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

Earthly Powers

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,731 ratings  ·  246 reviews
Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, is regarded as one of the most original and daring writers in the English language. His work is illuminated by a dazzling imagination, by a gift for character and plot, by a talent for surprise.

In Earthly Powers Burgess created his masterpiece. At its center are two twentieth-century men who represent different kinds of power
Paperback, 649 pages
Published May 6th 2004 by Vintage Classics (first published 1980)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,731 ratings  ·  246 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Earthly Powers
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
Some people really like this big old thing. But it was yet another in the tedious catalogue of huge masculine overbearing egomaniacal penis novels about a Big Man like, say, I the Supreme or Illywacker or Gould's Book of Fish or The Book of Evidence or Mein Kampf - boy, there's a lot of em. And it's the egomaniac's voice who narrates it. So you volunteer to have the guy bending your inner ear for page after page and no break. Maybe some readers channel their inner masochist and lie back and wall ...more
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A monumental novel, recently back in print, that has stuck in my mind for thirty years as an all-time favorite but needed to be reread to remind me why. An octogenarian British writer, asked to attest to a miracle that will support canonization of a Pope, writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. Examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. Lingui ...more
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A monumental novel of great impact, both pleasant and annoying. I will first have to let my conflicting feelings about the book settle a bit. In the meantime, I refer to P.E.'s review whose review closely reflects my own feelings and queries as well.
That two-star rating might be a little unfair. I actually had fun reading large chunks of the book. If all you're looking for is something entertaining to read, and you enjoy British snark and bitchiness, then this is the ticket.

As a work of literature, however, it fell far short. And since it purports to seriously discuss the problem of good and evil, I think that's a fair yardstick. This is not, at the end of the day, the novelistic equivalent of Monty Python.

The novel follows the life of Ke
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb book. I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

Heritage album cover art


Providence - GSYBE!


Writer Kenneth Toomey, 81 y.o., is requested to write a biography on Carlo Campanati, that is, a relative, also the former pope.
The background of this curious hagiography consists in the fate of family Toomey and family Campanati during the 20th century.
Also, Ken Toomey is a homosexual with a knack for bonding with ill-suited partners.


I am
Jonathan Pool
Earthly Powers is a very good book. It's a long book, densely packed, and one that shifts between different eras (in the c.20th), and multiple continents.
Earthly Powers is not a particularly famous or widely read work by any means, despite its Booker Prize shortlisting in 1980. The small number of Goodreads ratings is some evidence of that; A Clockwork Orange will always be the defining literary work associated with (prolific) Anthony Burgess.
Twenty years after Earthly Powers, William Boyd was
Richard Derus
Nov 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of my nearest and dearest sent me her old mass-market copy years ago in one of her purging moods. And, in a deeply unusual act, I've read it twice!

I see lots of breakdowns of this story's alleged core, the Problem of Evil that besets monotheistic religions. In my own opinion, Burgess's point was less simple, as the Problem of Evil is easily resolved (you're wrong, there is no gawd so there is no problem): How, when a man is inextricably linked to another, "superior" or "better" man in the pu
Paul E. Morph
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This chunky doorstop is an excellent novel that explores the nature of art, family, sexuality, power, authority, violence, illness, love, language and religion. Essentially, I think it's about the nature of humanity, and is very much a 'warts-and-all' delving into the subject.

I really enjoyed this one and was gripped all the way through. I'd give it five stars but, if I'm totally honest with myself, there were definitely moments I found... annoying.

Despite that; great book!
"Sin? Such nonsense."

Earthly Powers is a magnificent book, one of the best books I have ever read, no exaggeration. It's difficult to categorize since so many adjectives apply to it: historical, sexual, political, religious, artistic, comedic, playful, supremely literary. Most of all, it's relentlessly, uncompromisingly, unashamedly, intellectual. Thus, unfortunately it's little read today, it if ever was, and serves as no modern model—hardly a negative attribute. I don't feel such a book as Ear
Carol Storm
Just as Bela Lugosi will forever be known as Dracula, and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster, so Anthony Burgess will forever be known as the author of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Alex casts a long shadow!

