because of the narrative, but because I couldn’t keep on reading this incredibly epic story. I no longer have my hardback addition but I remember writing down the date on the last page when I first finished Earthly Powers, and then doing it again the second time I finished it.

I remember being
...more
Dan
One of the best first sentences I've had the pleasure of reading:

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Unlike many Big Books, Earthly Powers is a treat throughout. Burgess's Joycemania is on full display but seldom gets out of control.
Justin Evans
I'm unsure if I'll remember this as fondly in a few years as I do now. The second quarter of the book was extremely dull, and the narrative 'technique' is silly (bad novelist travels to a dozen or so countries in order to pick up royalties cheques through the twentieth century--necessary because there were such restrictions on currency movement). These two problems almost, almost destroy the book's excellent qualities. But then it more or less comes together.

The narrator's friend, Carlo Campana
...more
Chamberk
This is a hell of a book.

It took me about two and a half months to read, even though it's not one of the longest books I've read. That's cause this sucker is DENSE - no book for someone looking for an easy read.

The narrator, Kenneth Toomey, is a British novelist, now in his eighties, looking back over his life. Despite the fact that he is openly homosexual, officials from the Catholic Church want him to write for them - an account about the recently deceased pope, Gregory XVII, or Carlo Campanat
...more
J.W.
I rarely write reviews but I feel that this book warrants breaking habit. For a book that runs 650 pages, not once did Earthly Powers become a chore. The most incredible thing about this book isn't that it flows for 650 pages with no stutter, it's not the perfectly-timed, respectfully delivered sucker punches, it's not the fact that the man has delivered a history of the 20th Century (on both a personal and wider scale).

The most impressive, incredible thing for me about this book is that no mat
...more
James
"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Earthly Powers is the linchpin of Anthony Burgess' novel-writing career. It is a massive work that compares favorably with similar tomes of twentieth century literature. What sets Burgess apart from other authors is his linguistic playfulness combined with an exceptional narrative style. Although this style is here somewhat less obviously experimental t
...more
Mele
re-reading a first edition now. i remember thinking this book was the most interesting, epic, intelligent book when i read it back in high school... we'll see what i think ten years later.

Well, I'd probably still give it a lot of stars, very interesting, certainly entertaining, but maybe not as satisfying as I remember.
Fungus Gnat
An elderly, homosexual British Catholic writer, living in Malta, tells the story of his life, which is closely linked to that of a Catholic prelate who eventually becomes Pope and who, having died, is eligible for canonization. Ken Toomey, the writer, hobnobbed with other expatriate literati on the Continent and was affected by, and sometimes affected, some of the great trends and events of the 20th century, including the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy, the second world war, the effloresce ...more
Andrew
One of my top five my favourite books, Earthly Powers is, above all, a compelling bit of storytelling. A sprawling, multi-generational tale that follows the protagonist's life from teenager to octogenarian and includes a number of real people such as Churchill and James Joyce. It is essentially the 20th Century distilled through the eyes of its' protagonist—who is cynical, but a humanist at heart. It's the fictional autobiography of a gay, expatriate English novelist now living in Malta. It open ...more
Haydn
I read this book the first time when I was twenty one, again when I was thirty and then a few years ago. The book pushes together and plays with apparently conflicting, disparate areas, miracles, Catholicism, Hollywood, Anglicanism, religious cults, hidden lives, flamboyant masks, romantic love and exploitative sex, fanaticism and agnosticism. It shows how good can lead to evil and how they are two sides of the same coin.

One image in particular has never left me -I can never look at a Sara Lee c
...more
J.
Shooting for the moon, knowing it would fall back to earth, this is Burgess at the height of his considerable powers, spinning a lopsided globe with one hand and, well, trying not to laugh too hard. The impossibly lofty account of civilization's status, set in an inauspicious moment, at the end of the twentieth century.

Haven't read since it was first published, but on the eve of a re-read -- an easy five stars.
Tim
Low-brow high-brow.

I'm not ashamed to say (OK, actually I am, a little bit) that the narrator of "Earthly Powers" and its author are far too clever for me. I couldn't get through this story of an aging writer, his escapades throughout the 20th century and a man he knows who would be pope. The writing is sharp but best appreciated, I fear, by that insufferable elitist guy you meet at parties who irritates you with his knowledge, self-love and command of many languages. The latter trait I do not h
...more
Eleanor
As a teenager, I used to make a game out of seeing how much I could compress the themes and plot of a book whenever anyone asked me “What’s it about?” Were I to play the game with Earthly Powers, I would have to reply, “A gay Catholic novelist and the Pope.” (If I really wanted to compress and confuse, “gay Catholic novelists” would have to do.) For full review, see: https://ellethinks.wordpress.com/2015...
Derek Bridge
Can a man write as a woman? An adult as a child? Black as white? Or, as in this novel, straight as gay?

