Gina's Reviews > Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy

Absolute Monarchs by John Julius Norwich
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Sep 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: religion-and-philosophy, 2011-reads
Read from August 30 to September 16, 2011

The NYTimes reviewed this book back in July so I ordered a copy from the library. I wasn't disappointed, Norwich's book is an intriguing survey of the Roman Catholic Church and her Popes.

I think Norwich had to make a lot of hard choices. Even in earlier historical times that weren't as obsessively chronicled as ours, there's still a wealth of information available. For instance, even though Michelangelo figures centrally in the tales of the Renaissance popes - he did work for several of them - Norwich neglects to mention that he was raised by the Medici's. A salient point, but one of many, I'm sure, that failed to make the cut.

Even still, Norwich is able to craft story arcs out of lives and periods, the many wars of the papacy and the theological arguments that split the church. We even see several over-arching themes, like the anti-Semitism that pervades the church and the relationship between the papacy and the arts. There's also the weakening of the papacy as the church loses money during reformations and as corruption is tackled by the cardinals (funny how people will listen to you when you have an army). We also see how the papacy changes from a central political office to the one we see today - the man who merely suggests things to the flock who ignores him - from the man who could make and break kings.

Sometimes the narrative is hard to follow, there were a few times I reached the end of a paragraph and had to wade back and fish out all the pronouns. Italian history, even at the author's own admission, can be difficult to untangle. Even still, I would highly recommend this to students of European or church history.
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