Michael Walsh's summary history of papal elections moves remarkably quickly: 2,000 years in under 200 pages. Popes are chosen, only to die quickly -- sometimes in the very next sentence. So this is not in any sense a history of the papacy. The author has focused his attention quite narrowly, and for general readers looking for an introduction to this interesting and timely topic, he has succeeded admirably.
Walsh's text emphasizes the changing dynamics involved in papal elections over the centuries, including the waxing and waning of various political and popular influences. Although Church doctrine says the Holy Spirit chooses the next Bishop of Rome (and the machinations of plotters have often been defeated in surprising ways), more earthly and secular powers have had big roles to play too. Though it's not always easy to decipher the backroom politicking or strong-arming, the author has sorted facts and speculation into a very readable history. Though specialist historians will no doubt be left wanting something more in-depth, and I for one deeply regretted the absence of an index, most general readers will probably find this gives them a good comprehensive overview.
This is a short book, which is unfortunate, given the period of time that it covers: all of the papal elections from the beginning of the Church until the present. Because of the timeline, and the books lack of length, everything is really compressed, and the reader only gets the barest sense of what happened during many of these elections, particularly in the very early days. That's not actually a bad thing, for it certainly whets the appetite of the interested reader to delve further into period … more