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The Bad Popes

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  182 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Let yourself be swept up by this colorful, panoramic story of seven men who ruled the Church of Rome at seven critical periods in the 600 years leading up to the Reformation. During this age of grandeur and corruption, popes led armies, made love and war, conspired for power, and armed themselves with the techniques of assassination and seduction while clothed with the aut ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 28th 1986 by Barnes & Noble (first published 1969)
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Kathryn
What makes a Pope a bad Pope? That, of course, is a question open to debate; but the author of this work (published in 1969, several Popes ago) makes it fairly obvious that power and spirit do not go well together, and that it was when a given Pope was acting both as the Spiritual Leader of Christendom and as the Temporal Monarch of the Papal States of Italy (with heavy emphasis on the latter role) that the Papacy and Rome would run into significant problems. (And, I loved this book, and I am gl ...more
Ruth
Nobody is more disappointed to be forced to give an one-star review than I am. I almost never pick up a book that I think I might not enjoy -- reading time is just to precious to squander on duds! -- but due to my high interest in this topic I soldiered on through prose so disjointed and obtuse that it nearly broke my brain.

Hoping that someone more well-read than I am in such matters can recommend a book along the same lines that might be a bit easier to digest.

Anyone?

(On a completely unrelated
...more
Andrew C.
I found this book a decade ago at a musty used book store. When Pope Benedict retired I pulled the book back off the shelf and read it over again. A decade of medieval study have passed since my first reading, and in many ways the book not only holds up, but has improved for me. While the sections on the Borgia Pope, Alexander and the Gaetani Pope Boniface were still the most thorough (due to the prevalence of primary source material I should think), Chamberlin's psychological picture of Emperor ...more
Belsac
I enjoyed the subject but did not enjoy the author.
Lawrence
Why did I take such perverse pleasure in reading this book! I'm not even Catholic - ex, recovering or otherwise. Maybe it's just my dislike of all organized religion. This book is all about power politics of the nasty kind engaged in by the so-called spiritual elite of the church. These leaders put personal advancement, greed and nepotism foremost and use the power of church office to do so. Now I truly understand the significance of excommunication, which for someone raised Protestant, never ma ...more
David
This is an interesting account of a string of "bad" popes during the middle ages. Partly reflecting the turbulence of the times, these popes strayed far from the saintly standard of the early apostles -- they were guilty of fomenting wars, simony (buying and selling church offices), intrigue, adultery, and almost any other offense you care to name.

A frontispiece quote from the writings of a historian in 1350 AD says it all: "It were in truth better before the eyes of God and the world that these
...more
Peter De
A very well written book about all the power hungry popes, cardinals and what that brought on for the church. It is especially interesting to compare the book with the TV series "The Borgia's" because it is the "papal" family that is using the papal post to the fullest to increase their influence and power.
Chris Laskey
I would offer this volume up as an introductory reading of some very complex history exploring the unfortunate relationship of papal and empiric power during the first half of the second millenium.
As such it is informative and highly entertaining, without bowing to vulgar elements which in our day would be all too common. Certainly the corruption of the papal seat has a long history and this volume can only delve into the basic elements of such human vanities, but it is quite clear, by the finis
...more
Cleverusername2
Sex, sin, greed, a bit of the 'ol ultra-violence, and that's just before 1400! Read The Bad Popes and learn of historical figures such as Marozia and her sister Theodora, the Roman women whom Pope Joan is most likely based upon (created as political satire). In the opening chapters of The Bad Popes Russel Chamberlin traces similarities to the Joan story and the real life Theophylact ladies, it is a deliciously scandalous story. Case in point: their rivals invented the lovely term "Pornocracy", a ...more
Curtis Chamberlain
Great resource material in this book! A phenomenally accurate history of leadership of the Catholic Church, reminding us that "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23, KJV).

This book is an honest compendium of the vastly sinful and deceitful leadership of the largest apostate church in the world today; it shuld remind us that it wasn't to be trusted then, and it definitely should not be trusted now.

