Apr 21, 2009

The Concise History of the Catholic Church, by Thomas Bokenkotter

Despite being nearly 650 pages long, this book really does live up to its name. Starting at the very beginning with a discussion of the historical Jesus and ending with an epilogue written upon the death of Pope John Paul II, this book give just enough depth to be informative without weighing the reader down in too many particulars. The book goes chronologically, though also thematically inside the chronological order. The author rightly organizes the later part of the book by pope, while the earlier part of the book is less rigidly structured.

The book was mostly written and published in the 1970s, and it shows. Though there are 100+ pages written after that period for the books newest edition published a few years ago, there was obviously no effort to update any of the scholarship or conclusions drawn in the earlier part of the book. Much of the book's work, therefore, seems rather anachronistic and outdated. The editing, also, is not very good. Misspelled words and run-on sentences, though not frequent, are not rare, either. And the writing itself is somewhat awkward, though in the added sections at the end, it is clear that the author has progressed significantly in his writing abilities.

Being a student of both religion and history, what was most interesting about the book was the fact that, as the author himself states, it was written by a Catholic for Catholics. It is very interesting to see what he glossed over, what he didn't shy away from writing about, how he spun or didn't spin things. As such, while also being informative, this book was quite interesting simply from a scholarly point of view.

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