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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  2,831 ratings  ·  422 reviews
In a chronicle that captures nearly two thousand years of inspiration and intrigue, John Julius Norwich recounts in riveting detail the histories of the most significant popes and what they meant politically, culturally, and socially to Rome and to the world. Norwich presents such popes as Innocent I, who in the fifth century successfully negotiated with Alaric the Goth, a ...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published July 12th 2011 by Random House
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Mary Well, I would say is historical non-fiction. It is a- mostly- accurate book on the history of the popes. It corresponds to the Vatican's classificatio…moreWell, I would say is historical non-fiction. It is a- mostly- accurate book on the history of the popes. It corresponds to the Vatican's classifications of popes who are deemed popes.
I do not think it is important about its category, but otherwise than this note, i stick to my first sentence as that being the category. (less)

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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
A Curate’s Egg

I’m a huge admirer of the past work of John Julius Norwich, a popular historian in the sense of being widely read and accessible, in the sense of being informative without being weighed down by an intrusive scaffolding of scholarship. He is learned but he wears his learning lightly, which makes him a superlative communicator. I’ve enjoyed and benefited from reading his histories of the Normans in Italy, of Venice and, above all, his three volume history of the Byzantine Empire.

Frank Peters
This was the least entertaining of all of the history books written by Norwich. As a result, it was a letdown from one of my very favourite authors. The author prides himself about having no axe to grind, and this is one his traits that I have appreciated the most. But, when discussing a history of the papacy, Norwich is automatically at a disadvantage, in that he was unable to decide on a methodology used to discuss the popes themselves. Throughout the book, he reflected on: politics, academics ...more
The Popes is an attempt to give the "average intelligent reader, believer or unbeliever", as the author says in his introduction, a background - and in some cases depth - to the office and men who have sat at the head of the Catholic church since Saint Peter.

The book was a eye opener not just to the sheer number of Popes, some 280, with many of them arriving and departing in months rather than years. There are anti-popes, Holy Roman emperors, kings, queens and a vast cast of supporting character
Justin Evans
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc
Perfectly good airport history. I'm stuck at around page 150 of Norwich's condensed history of the Byzantines, so I wasn't expecting much from this. But I've learned something very important about Mr. Norwich: if he's writing about things you know even reasonably well (e.g., for me, the early Byzantine emperors), he's almost insufferable. This might just be a by-product of Great Man history in general, which is that it has very little to say about anything. Also, he's very boring in short bursts ...more
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've always been interested in religious history, probably comes from growing up in the Philippines. I think the population (80%+) identify as Catholic/ Christian, the Church there is a strong influence on everyday life. So, when I saw my library have a book on the history of the papacy, it's definitely one I had to pick up. Surprisingly, I enjoy this book quite a bit. People who have no interest on papal history might find this book boring, as it's a bunch of stories regarding the different pop ...more
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook
This broad chronological history of the Papacy seemed to go on forever and, to be honest, I didn't get through the whole thing. I bailed around 1860 or so, which means that I did manage to consume about 1800 years of spastic politics and theological wtfery. But around the time the Enlightenment took off, some spark was gone and the goings-on didn't seem as entertaining.

However, I did learn butt-tons of bizarro trashiness. Is there an entire book out there on the Saeculum obscurum aka "The Pornoc
Gareth Parry
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a real eye opener. Basically, you'll read this and 95% of the time, you'll mutter "....What a complete pack of bastards". Seriously, they are that ruthless. The amount of backstabbing, and nepotism, is unbelievable. Then there's the homosexual activity, prostitutes, murders and political "bastardness".....At one point, I thought I was reading about a rappers party, they were that bad.

Give it a read though, as it will make you understand what a fallacy religion is, based on the hea
Jul 09, 2016 rated it liked it
At first blush this might seem like a curious book for an atheist to read. After all I care little about the dogmatic basis of Catholic theology. On the other hand I love history, and to deny the importance of the theological basis of the papacy does not diminish its importance in history. So, wanting to know more about how this institution became the power it is I decided to read this book. Overall I learned quite a bit, though that knowledge is 2015 miles wide and only an inch deep.

Reading thi
Nov 29, 2012 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I'm afraid I had to abandon The Popes after only 30 pages. There is way too much information given my level of interest. The moment I started reading I realised I would have been better off skim reading a Wikipedia article on the subject. Another thing I hadn't appreciated (silly me) is that of course a lot of the book is concerned with Christian doctrinal issues. =_____= Zzzzzzzzz....

