Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: "God's Jury"

I picked up Cullen Murphy's God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) before bed last night, intending to just read a bit and then set it aside this morning while I turned to the newly-arrived Robert Caro doorstop. That didn't work, and I spent most of the day with Murphy's book instead (I've waited ten years for the Caro, it can wait another day, I decided). Once I started reading this one I knew there was going to be no putting it down.

From the Cathars to Galileo to Graham Greene, Murphy explores the origins, methods, processes and legacies of the Inquisition in all its various incarnations over the centuries, and then uses a series of unnervingly apt comparisons to show how the ideas and techniques first deployed during the Inquisition have gone far beyond theological investigation.

I'm not entirely sure how readers who aren't in agreement with Murphy on such questions as whether waterboarding is torture will respond to this book, but I had no problem with it, and found the section where he compares description of Inquisition-era interrogation techniques with modern manuals fairly remarkable (I suppose they oughtn't have surprised me as much as they did).

Murphy doesn't just argue his case, though; he also does quite a good job of describing the different archival repositories he visited in researching the book, and explores at some depth the records themselves (and the various uses to which they've been put by scholars), which makes for very interesting reading indeed. He is able to inject a certain amount of whimsical digression and witty humor into the subject as well; given the topic, this is most welcome.

Recommended without reservation.

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