Book Review: The Popes By John Julius Norwich

There are many ways to write a historical book that isn’t a textbook, and depending on how it’s written you’re automatically opening or closing doors in terms of your audience. Spend too much time on the story, and you lose people who want more hard historical facts. Spend too much time on the nitty gritty data, and you lose an audience who might be no more than casually interested in the topic. It’s a tricky thing to handle for sure.

In The Popes, John Julius Norwich manages to get the balance just right, going through thousands of years of Papal history in his book. He provides the bare essentials of information about every single pope there has been (even ones that probably didn’t exist, such as Joan) and because no one account is extremely long it’s a book that will satisfy casual enthusiasts as well as more serious historians looking to brush up knowledge or check for some basic facts. Of course, if any of your studies involve very in depth investigations on these popes Norwich’s book is no more than a starting point.

But he does manage to make the machinations of the Catholic church as exciting and dynamic as any secular political dynasty. The sheer number of characters involved means that the book is certainly a long one, but I’d definitely recommend it to those interested the progression of great seats of power: after all, few monarchies still existing today have survived in such a constant form as per the Throne of St. Peter, and even less have captured such hearts, minds, and unwavering devotion.

This is a book I’d gladly recommend to anyone, and for those who are thinking of giving it a try, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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