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

The Bad Popes

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  231 Ratings  ·  38 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 & corruption, popes led armies, made love & war, conspired for power, & armed themselves with the techniques of assassination & seduction while clothed with ...more
Hardcover, 322 pages
Published November 28th 1986 by Barnes & Noble (NY) (first published 1969)
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 The Bad Popes, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Bad Popes

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 563)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 22, 2009 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
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
Aug 07, 2013 Ruth rated it did not like it
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.


(On a completely unrelated
Andrew C.
Mar 13, 2013 Andrew C. rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 14, 2015 JenSun71 rated it really liked it
Interesting history, though the author spares no time with any pomp and circumstance. The subject matter is spicy, but bring your own background knowledge in Catholicism, a pot of coffee, and sheer determination because he spits the facts out rapid-fire and with no particular fanfare for the first part of the book.

As the history references become easier to find for the author, so does the writing become more entertaining. In other words, hang in there through the first few chapters.

By Pope Bon
Jan 14, 2009 Belsac rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the subject but did not enjoy the author.
Sep 26, 2008 Lawrence rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2009 David rated it really liked it
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
Storm Chase
Jan 11, 2016 Storm Chase rated it really liked it
I picked this up in a clearance sale. It's useful for fixing dates and events of important events, and it's a lot of fun to "pull threads" and see common approaches to consolidating power but to make the most out of it, you have to read around it and take in European history because the context is too big for this slim book. Still, it's a great read. Worth buying!
Jen Sunderland
Nov 21, 2015 Jen Sunderland rated it liked it
This book is a virtual goldmine of information, sadly delivered rapidfire and blandly by an author determined not to stop for anything as boring as readability.

It had its moments. But most of the moments lead me to suggest strong coffee, a lot of background knowledge of the Catholic Church (or a dictionary), and mulish determination. The subject matter itself is very interesting. Shame Chamberlin couldn't pep it up more.
Jan 16, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it
Those lying, corrupted rascals! Oooooh, if my hardcore Catholic mother knew about all the shenanigans these guys, AND GIRL, were up to! Reminds me of the time I took her to see The Godfather part 3 and she kept saying over and over that it was the devil who made the film makers portray the Vatican in such a bad light.
Peter De
Feb 19, 2014 Peter De rated it really liked it
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
Apr 17, 2013 Chris Laskey rated it really liked it
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
Louise Mitchell
Apr 11, 2016 Louise Mitchell rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., said in one of my MTS scripture classes that this book convinced him to become a priest: None of the bad popes ever promulgated any new Church doctrine, they were too busy amassing wealth, waging wars, etc., so the Holy Spirit truly must be leading the Church.
Jul 29, 2015 charles rated it it was amazing
Quite informative. Historical. Eyeopening accounts of family interactions which drove history. My purpose for this read was to highlight and embellish upon the other accounts of the history of Rome from its inception. Added to my own reference library IRL.
Sep 15, 2008 Cleverusername2 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 26, 2016 Christine rated it it was amazing
The Bad Popes is a fascinating look at the Catholic church and its leaders before and during the Renaissance--Did you know that Lucretia Borgia was a Pope's daughter? That there were teenage Popes? Two Popes at the same time? Read on...
Curtis Chamberlain
Feb 28, 2013 Curtis Chamberlain rated it really liked it
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
Oct 30, 2010 Edward rated it it was ok
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
Aug 13, 2009 Judith Geary rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Aug 16, 2012 Timothy Urban rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 09, 2015 Eric Polli rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
Christopher Roth
Feb 11, 2016 Christopher Roth rated it really liked it
Highly informative and entertaining. Especially Pope Constantine the hermit. Why isn't that a movie? (To be fair, he was a bad pope, but a very good person.)

Not surprisingly, there is no companion volume called "The Good Popes."
Apr 22, 2008 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008_read
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.

Feb 07, 2012 Natalie rated it it was amazing
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?

Anita Williamson
Apr 03, 2012 Anita Williamson rated it it was ok
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.
May 04, 2009 Charlie rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2010 ej cullen rated it liked it
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.
Mar 23, 2013 Max rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 28, 2007 Eric rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 18 19 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Europe in the High Middle Ages: The Penguin History of Europe
  • The World Crisis, 1911-1918
  • The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work
  • AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State
  • A Study of History, Abridgement of Vols 7-10
  • Augustine: A Very Short Introduction
  • A Concise History of the Catholic Church
  • Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to the Changing World
  • The Mammoth Book of Cover-Ups: The 100 Most Terrifying Conspiracies of All Time
  • The Age of Religious Wars, 1559-1715
  • The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity
  • The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century
  • Grace Happens Here: You Are Standing Where Grace is Happening
  • The Unseen Hand: An Introduction to the Conspiratoral View of History
  • The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism
  • The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power
  • Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit
  • Richard I (English Monarchs)
Eric Russell Chamberlin (1926-2006)
More about E.R. Chamberlin...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »