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The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual Hardcover – September 9, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060816996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060816995
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,426,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Mention the Inquisition to any informed person and you're likely to garner a response somewhere between horror and disgust. Kirsch, a prolific writer and documenter of our past (A History of the End of the World; Gods Against the Gods), offers up an amazing recounting of the abuses by clergy and state in those terrible times. Clinical in its descriptions, the narrative's lively and crisp prose brings us right into the torture chamber, shining a much-needed light into the mindset of the church and its representatives. Alarmingly, the author insists that although the Inquisition is but a memory for us today, the inquisitional mindset is alive and well. Kirsch discovers many examples in more modern and familiar history: the Salem witch trials, Hitler's Germany, Roosevelt's placing Japanese-Americans in interment camps and Senator McCarthy's Communist-hunting. All of these injustices, he says, find their root in the same sense of power and privilege. Kirsch's forceful and cautionary account is essential reading for historians and anyone who wants to understand the potential dark side of religion. (Oct.)
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Review

“Kirsch offers up an amazing recounting of the abuses of clergy and state in those terrible times. Kirsch’s powerful and cautionary account is essential reading for historians and anyone who wants to understand the potential dark side of religion.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

“A scathing account of the Inquisition’s 600-year campaign to stifle religious dissent, as well as to persecute various groups of people it branded as alien menaces to communal security.” –Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times)

“Jonathan Kirsch is a fine storyteller with a flair for rendering ancient tales relevant and appealing to modern audiences.” --Washington Post (Washington Post)

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Customer Reviews

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Reading this book will affect how you think and feel watching the evening news and a lot more.
Reviewer
Which is not to say that the book does not quote the inquisitors or reference source material; it does, sporadically.
Rachel Ford
"I have not found the slightest evidence, from which to infer that a single act of witchcraft has really occurred."
John L Murphy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the 12th century, early Christian heretics, the Cathars, are exquisitely tortured, their broken bodies a deterrent to those who would question the dictates of the True Faith. In the 15th century, the great Inquisitors don the solemn robes of office, casting impassive eyes on those who would commit heresy against a just and loving God, the accoutrements of torture designed in infinite detail for maximum effect. In Salem, Massachusetts, acolytes of the devil are tested, given opportunity to denounce evil between bouts of excruciating pain, all in the name of God's righteousness. Men began their ingenious methods of torturing for truth from religion's beginnings, purging the unacceptable, the tainted, cleansing society of those who would infect it.

Who would have imagined that Nazi Germany would dust off the pages of history, retrieve the arcane tools of torture and apply them even more broadly to an entire disposable people, the Jews? What the Inquisition wrought bloomed in the dark recesses of the human heart, bred in the devotion of fanatics, finding voice as each period of history offered opportunities. And even now, in an enlightened and educated world, such horrors have again emerged, this time focusing on Islamic fundamentalists. One of the fascinating threads in Kirsch's detailed accounting of torture in the name of God is the relentless pursuit of "others", particularly Jews, from the Spanish Inquisition, which pursued them from continent to continent, to Nazi extermination, in the name of an ideal, "purity of blood". The war on Jews is based on blood rather than belief, "the same visceral anti-Semitism that had blighted medieval Europe and prompted some of the worst excesses of the Spanish Inquisition".
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Ford on February 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For a > 250 page book, this one has a startling lack of actual history in it. Far too many pages are wasted on the author's reiterating points he made on earlier pages, and there is far too little diversity among his sources or actual use of source material. This book seems to have been intended for a less scholarly/wider audience (it is as much political commentary as historical analysis), but, even, so, I fault it for assuming that the modern, casual reader is a nitwit who lacks all capacity to retain what was said not once or twice, but again and again; and who would rather take the author's word that inquisitors said and did x, y and z than be introduced the words of those people.

Which is not to say that the book does not quote the inquisitors or reference source material; it does, sporadically. However, it is one of those books where, at the end of it, you're amazed at how many pages you read to come away with so little of actual substance.

Additionally, I would note that the title is rather misleading. "A History of Terror in the Name of God" this is not; it certainly starts as such (from a western, Christian perspective, at least), but then finishes with a look at secular state sponsored terror (again, from a western perspective). The author attempts to illustrate, with more success in some cases than others, that these later cases are products of the Inquisition, or at least influenced by it, but they are certainly not performed in "the Name of God". A more appropriate title would, perhaps, have been "The Legacy of Terror in the Name of God". I'm not meaning to nitpick here, but to include the godless regimes of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany as illustrative of the "history of terror in the name of God" seems a bit silly.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In "The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God", author Jonathan Kirsch makes no pretense of cool, detached objectivity. He very obviously loathes the very notion of the Catholic Church's Inquisition (which formally existed from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth centuries), and he displays open disdain for those revisionist historians who have sought to excuse or minimize the actions of the Inquisition in rooting out and destroying heretics, Jews, and Muslims.

"The Grand Inquisitor's Manual" abounds in vivid tales of the cruel excesses perpetrated by agents of the Catholic Church in the name of defending an ideal of a single orthodox faith, leaving no doubt that an appalling toll of fear and pain was levied against anyone suspected of deviating in the slightest manner from a narrow definition of what constituted a true Christian.

Kirsch's book is perhaps too anecdotal with too few detailed statistics to serve as a definitive history of the Inquisition; even after reading "The Grand Inquisitor's Manual" I do not feel I have a good grasp of how many people suffered directly in the hands of the Inquisition. Furthermore, the last section of the book, seeking to establish a relationship between the Inquisition and the activities of the Nazi Holocaust, Stalinist purges, the American "witch hunts" of McCarthy era, and the presentday excesses of the "War on Terror", seems to me to set awkwardly with the rest of the book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The inquisition is a tough topic for historians and here Jonathan Kirsch illustrates why, both purposefully and accidentally. There were actually three inquisitions perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, ebbing and flowing for about 600 years. Here Kirsch compiles previous research and sheds some light on the enormity of the operation and the trends that pushed medieval religious torture away from rigid theology and toward politics and profiteering. These are not really surprises, though Kirsch's organization of the material offers some useful insights.

The main problem is that Kirsch's historiography is based on little first-hand research and becomes almost entirely a compilation of existing sources, often leading the reader to wonder why they shouldn't just read the earlier authoritative works that Kirsch references again and again (such as books by Henry Charles Lea or Cecil Roth). While the basic historical facts are pretty well-explained here, Kirsch stretches way too far in trying to find moral lessons and historical trends. Throughout the book he vacillates between the notion that the inquisition was an unstoppable systematic force that operated relentlessly for 600 years, and the notion that it shifted and weakened periodically with larger social and religious forces. The latter is true but the former encourages more dramatic writing. Kirsch also takes the opportunity to comment on patterns of apologism and revisionism among historians but he doesn't have the gravitas to make that analysis believable.

The last couple of chapters are a serious misstep as Kirsch tries to tie the Inquisition into modern history.
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