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184 of 199 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some say "this author is without peer"- well in this case, the author *is* a peer!
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...
Published on July 13, 2011 by Wulfstan

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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An "agnostic Protestant" history of the Papacy. Pretty good, but pretty biased.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although as some reviewers have noted, the subject matter is too broad for thorough treatment in a popular work. However, the author manages to delve deeply into certain papal reigns, resulting in an informative and entertaining book. Unfortunately, one of the reigns he focuses on is that of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958). As a self-described...
Published on December 4, 2011 by J. Michael


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You can't keep a good man down, May 11, 2014
This book isn't flawless: I'd argue with some of the characterizations of various historical events. However, in the main, it's a excellent account of the papacy through history, with its regular descents into corruption and impotence, and its equally regular recoveries to renewed greatness. It's also fascinating to see the pageant of the last two thousand years of history from a 'Pope's eye view.' Obviously, much has to be omitted in a book covering such a sweep of time, so there are many things one is left wondering about, but that's unavoidable. This book leaves you interested in learning more about the various events and developments it touches on. That's perhaps all that can be reasonably asked of it.
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35 of 50 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Just couldn't do it..., August 24, 2011
This review is from: Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (Hardcover)
Both the professional reviews and the reader reviews here talk about how well-written this book is. Here's what I saw: First Peter did that, then that pope did this, then the next pope did something else, then... then... then... I got through ~1/3 of Absolute Monarchs, and just couldn't force myself to pick it up again.

Mr Norwich offered (in the 1/3 I slogged through) a bone-dry regurgitation of facts, and absolutely nothing in the way of reflection, insight or interpretation. I've read linear algebra textbooks with more personality! One exception, the chapter on Pope Joan showed a spark of life, which was mercilessly snuffed out in the ensuing pages.

Maybe it got interesting and witty as the book entered more current history. Perhaps Hitler's Pope raised up the slightest indignation and ire, resulting in some portrayal of cause & effect. I very nearly skipped ahead to later eras, but the mere thought of parting the book's covers again put me right to sleep.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ... four or five of the Popes that made the greatest impact on the church, July 3, 2014
From the initial description you are led to believe that the author is going to concentrate on four or five of the Popes that made the greatest impact on the church. However he has a cast of characters that would dwarf a DeMille epic. A reader should (must) have a good command of European history from the dark ages onward to really enjoy this work, as it involves popes, anti-popes, politicians, church officials, the royal houses of Europe and various and sundry others that has anything to do with the history of the papacy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Delight to Read, January 29, 2014
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Mr. Norwich is able to tell his story in an understandable way without passing judgment on whether anything was right or wrong. That is a fine line that is sometimes hard to abide by. John Norwich managed to walk that line well. Reading the book and now seeing the papacy of Pope Francis makes me hope that John Norwich might write a book about Francis' papacy as Francis has set the "Absolute Monarch" model of the papacy on its head. Imagine a pope doing his own laundry! An excellent read, hard to put down. Read it!
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21 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Norwich's depiction of Pius XII is not borne by WWII reporting of "The New York Times", October 19, 2011
This review is from: Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (Hardcover)
Due to space restrictions I limit myself in this customer comment to merely one aspect of John Julius Norwich's "Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy," realizing that such a focus often elicits negative responses for its lack of comprehensiveness. Yet such concentration is necessary to adequately substantiate my points.

I first learned of Norwich's "Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy" when I encountered Bill Keller's gleeful review featured on the cover of "The New York Times Book Review" (7 July 2011 online; 10 July 2011 in the print edition). Keller was the Executive Editor of "The New York Times" from July 2003 until September 2011 and has described himself not as a lapsed Catholic but as a "beyond lapsed" Catholic. In his review, Keller wrote that Norwich provided "a disheartening chapter on Pius XI and Pius XII, whose fear of Communism (along with the church's long streak of anti-Semitism) made them compliant enablers of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. Pius XI, in Norwich's view, redeemed himself by his belated but unflinching hostility to the Fascists and Nazis." Keller continues: "But [Norwich's] indictment of Pius XII -- who resisted every entreaty to speak out against mass murder, even as the trucks were transporting the Jews of Rome to Auschwitz -- is compact, evenhanded and devastating."

