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  ·  Rating Details ·  2,079 Ratings  ·  162 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 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)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
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
Nov 01, 2011 Abby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonathan Pool
Earthly Powers is a very good book. It's a long book, densely packed, and one that shifts between different eras (in the c.20th), and multiple continents.
Earthly Powers is not a particularly famous or widely read work by any means, despite its Booker Prize shortlisting in 1980. The small number of Goodreads ratings is some evidence of that; A Clockwork Orange will always be the defining literary work associated with (prolific) Anthony Burgess.
Twenty years after Earthly Powers, William Boyd was
"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
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
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
Jan 31, 2010 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 05, 2011 Kyle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe, religion
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
W.D. Clarke
I am a Burgess near-complete-ist, but haven't revisited him in over 10 years and...
~confession! Still haven't read the obvious clockworky one I know, I know~.
...and this blew my world away when I read it in the 90s, and it is sad that the AB oeuvre has very little academic activity to keep his name alive in the culture. Would love to re-read it with some peeps from round here though.
Jan 27, 2009 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Justin Evans
Jan 05, 2014 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Jan 07, 2013 J.W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 10, 2016 Ci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read-books
“What, Mr. Toomey, do you seek out of life?” A very straight question. “To enjoy it. To fix the phenomena of human society in words.” This is the central theme of this novel which doggedly try to fix the mystery of living within the riot of bodies and souls, art and religion, the historical and the individual. Above all, it is about the good and evil played within the many interlocking spheres lives. Don’t expect clean, neat conclusions. The cycle goes on, but each turning of the clog is cogent. ...more
Rupert Smith
Nov 05, 2013 Rupert Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I’m asked to list ‘the best gay novels ever’, and I often put this at Number One. Burgess isn’t thought of as a ‘gay writer’, although you don’t have to dig too far to figure out that he was at the very least bisexual. But Earthly Powers is nothing less than a 20th-century history viewed through the prism of homosexuality and homophobia, focusing on Catholicism, Nazism and just about every other ‘ism’ that matters. Like all Burgess it’s extremely funny and erudite, but for once he real ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-five, reviewed
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
May 27, 2007 Mele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2011 Fungus Gnat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 13, 2014 Haydn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2012 J. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star
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.
Mar 28, 2017 Dee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is written from the first person, as the main character's autobiography, from his perspective as an elderly man, just turning 81 in the opening chapter. The first sentence is hilarious! He uses the words "catamite" and "Archbishop" in the same sentence. The character, Kenneth Toomey, is a very successful author, both critically and with the public. He comes of age just as WWI is beginning and his story spans up through most of the seventies.

It makes me happy to read such a good book and
May 10, 2017 D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, biography
I immensely enjoyed reading this book. It being the first book I've ever read by this intriguing author, I'm looking forward to read his other works. The incredibly rich 'autobiographical' story is cunningly interwoven with real events in the 1900 - 1970's. Most memorably, the author becomes the brother in law of 'Carlo', who was already sure in the 1920's to become pope, and eventually did so as John XXIII. After the first world war, the 'author' flees England to escape prosecution as a practic ...more
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
Mar 04, 2013 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Faith Bradham
Honestly, I thought I would never finish Earthly Powers. While I admire Anthony Burgess immensely as an author, this book was extraordinarily slow and dense. I read it unbelievably slowly, and could only handle less than 50 pages a sitting before having to put it down. The slowness is intentional, I think, but is still hard to handle.

One thing I did absolutely adore about Earthly Powers was the language. Anthony Burgess manipulated the English language fantastically, in a happiness-making way.
Derek Bridge
Aug 07, 2011 Derek Bridge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 02, 2015 Eleanor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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:
Rob Woodard
Jul 06, 2010 Rob Woodard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 05, 2013 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jul 31, 2008 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read08
A history of the world, practically, through the lens of one author. Interesting observations on religion, power, morality, and the creative process.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Mookse and th...: 1980 Shortlist: Earthly Powers 12 32 Mar 25, 2017 02:12AM  
  • Octobriana and the Russian Underground
  • David Bomberg
  • Strange People
  • Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective
  • Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music
  • Tales of Beatnik Glory
  • All The Emperor's Horses
  • A Grave for a Dolphin
  • In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture
  • Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, First Series
  • Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock
  • The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll
  • Billy Liar
  • On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious
  • The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon
  • Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s
  • Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture
  • The Coast of Utopia (Box Set)
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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 Eng
More about Anthony Burgess...

Share This Book

“In a story you had to find a reason, but real life gets on very well without even Freudian motivations.” 14 likes
“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.” 9 likes
More quotes…