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Earthly Powers Paperback – May 6, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books USA (May 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099468646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099468646
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,976,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Burgess's ambitious study of 20th-century history centers on the stormy relationship between an effete, popular novelist and a Faustian priest.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Crowded, crammed, bursting with manic erudition, garlicky puns, omnilingual jokes... which meshes the real and personalised history of the twentieth century" -- Martin Amis "Burgess is the great postmodern storehouse of British writing-an important experimentalist; an encyclopaedic amasser, but also a maker of form; a playful comic, with a dark gloom" -- Malcolm Bradbury "Enormous imagination and vitality - a huge book in every way" Sunday Times "A hellfire tract thrown down by a novelist at the peak of his powers" The Times "In all ways, a remarkable book" -- Paul Theroux

More About the Author

Anthony Burgess (25th February 1917-22nd November 1993) was one of the UK's leading academics and most respected literary figures. A prolific author, during his writing career Burgess found success as a novelist, critic, composer, playwright, screenwriter, travel writer, essayist, poet and librettist, as well as working as a translator, broadcaster, linguist and educationalist. His fiction also includes NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, a recreation of Shakespeare's love-life, but he is perhaps most famous for the complex and controversial novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, exploring the nature of evil. Born in Manchester, he spent time living in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England, until his death in 1993.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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EARTHLY POWERS will help solidify that certainty.
Randall Ivey
This is Burgess's masterpiece, a semiautobiographical, chunky, lovely, rich, picaresque feast of a book.
Peter Marcus
The sort of book you finish and feel a sense of mourning that it is over.
A. Jordan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Randall Ivey on May 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Burgess's 1980 EARTHLY POWERS, like Styron's SOPHIE'S CHOICE(published around the same time), hearkens back to the grand 19th century novels of Dickens, Balzac, and Galdos. It is a novel the reader enters and inhabits, a world of its own.
Kenneth Toomey, supposedly modeled on Somerset Maugham, is a middling range popular novelist who finds himself in the midst of some of the great literary and social maelstroms of the twentieth century. He knows everyone - Churchill, James Joyce, John Maynard Keynes; you name them, Toomey has sipped tea with them - and gets involved with everything - censorship trials and ancient voodoo, for instance; he even has a brush with the Jim Jones cult through one of his nieces.
Critics carped at the book for its lack of focus, but it has a definite focus: the twentieth century. Toomey's not a great artist, but he is a great observer, and through him Burgess gives us the full sweep of the twentieth century, its follies and its glories (but more folly than glory). In the past, English literature has had an Age of Shakespeare and an Age of Johnson. In the future critics and historians will judge the late twentieth century as the Age of Burgess. EARTHLY POWERS will help solidify that certainty.
Read it.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I rate this Burgess' best novel, having bought it at least three times! It's a big, heavy book, so I take it to the beach it, read it, and bin it before leaving, to save luggage weight. Then I realise I need to reread it...
Burgess' narrator namedrops his way shamelessly through the twentieth century as he tells the story of his own life and the intertwined fortunes of his brother-in-law, Carlo Campanati, a Catholic priest whose dearest ambition is to "make Pope". It's a huge sweep of history and human times to cover, but Burgess centres it around faith, duty, and home, and makes it look easy.
One warning: he is *very* erudite, so you'll need a dictionary at times. I reckon I have a good vocabulary, but I had no idea what a "venerean strabismus" was. It's up there with "Brideshead Revisited" as a "foodie" book too. One of the beaches I read this on was in Goa, and I was gagging for the Italian meatballs and "cold, black wine" which I couldn't get over there!
Stylistically it's self-conscious; the narrator intervenes frequently to remind you he's writing his autobiography. It's not a major problem, and in fact it's necessary. The first time you notice this is the absolutely show-stopping opening paragraph involving archbishops and catamites (reach for your dictionary if you don't know)...!
Did I mention this book is frequently very, very funny? I cried laughing at the later scenes featuring the shoplifting bisexual Nazi.
Warmly recommended; just don't expect Clockwork Orange!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on October 27, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book, like much of Burgesss's output, is sui-generis. Yes, our narrator, Toomey, by Burgess's own admission, is based on Somerset Maugham, but he is also based on Burgess himself----For those who missed the Burgessian word play here: "Two of me". The word play is one of the things I delighted in about this book, so is the arcane vocabulary. For readers who detest fun with abstruse linguistics this is Not the book for you----For all others, you'll love coming across, time and again, words like (off the top of my head) "cecity".

But, as almost all reviewers have noted, this book is also a kind of roman a clef of historic personages, literary and otherwise, populating the Twentieth Century - literary and otherwise - from Henry James to Jim Jones. This effect does, as another reviewer has noted, become tedious after a bit, as does the theological casuistry strewn throughout the book, another one of Burgess's - as he calls himself, a "lapsed Catholic" - obsessions. He once told critic Harold Bloom, "I'll see you in Limbo, Bloom!" - But I digress. At their worst, these parts come across as preachy. - Burgess gave a 1985 interview with Donald Swain (to which you can listen online at Wired for Books) in which he repeats verbatim several points Toomey makes in his Wodehousian broadcast for the Nazis herein. It's just a tad off-putting. But Joyce, Burgess's greatest literary influence, can be off-putting and Jesuitical at times too.

So, I'm ready to forgive Burgess/Toomey this theological muddle in light of the splendid, erudite dialogues and cutting wit that permeate the book from first page to last. This book truly is a swan song for literacy and art.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on July 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
This novel, Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess from 1980 strips bare the twentienth century and turns its skeleton into a wonderful narrative stream inhabited by two beautifully realized characters, Kenneth Toomey, novelist, and Don Carlo, eventually the Pope. Everyone and everything of importance in the last century becomes a part of the mix without ever clogging the story, which remains clearly focused with the clever use of the fictional creations. This book is an epic that truly deserves that title and it will give the reader many hours to reading pleasure. A wonderful reading experience.
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