YET THE REPORTING and analysis of as little as a single wartime source - ironically "The New York Times" - shows that Pius XII condemned the Nazi atrocities against Jews and others and moved significantly to mitigate them while also opposing the threat of Communism. This wartime reporting provides evidence readily available in many libraries (and perhaps online) to overturn Norwich's indictment of Pius XII (and Keller's affirmation of it). But more recent vintages of "The New York Times" have often soured to vinegar against the Catholic Church, prompting the Catholic League to hold up a mirror to "The Times" - an advertisement defending Pius XII (10 April 2001, "The New York Times") with some of the wartime reporting harvested from "The Times" itself, disinfecting Norwich in sunlight (and Keller in the vinegar of his own making). Here are excerpts from that ad which the Catholic League drew from "The Times:"

* "If the Pope in his Christmas message had intended to condemn Hitler's system, he could not have done it more effectively than by describing the `moral order' which must govern human society." (editorial, December 25, 1940)

* "The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas." (editorial, December 25, 1941)

* Catholic Church leaders "are virtually the only Germans still speaking up against the Nazi regime." (news article, June 8, 1942)

* "This Christmas more than ever he [Pius XII] is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent." (editorial, December 25, 1942)

* Vatican Radio is quoted saying, "He who makes a distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God's commands." (news article, June 27, 1943)

* Commenting on the 1,200 German priests interned at Dachau, the Times says, "The arrests are linked with strong anti-Nazi and anti-war movements in the predominantly Roman Catholic section of Germany." (news article, August 13, 1943)

* Remarking on the German bishops' pastoral letter condemning Hitler (which ended by thanking Pius for his leadership), the Times says, "The letter abounds in sly but fearless thrusts at the false god and Nazi tenets." (news article, September 6, 1943)

* When a Soviet house organ tries to tag the Vatican pro-Nazi, the Times goes ballistic: "Of all the incendiary literary bombs manufactured in Moscow...and thrown with such lighthearted recklessness into the unity of Allied nations, none is likely to do greater damage than Izvestia's unjust and intemperate attack upon the Vatican as `pro-Fascist.'" (editorial, February 4, 1944)

* After Rome was liberated, the chief Rabbi of Rome, Israele Anton Zolli, formally expressed the gratitude of Roman Jews "for all the moral and material aid the Vatican gave them during the Nazi occupation." (news article, July 27, 1944)

* When the war ended, the Times ran many stories detailing the praise that Jewish leaders bestowed on Pius. Included was the one which recorded a gift of $20,000 to the Vatican by the World Jewish Congress "in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecution." (news article, October 11, 1945)

ONE MAY WONDER WHY Norwich offers no words about the Catholic clergy and other Catholics killed in the Nazi death camps. Has it not occurred to him that if Pius' denunciations might have spared Jews, the same denunciations might have spared many Catholics? Pius XII's alleged silence is often attributed to his alleged anti-Semitism, and Norwich goes even further writing of Pius' "innate anti-Semitism" (p. 447 in the 2011 hardbound edition); was Pope Pius XII also anti-Catholic (innately or otherwise)? To be lucid, if anti-Semitism was why Pope Pius XII failed to sufficiently protest atrocities against Jews, was anti-Catholicism why he failed to sufficiently protest atrocities against Catholics? Rather, a much more fitting explanation is that Pius was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Catholic but likely learned that overt actions to combat Nazi crimes were met with reprisals and were counterproductive: the Nazi reaction to conspicuous protests by Catholic clergy in defense of Jews in the Netherlands, for example, included arresting and killing Jewish converts to Catholicism.

