This book is the most important among my vast library of papal history books because McBrien includes many facts about the popes that I have only been able to find in obscure books. He lets us know who is favorite and least favorite popes are, but that helps to give a more personal approach to this topic, which is refreshing in that most informational (particularly historical) books tend to be so dry. This is an excellent sourcebook for those interested in papal history and can easily be read from cover to cover without the reader ever getting bored with the text. McBrien is an excellent writer and this is by far the most well-written, interesting, and informative books on the subject of popes that is readily available.
Apparently the author is a dissenter in the catholic church, unbeknowngst to me. I picked this up in Italy to read about all the popes(most of which I knew nothing about). This book, with its short synopsis on each pope is a great read. It also illustrates the marvelous variety of personalities that inherited the throne of peter. From the smiling Pope John Paul I to the warrior pope Julious II. It details the roman persecutions and shows how few popes were killed in the period, details the schisms and also the sexual adventures of the popes. Shows how many popes were murdered, and how many had short periods in power. It also details the papal election process and its developments. A must read for those interested in a history of the Popes without the usual tenderness associated with some publications and the usual wordiness of academics.