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The Grand Inquisitor's Manual

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  351 ratings  ·  48 reviews
The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual by nationally bestselling author Jonathan Kirsch is a provocative popular history of the Inquisition, the 12th century reign of church-sanctioned terror. Ranging from the Knights Templar to the first Protestants, from Joan of Arc to Galileo, The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual is a fascinating and sobering study of the torture and murder of hundreds ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 9th 2008 by HarperOne (first published September 1st 2008)
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3.66  · 
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 ·  351 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
I’ve read most of Jonathan Kirsch’s work, beginning with The Harlot by the Side of the Road. In his earlier books, he’s an engaging writer able to winkle out some of the lesser known aspects of commonly accepted ideas and stories in Western history – as in his first book, Harlot, which highlighted “real” and obscure but important stories from the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

In recent works, however, I’ve felt that Kirsch has been throwing together poorly integrated essays in response to popular
Paul Pessolano
If you want to know everything there is to know about the Inquisition this book comes pretty close to doing that. When we speak of the Inquisition most of us do not realize that there were in fact two separate Inquisitions, there was the Medieval Inquisition and the more famous and more deadly Spanish Inquisition.

The Inquisitions were instituted by the Roman Catholic Church to stamp out heresy. The author takes this a step further and cites several reasons that grew out of this program.

The Roman
Nov 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Could not put this one down. After years studying holocaust, genocide,etc, this one put it all together. A kind of formula developed by ancient Romans contains elements of such effectiveness that it has been used through history by successive cultures right up to present day. This put so many things together for me it will undoubtedly be on my "life list" stamped in my mind like Joseph Campbell and james Michener. Kirsch is an exhaustive researcher but like Michener captures and holds the reader ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Sensationalist style oversells salient points in Kirsch's history of the inquisitions of the Catholic church.

First, the salient points: Kirsch tells the history of inquisition as the establishment of a clerical bureaucracy, which included judges, prosecutors, police, secret agents, procedural manuals, and prescribed and preferred tools of punishment, and which paralleled the contemporary political courts and criminal proceedings in Western Europe. The difference is that the inquisitions targete
Jun 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2000s
(originally posted at

This was kind of disappointing, but not because it's a bad book. Jonathan Kirsch seems to have written this with a low expectation of his audience's reading skills. Perhaps, it's an NPR writing style, but I found his chapters to be written as separate essays rather than as parts of a cohesive book. Certain facts and essays tend to be repeated over and over again, as if we haven't already read them. It was much like watching a modern
Louanne Sluiter White
People (Christians in particular) who think the world is getting worse and will continue to get worse until the "end of the world" need to read books like this. Humans are far from perfect and we continue with an inquisition mindset in our cold, hateful mistreatment towards those who don't see things the way we do but I believe there has been a gradual improvement of empathy and morality. This book confirms my opinion. Improvements might be faster if not for religions. This book also offended my ...more
Gus Victoria
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
Excellently written and very compelling. At times the author can come across as biased and preachy but it is contextualized and drives home the point he is trying to make. Have some patience and the soapbox moments will be rewarded. Incredibly well researched with extensive footnotes and references. Well worth the read.
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
A tour through the inquisition: it's reason, purpose, results, and how the techniques are still with us today, after having provided a basis for some of the darkest parts of history. Terrifying to think of crimes based on thought only, not illegal, evidence not required or presented, and this is allowed today. The world is a vampire .
Oct 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Horrifying! The Inquisition is not over.
Oct 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
The word "Inquisition" is, in many ways, one of the most dreadful to hear. When one looks at it objectively, at the level of basic vocabulary, it seems almost innocent, associated as it is with the words "inquiry" and "inquire," words associated with ideas of polite but focused curiosity. But there is absolutely nothing polite or merely curious about the movement known as the Inquisition, as any student of history knows.

The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God is aut
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-books
This was one of the most repetitive non-fiction books I have ever read. There were sections I actually thought I had read already, like I had accidentally scrolled back in my iPad but no, it was just that repetitive. The Inquisition is fascinating and there was very interesting information but I think this book could have been half the length and contained everything succinctly.
Bruce McRae
The Inquisition, a Primer

If the subject of the Inquisition is at all unfamiliar, this is a great place to start. The author presents a very concise and easy to follow framework of this terrible multi-century scourge on mankind. Recommended.
Sekhar N Banerjee
Apr 16, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not worth reading

I made a mistake in buying this book - it is not worth reading. I barely managed to survive until about half of the book and then I tossed it.
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Terrifying. The Inquisition lurks in history. It can happen again.
Dee Arr
Oct 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Good, Conversational Read...with a Rocky Last Two Chapters

Based on the title (and especially the subtitle: "A History of Terror in the Name of God"), I looked forward to an entertaining and enlightening read about the Inquisition. As I knew only the basics of that period in history, Kirsch educated me when he named the three phases (medieval Inquisition, Spanish Inquisition, and Roman Inquisition). He explained each, including reasons why each happened and what factors helped to sustain and even
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Inquisition of the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition and the Roman Inquisition provided for centuries of terror, torture and well documented strategies in annihilating mostly innocent people for heresy. While the original objective of the Inquisition was the Roman Catholic Church's fear of losing control over the thoughts and beliefs of Christians, the inquisitors, the Church and later, the kings of Spain and France, turned it into a strategy in profiteering and later, genocide.

The Grand Inquisitor's Manual takes us from the inception of the Inquisition in the 12th century to it's end in the mid 19th century, and ends with a look forward to events that seem to have their roots in the Inquisition, like the holocaust.

It was very interesting to read about, I haven't really looked into the Inquisition before, so there was a lot of new information for me. The book is an easy read and seems to get around to the importent parts (though I don't know for sure since I don't kno
Barbara Stoner
Christendom seemed to have grown delirious and Satan might well smile at the tribute to his power in the endless smoke of the holocaust which bore witness to the triumph of the Almighty.