I am not awarding it any paucity of stars. The book is probably a great read for anyone wanting an introduction
Extremely and unnecessarily detailed. Surprisingly boring given the subject matter.
Understanding how power was established via the catholic church in rome is integral to understanding the rise of Europe and the tyranny, oppression and genocide that followed.
This has subtle and annoying sexist, xenophobic and racist undercurrents. Western Europeans are described more favorably than Eastern Europeans, Asians and the ever present and ever generic 'Muslims'. At one point the author goes into great
Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have to say up front that I love John Julius Norwich's books. Thus far, all of them have impressed me as being well written and thoroughly researched. I expected that this one would be a workmanlike job, accurate and entertaining as well as educational. However, this was more than impressive and way above just well written. Let me explain why I am so thrilled with this particular work.

Books about the Papacy tend to fall into certain broad types. There are salacious accounts of reprehensible he
Greg Bailey
Nov 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
You might imagine this book as a supersonic-jet tour of the papacy--from something like sixty thousand feet high. The author attempts to touch on nearly every single pope, and the centuries zip by with little clarity. The author stays focused on the papacy, refusing to be distracted by the many colorful characters from history who crossed paths with the pontiffs. If you want the sketchiest outline of the papacy, this is the book for you, but I found it ultimately unsatisfying.

To his credit, the

Well, the book definitely is somewhat of a slog to get through, and that’s even after the author has admitted that he has omitted and simplified events. A comprehensive history of the papacy over two millennia is just so dense and complex that you could hardly expect it to be otherwise. As a result I often found myself picking this up episodically – just a chapter at a time, and then putting it down again. It wasn’t immensely readable or a page-turner, so to speak. I admit I skimmed over the mod
From BBC Radio 4 Extra - Book of the Week:
Well known for his histories of Norman Sicily, Venice, the Byzantine Empire and the Mediterranean, John Julius Norwich has now turned his attention to the oldest continuing institution in the world, tracing the papal line down the centuries from St Peter himself - traditionally (though by no means historically) the first pope - to the present day. Of the 280-odd holders of the supreme office, some have unquestionably been saints; others have wallowed in
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Been reading quite a few books on medieval history lately and the influence of the papacy is a recurring theme. Then I came across this superb potted history of the papacy from how they rose to fill the vacuum left by the collapsing Roman empire, through to the many crises the RC church is in today. Highly recommended as a brilliant book that covers a vast topic yet manages to keep the reader hooked from start to finish...
Dan Lalande
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
An epic scorecard of all 265 Popes, a Bacchanalian saga of sex, militarism and ego. Norwich is no ring kisser but neither is he an axe grinder; the corruption of the office is not a matter of commentary but of hard historical record. It's odd episodes of editorializing are reserved for the truly outrageous (the Holocaust included) and for his faint, final hope for the integrity of the office. ...more
K.M. Weiland
Jan 31, 2019 rated it liked it
I won’t say I didn’t get anything else out of it (if nothing else, I have a better feeling for the “shape” of the papacy through history), but it felt very two-dimensional. It rushed through its personalities, making the various popes hard to distinguish from one another, much less remember. It focused entirely on the political papacy, with little to no comment on its religious impact and evolution, which was disappointing.

Aditya Pareek
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most admirable thing about J. J. Norwich is denying that he is a scholar and embracing the narrative historian tag without any reluctance.
Yet he insists on factual accuracy, makes him high bro yet anti-pomp.
5/5 ***** indeed. God bless his immortal soul in heaven.
Whirlwind history of all the popes and antipopes through Benedict XVI (who gets a bad review for his insults to Muslims, Protestants, and I forget who else). One of the reasons that so many popes were Italian was that the German popes kept dropping dead of malaria, but the Italian popes had had time to build up some immunity. There are serious discussions here of theology, policy, power, control, humility, lovingkindness, and grievous sins, such as the failure to battle Nazism. But at times I wa ...more
Oct 08, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The concept drew me to this book, but perhaps it was too ambitious. Not much better than reading Wikipedia, and since the author was an agnostic he fails to provide adequate context or intrigue into doctrinal affairs. Things just happen and a lot of popes were shit. Norwich is one of those pop-history writers who thinks he’s much wittier than he is, and doesn’t use quotes as illustratively as I would’ve liked. Not a recommendation for anyone.
Apr 21, 2015 rated it liked it
A history of the Papacy is not an easy chore as the institution has been in existence in one form or another for 2000 years, but author Julius Norwich manages to do so in a coherent and entertaining fashion. The first 1000 years of the Papacy focused on getting the church established, its rivalry with the Eastern Orthodox Church and squabbles over arcane issues of doctrine that no one would care about today, but which often led to warfare between rival factions in the church. The next 500 or so ...more
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of the papacy. A surprising page turner. I knew there were plenty of scandals and interesting stories related to the Catholic Church through history but didn't have a grasp of just how outrageous the pontificate has been over the years. Inevitably with so many reused names it is easy to get confused and lose track of who is who, but the greater heroes and villains of the papacy are memorable indeed.

