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Many histories of the papacy are either hagiographical or contentious. Collins's (history, Univ. of Edinburgh; Visigothic Spain 409-711; Early Medieval Europe 300-1000) book is concise, objective, and eminently readable-scholarly but accessible to lay readers. He includes the scoundrels as well as the saints but does a fine job of presenting the history without a lot of editorial commentary, deftly letting the events speak for themselves. He does not dwell on one period more than others, instead presenting a sweeping view of the succession of popes in their historical contexts. While not ignoring the pope's role as a religious leader, Collins is more concerned with showing the part that the various popes played in the wider civilization. Eamon Duffy's Saints and Sinners, another one-volume history of the papacy, is written from a critical Catholic perspective. Collins's work shows no denominational bias, so it might be a better choice for public libraries. Those seeking basic facts are still well served by the Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
—Augustine J. Curley