Nevertheless, take this book on its own terms and read honestly, and you will find that by and large it stinks on its own merits. Burgess has a sense of humor and can talk entertainingly about literature, history, and religion. But that's about it. Emotionally this book is a galactic void. Toomey
Sep 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is sort of a fictitious pastiche on the life of William Somerset Maugham; at least that was my take on it. I still remember the sadness I felt when I finished reading this for the first time, not because of the narrative, but because I couldn’t keep on reading this incredibly epic story. I no longer have my hardback addition but I remember writing down the date on the last page when I first finished Earthly Powers, and then doing it again the second time I finished it.

I remember being
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english, biography
I immensely enjoyed reading this book. It being the first book I've ever read by this intriguing author, I'm looking forward to read his other works. The incredibly rich 'autobiographical' story is cunningly interwoven with real events in the 1900 - 1970's. Most memorably, the author becomes the brother in law of 'Carlo', who was already sure in the 1920's to become pope, and eventually did so as John XXIII. After the first world war, the 'author' flees England to escape prosecution as a practic ...more
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of the best first sentences I've had the pleasure of reading:

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Unlike many Big Books, Earthly Powers is a treat throughout. Burgess's Joycemania is on full display but seldom gets out of control.
Mar 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe, religion
This is a hell of a book.

It took me about two and a half months to read, even though it's not one of the longest books I've read. That's cause this sucker is DENSE - no book for someone looking for an easy read.

The narrator, Kenneth Toomey, is a British novelist, now in his eighties, looking back over his life. Despite the fact that he is openly homosexual, officials from the Catholic Church want him to write for them - an account about the recently deceased pope, Gregory XVII, or Carlo Campanat
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Earthly Powers is the linchpin of Anthony Burgess' novel-writing career. It is a massive work that compares favorably with similar tomes of twentieth century literature. What sets Burgess apart from other authors is his linguistic playfulness combined with an exceptional narrative style. Although this style is here somewhat less obviously experimental t
W.D. Clarke
I am a Burgess near-complete-ist, but haven't revisited him in over 10 years and...
~confession! Still haven't read the obvious clockworky one I know, I know~.
...and this blew my world away when I read it in the 90s, and it is sad that the AB oeuvre has very little academic activity to keep his name alive in the culture. Would love to re-read it with some peeps from round here though.
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I rarely write reviews but I feel that this book warrants breaking habit. For a book that runs 650 pages, not once did Earthly Powers become a chore. The most incredible thing about this book isn't that it flows for 650 pages with no stutter, it's not the perfectly-timed, respectfully delivered sucker punches, it's not the fact that the man has delivered a history of the 20th Century (on both a personal and wider scale).

The most impressive, incredible thing for me about this book is that no mat
George K. Ilsley
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, re-read, gay
A brilliant novel, one which I have read several times. Here we have a heterosexual author portraying vivid characters who are not heterosexual. This novel is always the one I hold up to emphasize that writers can write about any characters they want to write about, without any need to limit themselves to their own little demographic.

Also, one time I met Anthony Burgess on the street in Toronto and shook his hand.

Update May 2020. Just watched a documentary on Anthony Burgess in which they claime
Justin Evans
Jan 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm unsure if I'll remember this as fondly in a few years as I do now. The second quarter of the book was extremely dull, and the narrative 'technique' is silly (bad novelist travels to a dozen or so countries in order to pick up royalties cheques through the twentieth century--necessary because there were such restrictions on currency movement). These two problems almost, almost destroy the book's excellent qualities. But then it more or less comes together.

The narrator's friend, Carlo Campana
May 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
re-reading a first edition now. i remember thinking this book was the most interesting, epic, intelligent book when i read it back in high school... we'll see what i think ten years later.

Well, I'd probably still give it a lot of stars, very interesting, certainly entertaining, but maybe not as satisfying as I remember.
In Paul Theroux's introduction to this novel he wrote that when Burgess set out to begin this novel he "promised a novel of 'Tolstoyan proportions.'" In Earthly Powers, Burgess may have fulfilled this promise.

