Cover Image: The Bad Popes

The Bad Popes

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Member Reviews

As a Theology graduate, I enjoyed this book as I find it interesting to learn about the Church’s history. However, I often found it difficult to pick up and find motivation to read this, perhaps as I’m no longer a student? Would recommend to other Theologians/Historians.
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I had a lot of fun with this book and also glad to get to know a lot of popes and learnt some new words like Simony , Nepotism. 

I don't think these popes are that bad and its more like some of them are cutthroat brutal . This book failed to mention more bad things like pedophile popes, child sexual abuse. But nevertheless its still a great read and give me Game of Thrones vibes. The author did a good job of making this read like a fictional story instead of throwing off facts at you in a monotone way. I love it
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A scintillating look at some of the exemplars of ugliness in medieval Catholicism.

The author focuses on the Theophylacts, Boniface VIII, Urban VI and the Avignon difficulties, Alexander VI, and the Medicis: Leo X and Clement VII.  

The stories of simony, corruption, sex, murder, politicking, foreign policy, etc. are told in great detail.  The author would seem to tell these stories in order to advance the thesis that the combination of spiritual authority along with the "donation of Constantine" and the Papal States led to the terrible condition of the Papacy and the ultimate divisions manifest in the Reformation.

But it seems really to be just an opportunity to gawk at the immorality of the medieval papacy.
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It's always interesting, to me, to read historical accounts  in context of history.  So maybe the title isn't exactly what it is, it's still an informative and entertaining read. Humans can be just atrocious. Christianity is as up for grabs as anything else in this world. And people wonder why so many people are so cynical!  It would be interesting to see how our present will be  seen in 500 years.
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I’ve read a few biographies of the popes and histories of the church (including Absolute Monarchs by John Julius Norwich) and I believe that this history focuses in on what makes the papal seat so interesting through history. I thought going in that the book was going to focus primarily on the notorious bad popes like Stephen VI (who put his predecessor’s body on trial) or the legendary Borgias, both of which are segments of the book but not really the focus. Instead this book focused on the political power behind the papal throne. Which families felt control of the papacy important to their futures? How did the early nation states use the papacy to further their claims and their power? As a result, the book is more interesting than its title suggests. I think a salacious book on the worst popes wouldn’t have been as interesting.

Chamberlin goes into greater detail and writes with a grander narrative than most histories of the time period. It isn’t a short book but it feels easy to read and to contemplate. It brings up a lot of interesting ideas about temporal power and spiritual authority. It ends with 16th century and I wonder if later papal authority wouldn’t have been interesting to consider in light of the family and national struggles of the early modern people. I think that would have been fraught using the theme of “bad popes” with more recent office holders. It could have been interesting though.

Really well written and interesting.
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A graphic illustration of the ways matters can go awry when power—temporal and spiritual—intersects with greed, moral weakness and other personality defects, The Bad Popes harks back to a traditional style of historical writing. While entertaining, it thus explains many events by invoking regional or cultural characteristics that are invariably negative as well as mythical. Still, there are few subjects as entertaining as the bad choices and poor judgment of our fellow humans, especially when they clothe themselves in the mantle of righteousness. For me, the best chapter was the final one, about Clement VII. Having read a great deal about Henry VIII, it was fascinating to learn more about his counterpart on the papal throne. It added to my understanding of the personalities and politics in play.
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This book is not for light reading. It is very scholarly and the language is really dense. However it is informative and, once you get into it, fairly entertaining. If you have only a passing interest in the history of the papacy and its impacts on the world, this is probably not the book for you. If you're a serious history buff, you'll likely find this highly enjoyable.
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The first few pages of this book seemed very convoluted and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get through it.  But I persevered and found that the individual stories were actually very interesting.  The author did a good job keeping the names straight between the given name and family connections and the name taken by the pope.  But it was still challenging sometimes to keep with the popes, the princes, the emperors etc.  I have read many books about the popes and the Borgia and Medici families but still found I learned something new, especially about the political climate of the time.  While this does read a little like a history book it is still informative and easy to read.  I was given an ARC of this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
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DNF

Should have been a really interesting read. 
Terribly written with no explanations. Didn’t finish, sorry.
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The massive research, perfect representation of the underworld of papacy, criminal and speculations, power struggles and folk tales made this book an exceptional work. 
I trully appreciate all the references of urban legends, connections, conspiracies, speculations so carefully researched and presented to the reader. Under the facade of holy and clean intentions lies the demonic greed and power hunger. 
The author did an amazing work presenting filth in very nin offensive way to more religious readers. 
Definitely a five star read.
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Whilst I appreciated the length of each popes story, I felt there wasn't enough space given to what made that particular pope bad as the backstory seemed to take up a higher percentage than their wrongdoings. I was expecting it to be mostly about what they did that was really bad for example the pope who had one of his predecessors exhumed, put on trial, then put his body in a river, rather than lots of information about the pope's background which, whilst informative, didn't really spark any interest and watered down the badness/craziness of the pope. I have rated this book highly purely because of the research done and passion of the author, but I wouldn't purchase this book as I didn't feel it well covered what it should've been about
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Note : I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley. All the opinions expressed in this review are mine.

I’ve recently read a 580-pages-thick history of the popes, and when I saw the title of this book, I thought it might just be my cup of tea—I’ve always loved a good history book. At first I was a bit afraid I would encounter eight unconnected biographies with a list of dry details and dates, but in fact, things are skilfully put into perspective and explained within their respective time-frames, from Pope Stephen VI in the ninth century (instigator of the Cadaver Synod) to the second Medici pope Clement VII (sixteenth century), who by his indecision triggered the sack of Rome by imperial troops. 

I’m not a professional historian myself, so I cannot judge the scientific value of this glimpse of papal history. That being said, the read was a treat. The author is a gifted story-teller who doesn’t try to please experts with loads and loads of data but has grasped the simple truth that history when served in vivid stories is easier to digest for a layman, an amateur historian such as I, and makes it palpable, interesting, engaging. The writing style is fluid and well-paced, the chapters flowing with ease. Sometimes I almost had the impression of reading a well-written novel, I was so fascinated and drawn in. Yet Mr. Chamberlin is enough of an historian to make the reader aware that for instance some more colourful episodes of the papacy are mere myths with no grounds in historical data whatsoever : e.g. the legendary Pope Joan has probably never existed, and all the so-called evidence her existence is supposed to be based on is nothing more than a later add-on. Mr. Chamberlin cautions the reader when needed as to the dubious verisimilitude of certain events and points out the scarcity of sources especially during the Dark Ages. He makes the reader understand why those times have been dubbed thus : not because people were more barbarian than in later ages, but because those times were troubled and so little written evidence survives that the historian literally tries to shine some shy light into that document-less darkness.

The eight biographies, interesting in themselves, are well framed by general insights of the times those eight popes lived in as well as more personal details about their families, their social backgrounds, their careers. Thus one understands that some if not most of them were not bad per se (compared to their comtemporaries, some even strike as particularly nice chaps) but simply sat on the papal throne in times of trouble and didn’t succeed in steering the Holy See skilfully through rough waters. Mr. Chamberlin does not vilify nor glorify, but examines their lives, their times, their struggles and presents conclusions that sound plausible. All in all, if you’re interested in history and want to catch glimpses of the long and rich history of the popes (legend has it the first pope was Saint Peter himself, and the official although unreliable count says there have been more than 280), this is a very good introduction into understanding the shadier faces of this institution.
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Very good for a history book. Lots of research done to provide details of the dark side of the Catholic Church. The bad guys were especially bad when one takes into account that they were supposed to be spiritual leaders. I’d love to see a follow-up about the good popes.
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