Well, only partially successfully if this is anything to go by. But it doesn't matter.

This is a tour de force. The account of 80 years of life, drawing heavily on the author's own, intersecting with the major events and some of the major characters of the twentieth century. The life of Kenneth M. Toomey. A man with a dicky heart - just one of the many jokes - a heart condition, and a heart that
...more
Eric T
It has been a couple of years since I first bought and read this hefty piece of literature. I had read A Clockwork Orange and Mozart and the Wolf Gang by Anthony Burgess previously and had two greatly different but equally unique and liberating experiences with both. Seeing this fairly hefty novel (almost 500,000 words) on a bookshelf with reviews describing it as Burgess's magnum opus and one of the best British and Commonwealth texts of the last 25 years peaked my interest and I immediately pu ...more
Brian Darvell
I chose Earthly Powers as my introduction to Anthony Burgess only because I found this novel on my parent's bookshelf. Little did I know that this book was considered by many to be Burgess' pinnacle novel in the form of fiction. Published in 1980, Earthly Powers is a novel which basically outlines the historical situation of western society in the early half of the 20th century and although most of the characters in the novel are fictitious, a lot are based upon real-life people.

Earthly Powers h
...more
Lee Paris
The first sentence of this book, noted already by several reviewers, will lead the prospective reader to believe that a naughty romp suggestive of Ronald Firbank is in the offing with camp prelates and seductive choir boys. Sadly, Kenneth Marchal Toomey, the largely celibate narrator of this memoir (likely inspired in large part by W. Somerset Maugham) seems to find sexual indulgence of that sort distasteful and spends most of his long life sniping at his gay acquaintances who are all burdened w ...more
Jonathan Rimorin
Burgess's turbulent history of the 20th century, a very odd and comic book very much taken with Catholic apologetics for homosexuality. Not gay discourse, not queer theory, but a very much unreconstructed 19th-century concern about what God-with-a-capital-"G" thinks about men who desire other men (women who do the same, as such, are given short shrift, at least in this fictitious papacy). Given that Burgess published this in 1980, one shouldn't fault him for his lack of keeping pace with current ...more
Rob Woodard
A massive novel written in the form of quasi-memoir of a fictional Maugham-like author who is taking in totality of his life from old age. A fascinating literary romp thru the 20th century, which features many famous personages as characters. Overall I'd say this book is probably a little too ambitious, but it's still a very effective work. Recommended for anyone interested in 20th century European literature or Burgess' work. Great stuff.
Natalie
i have recommended this book several times since reading it. There's plenty of the world here and a lot of history too, but most of all there's a lot about human nature and the way time passes and the way we look at fate and morality.
kylajaclyn
Can we get back to the Ultraviolence?

I got to page 200 before I dropped out of the class I was reading this for just because I could not bring myself to finish it.
Brian
An epic whose power lies as much in its performance as its story. Read the first paragraph and you're hooked.
Stephens Malone
Second time around, still awesome! Love Burgess!
Erika
In Paul Theroux's introduction to this novel he wrote that when Burgess set out to begin this novel he "promised a novel of 'Tolstoyan proportions.'" In Earthly Powers, Burgess may have fulfilled this promise.

I will admit that there were times when I thought I wasn't going to finish this. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, and definitely not a quick or light read. It's pace is slow, but I have to admire that Burgess was able to maintain the same steady pace throughout the entire novel. Th
...more
Chris
Earthly Powers is the story of Kenneth Toomey, a middlebrow English author, and Carlo Campanati, a priest and exorcist, as told by Toomey. The story covers most of the twentieth century, featuring members of the Toomey and Campanati families alongside a cavalclade of historical figures. The narrative thrives on the comic and tragic effects of intertwined lives and unintended consequences. Highlights in the comic vein include Toomey's ability to refute a small part of Joyce's recreation of June 1 ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Strange People
  • Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music
  • Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective
  • The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll
  • Tales of Beatnik Glory
  • In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture
  • Inside the Whale and Other Essays
  • The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon
  • On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious
  • Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, First Series
  • The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography
  • Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock
  • Metropolitan Life
  • Billy Liar
  • Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s
  • Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture
  • Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir
  • Selected Poems
5735
Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England. His fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes) on the dying days o ...more
More about Anthony Burgess...
A Clockwork Orange The Wanting Seed One Hand Clapping The Doctor is Sick A Dead Man in Deptford

Share This Book

“Look, I don't see why bad artists - I mean artists who are obviously incompetent... - why they should be presented hypocritically as good artists just because they're supposed to be advancing the frontiers of freedom of expression or... ...demonstrating that there should be no limit on subject matter.” 7 likes
“In a story you had to find a reason, but real life gets on very well without even Freudian motivations.” 6 likes
More quotes…