I will admit that there were times when I thought I wasn't going to finish this. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, and definitely not a quick or light read. It's pace is slow, but I have to admire that Burgess was able to maintain the same steady pace throughout the entire novel. Th
Rupert Smith
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I’m asked to list ‘the best gay novels ever’, and I often put this at Number One. Burgess isn’t thought of as a ‘gay writer’, although you don’t have to dig too far to figure out that he was at the very least bisexual. But Earthly Powers is nothing less than a 20th-century history viewed through the prism of homosexuality and homophobia, focusing on Catholicism, Nazism and just about every other ‘ism’ that matters. Like all Burgess it’s extremely funny and erudite, but for once he real ...more
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-five, reviewed
One of my top five my favourite books, Earthly Powers is, above all, a compelling bit of storytelling. A sprawling, multi-generational tale that follows the protagonist's life from teenager to octogenarian and includes a number of real people such as Churchill and James Joyce. It is essentially the 20th Century distilled through the eyes of its' protagonist—who is cynical, but a humanist at heart. It's the fictional autobiography of a gay, expatriate English novelist now living in Malta. It open ...more
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book the first time when I was twenty one, again when I was thirty and then a few years ago. The book pushes together and plays with apparently conflicting, disparate areas, miracles, Catholicism, Hollywood, Anglicanism, religious cults, hidden lives, flamboyant masks, romantic love and exploitative sex, fanaticism and agnosticism. It shows how good can lead to evil and how they are two sides of the same coin.

One image in particular has never left me -I can never look at a Sara Lee c
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jul 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read08
A history of the world, practically, through the lens of one author. Interesting observations on religion, power, morality, and the creative process.
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read-books
“What, Mr. Toomey, do you seek out of life?” A very straight question. “To enjoy it. To fix the phenomena of human society in words.” This is the central theme of this novel which doggedly try to fix the mystery of living within the riot of bodies and souls, art and religion, the historical and the individual. Above all, it is about the good and evil played within the many interlocking spheres lives. Don’t expect clean, neat conclusions. The cycle goes on, but each turning of the clog is cogent. ...more
Fungus Gnat
Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An elderly, homosexual British Catholic writer, living in Malta, tells the story of his life, which is closely linked to that of a Catholic prelate who eventually becomes Pope and who, having died, is eligible for canonization. Ken Toomey, the writer, hobnobbed with other expatriate literati on the Continent and was affected by, and sometimes affected, some of the great trends and events of the 20th century, including the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy, the second world war, the effloresce ...more
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Reading this book is like having an intelligent, overbearing person to a dinner party; one who insists on talking volubly on all topics, being a bit of a bore and wearing out the other guests. There was plenty of wit, plenty of clever little ideas - and quite a bit of grotesque violence, whether gay gang rape or brutal dismemberment by the mafia. At one point a Catholic priest sends a Malay man into convulsions after striking him in the head with a heavy crucifix.

It is undeniably colourful, and
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star
Shooting for the moon, knowing it would fall back to earth, this is Burgess at the height of his considerable powers, spinning a lopsided globe with one hand and, well, trying not to laugh too hard. The impossibly lofty account of civilization's status, set in an inauspicious moment, at the end of the twentieth century.

Haven't read since it was first published, but on the eve of a re-read -- an easy five stars.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Rites of Passage (To the Ends of the Earth, #1)
  • Steve Marriott: All Too Beautiful: Fully Revised, Expanded and Updated
  • 'Rommel?' 'Gunner Who?': A Confrontation in the Desert
  • The World of P.G. Wodehouse
  • Indiscretions of Archie
  • Empire of the Sun (Empire of the Sun, #1)
  • Rock Encyclopedia
  • Humboldt's Gift
  • Good Behaviour
  • The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran
  • Rhinoceros and Other Plays
  • The Book of Evidence (The Freddie Montgomery Trilogy #1)
  • Cliënt E. Busken
  • Under the Volcano
  • Shalimar the Clown
  • Look Homeward, Angel
  • iRest Meditation: Restorative Practices for Health, Resiliency, and Well-Being
  • The Jewel in the Crown
See similar books…
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in Eng

Related Articles

It’s rare that a debut novel gets the kind of love and attention that Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, which spanned centuries and continents, received. Her...
78 likes · 13 comments
“People don't want to know. They have to be made to know. Whether they act on what they know is up to them. But they have to know.” 30 likes
“In a story you had to find a reason, but real life gets on very well without even Freudian motivations.” 30 likes
More quotes…