A History of The Inquisition of The Middle Ages; volume I , by Henry Charles Lea.

Jonathan Kirsch uses this quote to begin his The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God , in which he outlines the history of terror practiced in the West as perceived threats to an ordered society, one in
Feb 28, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one with a brain
While this book should have been interesting, and may contain some good information, its disorganization and repetitiveness completely overshadow its good qualities. I was about halfway through the book before I started feeling like I was no longer reading the introduction. The author is not a historian, and does not make any attempt to treat information with objectivity, and in the later part of the book, he freely admits to this. Throughout the book, the author quotes his few favored sources a ...more
Michael Lewyn
Oct 28, 2014 rated it liked it
The best part of this book is the first few chapters, which describes the Inquisition before the Spanish Inquisition (mostly from the 1200s to the 1400s, and mostly in western Europe, especially France). The book explains the sheer randomness of Inquisition terror- the Inquisition could haul you in on an anonymous tip or its own suspicion or greed (since it could confiscate your property), and then torture you until you confessed to heresy and then named a few other heretics as well. The Spanish ...more
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
People who believe "right and wrong" are divided along political lines (read: Most Americans) will become slightly uncomfortable with this book as it progresses. Yes, it is primarily about the various inquisitions that swept across across Europe but it is also a cautionary morality tale.

Those who don't learn from history are destined to repeat it and Kirsch reveals how the Inquisitor's manual was one deftly dusted off and repackaged when necessary. Whether by "relocating" Jews to death camps, in
Everton Patterson
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, christianity
My daughter is doing George Orwell's '1984' in high school, but reading Jonathan Kirsch's The Grand Inquisitor's Manual made me realize that the kind of society portrayed in '1984' is not necessarily a future dystopia, but it has already happened in reign of terror that lasted 600 years. This is a sordid, sordid history of the three inquisitions (medieval, Roman and Spanish) when Holy Mother Church ruled with an iron fist. People were prosecuted for thought-crimes, i.e. if what they believed did ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Mar 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn’t know anything about the Inquisition before I read Jonathan Kirsch’s satisfying book; now I know enough to contextualize my lecture about medieval anti-Semitism. I learned about the Cathars, a rigorous and ascetic Christian heretical movement that was exterminated by a crusade and the medieval Inquisition. Set up to deal with heresy, the Inquisition established the template for totalitarian legal regimes: torture, confession, state security police, naming names, wild conspiracies, though ...more
Sep 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Horrifying & detailed look into the history of the Inquisition (in the variety of forms that it took over time) - but I couldn't shake the feeling that the author really, really wanted to use this historical account as a platform to pontificate on current American policy.

The weakest part of the book is the closing section - while he does an excellent job of establishing the connections of the Inquisition bureaucracy to Nazi Germany & the Soviet Union under Stalin, his attempts to paralle
Graeme Merrall
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book started out promising but I should have spotted the warning signs. Any sentence that contains "modern day" and "as we shall discover" at the end if a chapter is a book of history is always a bad sign.

In terms of the actual history of the Inquisition its not a bad read despite some historical inaccuracies. For example, there's no evidence "The Pear" was actually ever used as an instrument of torture, plus there's no sign of a Papal Bull issued against the Spanish Inquisition in the 150
Ken Sweet
Feb 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Although I sometimes felt as if the author had a definite agenda (to prove Inquisition apologists wrong,) I feel compelled to believe in his agenda as fact, and therefore greatly enjoyed the work. The persecution of anyone of differing beliefs (and many who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time) has led to the time-honored techniques of mass hysteria = witch hunt = innocent lives being lost.

One of my own ancestors was Samuel Wardwell, a good Christian, hung as a witch d
Aug 08, 2010 rated it did not like it
Political essay in guise of "historical" book. Author is definitely not an historian, but if he is, shame on him. Kirsch spends too much time trying to compare what happened centuries ago to the events of the present day, with typical freshman college student ernestness. And like a freshman he relies too heavily on the work of others to make his point with little effort at examining those sources with measured skepticism. He seems more interested in proving his sources are infallible than presen ...more
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm not entirely sure this is much more than snuff porn, and given that suspicion, I'm not sure what it says about me that I've read my copy twice. (In my defense I was quite bored the second time I picked it up and didn't have a library card yet.) It does give a bit of insight into how the Inquisitions (Medieval, Roman and Spanish) prefigured torture as used by governments in the 20th and 21st centuries (waterboarding was called "water treatment" in the 13th century). More interesting to me is ...more
Mar 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
As the subtitle says, it's a history of terror in the Name of God. However, the last chapter notes that God can be a political ideology a la Nazism, Stalinism, McCarthyism, and Bush/Cheneyism. What we should learn from this history of the Inquisition, as the author states, is 'the machinery of persecution once switched on, cannot be easily slowed or directed, much less stopped.' He notes that inquisitions are based on whispered rumors and fabricated evidence, testimony taken in secret from anony ...more
May 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own-bought-ebook
This book was really engaging for the first few chapters, and then quickly took a nosedive. After covering the medieval Inquisition quite well, the recap of the Spanish Inquisition gets very repetitive. The later chapters drawing parallels to McCarthyism, Abu Ghraib, the Salem witch trials, Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany did not need to be broken down in such detail. I felt he was beating a dead horse by that point. One chapter to sum up parallels would have sufficed, as I picked up the book ...more
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“Then as now, demonization of the victim is the necessary precondition for genocide.” 5 likes
“ sexual typical of the impulses of religious authoritarians to demonize all heretics by attributing to them every manner of outrage that a perverse human mind could imagine.” 2 likes
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