Once you read this book, you will be convinced of the wretched evil
...more
Edward
Chamberlin's 1969 history is a study of seven popes, the three most important ones being the renaissance popes, Roderigo Borgia, (Alexander VI), Giovanni de Medici (Leo X, and Giulio de Medici (Clement VII). The emphasis is on not their personal morality, deplorable as it was in their addiction to wealth and pleasure, but on their involvement in the political struggles of the time which tainted any spiritual good the church might have achieved. They sought temporal as well as spiritual power and ...more
Judith Geary
This is a political history of the Catholic Church from Constantine to the 16th century reformation concentrating, as the title says, on the "bad guys." The Borgias and the Medicis, among lesser known families, used the papacy as a dynasty-building tool. Despite the title, Chamberlin has given us what seems to be a balanced account. Of course it ends too soon to include my personal favorite villians, the Barbarinis.
Timothy Urban
This is a huge, unwieldy subject, the Popes and their naughtiness, and this book has a heroic go at covering it. Man, they was baaaad. Cash for honours, nepotism, orgies, incest, deceptions, murder are among the milder things these wicked pontiffs get up to. I deduct half a star for the perhaps inevitable need to compress chunks of background information preceding the gritty detail. Mitres off to ER Chamberlin.
Eric Polli
While I greatly enjoyed the subject matter of this book, I have given it a rare 5 stars because of the immensely beautiful, almost musical prose and turn of phrase used by Chamberlin. This alone makes the book a worhwhile read. I read it every couple of years and it is like reuniting with a treasured friend. This book has been in the innermost circle in the pantheon of my favourites for years now.
Greg
Aug 04, 2011 Greg added it
Written in 1969, the language of this book is extremely overblown. The seven Popes that Chamberlain chooses probably aren't the worst of the lot, but they were ineffectual as spiritual and temporal leaders. It would be interesting to see what a more modern interpretation would be of their tenures as the leader of the Catholic Church and perhaps compare and contrast them more with the Good Popes.
Michael
This book gets a lot of flack for reading like a text book. I wish my text books had read like this. I was riveted. Why only 3 stars? Well, after the first few popes following the VH1 Behind the Music-esque timeline (i.e. selected as pope, abuses power, total decadence, loses mind, dies), it got kinda old.

-m
Natalie
A mideval pope digs up the previous dead pope, props up the corpse on a trial bench in the sacerdotal robes, and spends an entire day screaming at it in front of a jury. This is in the first 5 pages of the book. Did I mention it's non-fiction?

REQUIRED READING.
Anita Williamson
Who knew they could have been so bad. The stories were good but the author assumes the reader knows a lot about the Catholic Church. He lists things they do and assumes you know that it is considered bad for a Pope to do that. It was OK.
Charlie
Nice over-view of how the Papacy actually viewed the world from circa 900 C.E. to 1535 C.E.

Also shows how the view was one more of garnering wealth and power (and keeping same) instead of fostering xian love and religious piety.
ej cullen
Didn't start this yet, but the fact that there are over 350 pages tells me that this author had a plethora of historical examples to work with...or, should I say, 'with which to work?'


Interesting and surprisingly well-written.
Max
Real historians would laugh at this. Plentiful research and flowery language (the author presumably is an English major) but fails to get even simple historical data correct.
Eric
Too much like a text book for a pleasurable read, but some fascinating looks into the history of Catholicism. Makes one turn a jaundiced eye on the idea of Apostolic succession.
Monica Perez
This was an interesting, objective narrative of seven popes reigning from around 900-1600. A smidgen dry but informative, concise and basically well-written.
Christy
Really interesting history of the popes... I read this in high school, but want to read it again in honor of the new pope vote!
Sarina
Jun 22, 2010 Sarina added it
Interesting book......I'm sure it's not all correct facts, but definitely believable.
Meli Marinozzi
Oct 06, 2007 Meli Marinozzi rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Catholics who have grown up questioning the leaders of their faith.
Written to much like a text book to be a liesurly read, but certainly very educational.
Lorenz
a nice book with so many interesting details!
Kevin
I was surprised the book wasn't bigger!
Amimar
Jun 17, 2013 Amimar is currently reading it
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Arianna
Arianna marked it as to-read
Nov 13, 2014
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Eric Russell Chamberlin (1926-2006)
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