To My Most Recent Love,

I’ve been thinking about this for weeks, and I’ve come to the difficult conclusion that it’s just not going to work between us. We’re too different. You’re so worldly and you deserve someone who will be able to really understand you for who you are. For weeks now, it’s been getting more difficult to understand your nuances, and I can tell you are headed in a direction that I won’t be able to follow. When we started, I was so excited about the idea of you. You were witty and sly, knowledgeable and you had a sense of history. I was taken by you. And the first few days were great—you taught me things I never knew and made me feel like I was someone I wasn’t. But alas, there was always something about you that I just couldn’t grasp. It’s gotten worse, and let’s face it, you know it too. Don’t be surprised if you get a late night call or text from me, maybe when I’m slightly drunk, and I’ll try to make this work again. But long-term, it’s probably not going to work. Can we just be friends?

Sincerely,
Brendon

Let me explain. I started Absolute Monarchs by John Julius Norwich after reading this New York Times review. I should have stopped there. The book is indeed witty and chock full of nuggets about the papacy that are fascinating and horrifying at the same time. But I felt like I was getting only about half the jokes. I have just a terrible grasp of world history and to truly understand the ramifications of each story Norwich tells, I think you need a working knowledge of world empires, wars, and history. My historical dexterity is pretty limited to U.S. affairs, so this book was a real challenge for me.

I’m positive I could have finished this book. I just know I’m not getting out of it all that I should be. So maybe one day when I’ve done a little more basic relearning of world history, I’ll come back to this.

I will say that I’m fortunate that I made it through enough of the book (about 140 pages) to get to the chapter about Pope Joan. What a great, though likely false, story. Norwich calls it a “hoary canard,” which is typical of his style of writing. He’s droll and intelligent at the same time.

Some of you are probably students of world history or students of the church. If you are either, read this book. I promise you’ll love it. And if you have a good book to recommend that’s an easily accessible primer on world history, leave it in the comments. Oh, and if this is your first post that you are reading on this blog, check out some of the other posts. In those, I’ve written about books that I’ve actually finished.

Thanks for reading.