ONE MAY ALSO WONDER, given such experience with reprisals, if Pius XII had been more vocal and acted more overtly, whether Norwich would now be condemning him as - and my words are suggested by media critic James Bowman's review of "Amen" (26 January 2003) - "Pope Preening Popinjay" or a whited sepulcher more concerned with his reputation than in rescuing victims or an "innate" dunce for not recognizing the stupidity of his "help."

With Norwich as his judge, I believe that Pius XII would be damned if he hadn't and damned if he had.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True History, January 27, 2014
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This review is from: Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (Hardcover)
Gives a great history of the Popes. A real eye opener that is not a shining star for the Catholic church. You can see how far the church has come in becoming a more well rounded vehicle for people and their beliefs. Loved this book and sorry that Pope Frances can't be included as he is a true example of what a Pope should be. I highly recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth about the Papacy, January 10, 2014
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Raised as a Catholic but this book opened my eyes to the religion and it's history. I suggest it to history buffs and those interested in religion.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not your summer beach read, July 31, 2011
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This review is from: Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (Hardcover)
If you think the current scandals surrounding the Catholic church are about as bad as it gets, wait 'til you read John Julius Norwich's new book, "Absolute Monarchs"! Today's problems are nothing compared to pillage, murder and other atrocities from the church's past. Grasps for power are always fun to read about and this book has them in droves.

Norwich is thorough and convincing, and although there is a similar Biblical quality to his presentation, ("X" practically begets "Y" throughout) the author offers dozens of asides that are genuinely funny. These do not, however, quite save the book from an interminable litany of characters...and I don't mean just the popes, themselves...that can easily overwhelm. Keeping on top of the scorecard is difficult, at best. Yet, the chapter on "Pope Joan", for instance, is a nicely integrated diversion, if that term applies. Did Joan really exist? Probably not, though everyone needs a Santa Claus.

A caveat: if you're buying this book for a modern history of the papacy, you'd be very much surprised. Only about 10% of it deals with the twentieth century and beyond. There is a wealth of information in "Absolute Monarchs" and to his credit, Norwich has provided it here. But, it's a very slow and often tedious book to read. You might want to consider having a little communion wine next to you to get you through some of the slog.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Simultaneously fascinating and boring, September 8, 2014
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This book was simultaneously fascinating and boring. There was a lot of interesting stuff in it, things I didn't know and didn't expect from the papacy. They were sprinkled in just frequently enough to keep me going. Three popes at one time? Who knew? Popes who actually lead armies into battle? Who knew that? Popes who apparently didn't believe in Christianity? Popes who were homosexual? Orgies with the cardinals? Well, that's all in there. But the book is also cursed with the scourges of history: dates, places and names. They all sound alike after a while. The places are frequently no longer in existence and it was hard for me to imagine where they were or what they were like. And the names, well let's just say that popes tend to have the same name. A lot. A whole lot. Who can remember the difference between Pope Paul the XIX and Pope Paul the XXI? (I'm not sure those are real popes, but you get the picture.)

The book is certainly worth reading although I don't know how anyone could take the Roman Catholic Church seriously afterward.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Norwich does it again, March 14, 2014
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This review is from: Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (Hardcover)
John Julius Norwich is a genius. He can take a complex subject and make it readable and interesting to the average reader. Ever since I read his history of the Norman Kingdom in Sicily (two volumes, out of print) I've been a fan. His three volume history of the Byzantine Empire is a feast for any history buff. His recent tome about the Papacy doesn't disappoint. He is able to condense two thousand years of history into a single volume that is both illuminating and interesting. Some have criticized him for biting off more than he could chew, and also for his supposed anti-Catholic bias. This is unfair! It is a great history book. If you are interested in the history of the Papacy, then you must read this book. Hail Sir John Julius Norwich! Historian extraordinaire, who has made his mission in life to bring history to life. If only there were more historian like him, perhaps there would be more students of history.
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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy
Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich (Hardcover - July 12, 2011)
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