After several long-tenured popes in the 20th century there was some surprise
This is a very ambitious project—attempting to cover some 2000 years of history and more than 250 pontificates in less than 500 pages. While it's very readable, and Norwich did fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge (pretty much from the end of the Middle Ages to Vatican II), Absolute Monarchs isn't a successful book overall. Norwich writes well and with occasional bursts of the wry humour which made his history of Byzantium so enjoyable to read, but perhaps unsurprisingly given its scope, the ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it liked it
So many popes, so few pages!

If you ever wanted to learn the history of the papacy, from Peter to Benedict XVI, this book is the place to go. Norwich begins at the beginning. He is not interested in arguing for the validity of the papacy, nor does he get into much theological discussion. This is a book of history. So if the idea of reading theology bores or frightens you, then you're in luck.

If the idea of hundreds of names and dates bores and frightens you, then you are out of luck. Every pope
Nov 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
I think I should have known better; I have a hard time keeping track of names so why did I think I could follow along with the history of the papacy? That’s over 200 people!

I didn’t think the pre-renaissance era would interest me that much - and I was right - still, I was hoping for some interesting tidbits or factoids while waiting for the stories of the Borgia Pope and Julius II etc to come around. Sadly, I didn’t find that section much better.

Disappointed by the renaissance Popes, I thought t
A pretty good read, only problem for me is I kept comparing it to "A history of Christianity" which was an excellent read and naturally had a much larger scope of subjects. At times the book seemed to get a bit repetetive (or maybe it was the popes) but overall it enligthened me to papal history, Roman catholic history and I learned what I expected and wanted from the book.

If you would like a general history of the papacy which occasionally goes into the politics,morality and efforts of individu
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The amazing saga of one of the world's oldest institutions, portrayed through the lives of its main characters: the popes themselves, and brilliantly told by one of the most adept of narrative historians, John Julius Norwich. Norwich is not only a master of the source material, he weaves a tapestry that suits the power, mystery and majesty of the Papacy itself, with all of its saints, knaves and fools (and occasional monsters). He is a superb raconteur and, in the best tradition of Gibbon, he do ...more
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A lovely book, it rattles along through an intriguing history of one of the most important institutions in the world. I found the gossipy asides fascinating - well done!
Czarny Pies
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one. Norwich ought never to have taken this project on.
Recommended to Czarny by: I was and continue to be a fan of Julius Norwich.
Shelves: european-history
The title of "Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy" says much about the book and its many grievous problems. It is as provocative as it its misleading. Indeed Norwich makes it quite clear that the power of the Popes was never absolute but in fact consistently shaky. Throughout history, the Popes have always been dependent on friendly kings, emperors and princes to provide the military support necessary to maintain their states. They have been frequently deposed, held captive and murdered. ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It is with a sense of achievement that I can say I have finally finished this, after 400 odd Popes, if you count all those anti-popes, the 8th century ones and the ones called Benedict. It's a tribute to Norwich's writing that I remained entertained all this time - indeed I would say it was gripping reading, especially the Renaissance of course where each Pope would get successively more outrageous than the previous. You can feel the sense of glee that Norwich tells all the gossipy tidbits - suc ...more
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John Julius Norwich was born in the United Kingdom and served in the Royal Navy before receiving a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. After graduation, he joined the H. M. Foreign Service and served in Belgrade, Beirut, and as a member of British delegation to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1954, he inherited the title of Viscount Norwich. In 1964, he resigned from the ...more

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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
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“God has given us the Papacy,” the thirty-seven-year-old pope is said to have written to his brother Giuliano soon after his accession, “now let us enjoy it.” The” 2 likes
“Charlemagne, however, was predictably furious. He had grown up with the filioque; if the East refused to accept it, the East was wrong. And who cared about the East anyway? He was the emperor now; the pope should nail his colors firmly to the Western mast and leave the heretics in Constantinople to their own devices. When Leo ordered him to remove the word from his liturgies, he took no action and sent no reply; and when, in 813, he decided to make his son Louis co-emperor, he pointedly failed to invite the pope to perform the ceremony.” 1 likes
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