The papacy is one of the more interesting offices in the world - in essence the oldest democracy in the world. The pope, in spite of the notion that he is appointed by God, is elected by bishops, and as the book reveals, often with less-than-holy intentions. The biggest asset for this book is the illustrations of the popes, with the art reflecting the evolution of the religion and the European Renaissance. But the book is really more of a timeline of the office, rather than biographies of the indivdual pontiffs. Often, entire reigns are lumped together as a general trend in the papacy, and some popes earn no more than a quick mention of their ascention. Granted, many of them deserve no more, but for those curious as to the individual stories behind each Father, this book will come up lacking. Even some of the more sordid and disgraceful popes, like John XII or Alexander IV, are taken in stride in this chronicle, where the reader probably would have appreciated a bit more detail on the story. The history of the Throne of Peter is one of the more intriguing tales in European history, and to have them reported in this sterile manner doesn't do justice for those fascinated by the men under the mitres. But for those who want to see a general progresion of the office and its evolution from humble beginnings to corrupt demagogue to modern and politically inactive spiritual leader, this book is a good tool. Plus, in a genre and with a topic that is rarely the subject of unbiased scrutany, it has value in its objective portrayal of bizarre and often sacriligous history of the Holy See.
The illustrations in this book are wonderful, but the descriptions are not very detailed, and the book does not give references. For example, it is said that a particular pope was highly critisized, but it doesn't say by whom or what was the pope's response -- if any -- to that criticism. (Nor does it cite any documents that critisize him.) It accuses another pope of "extensive" nepotism, without mentioning which members of his family he gave jobs to or even how many people the author means by "extensive" and again no references are given. I did not find the "rose colored glasses" nor apologist approach that another reviewer mentioned, but the lack of references made this book of limited, and questionable, value.