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Some say "this author is without peer"- well in this case, the author *is* a peer!
on July 13, 2011
John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich CVO is a well known British historian, author of The Normans in Sicily, A History of Venice, A Short History of Byzantium, etc.
Again, the author takes us to the Italian peninsula (well, mostly) for his new book "Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy".
Although Lord Norwich is an expert on this period and area, he makes it known to us that this is no hagiography, as a "agnostic Protestant" he "has no ax to grind". He'd have to have a lot of them (axes, I mean) as this book covers over 250 Popes, Antipopes and various non-popes (such as the "hoary canard" of "Pope Joan"). Over a period of about 2000 years.
Some of the author's favorite Papal figures include Innocent I, Leo(s) I & XIII, and Benedict XIV. But the author seems to have the most fun with the "bad boys" of Papal history, of whom there are a rather large number. Norwich also doesn't mind telling us about a good number of (rather scurrilous) rumors, but to give him his due, he also often debunks them. I love one chapter title "Nicholas I and the Pornocracy"! (New word!)
Some portions may be somewhat controversial- for example Norwich speaks out strongly about Pious XII (WWII period).
But other than that- it's fun, fast paced, and very readable (well, mostly, it is over 500 pages)