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Book Reviews of Pope Joan

Pope Joan
Pope Joan
Author: Donna Woolfolk Cross
ISBN-13: 9780345416261
ISBN-10: 0345416260
Publication Date: 1996
Pages: 448
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.

4.1 stars, based on 379 ratings
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

58 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

shukween avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 118 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 21
An awesome read! Little known sources in history suggest there was once a woman who attained the seat of St Peter and became Pope in the 9th century. Cross builds the hints in these sources into a recreation of the woman who achieve this amazing feat, detailing the life of the young, curious Joan and the circumstances that lead her to forego her female identity and enter a monastery disguised as a man. This fateful decision sets her on a path and career that ends in her election as Pope. Very very well written, by an author with great attention to historical accuracy and detail--the end notes at the back on her 'errata' from known history are superb. The very best in historical fiction---a novel that leaves you believing it is absolutely true.
avsjen avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 21 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 12
As the author says, this is a fictionalized account of a much-disputed event in the 800s, definitely the Dark Ages. Joan's life was hard, as was that of most women's. The things we take for granted now were beyond a dream for most women (and men) in those days.

I thought the author wrote well, and I had a hard time putting it down. This is apparently the author's only fiction book, which is too bad; I would gladly read another of hers.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 71 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 12
Fascinating book. As an English major, I specialized in the medieval period, and I can say that the author got the details right. Although this is a highly fictionalized account of the history of the female Pope, it is a believable one.
demiducky25 avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 161 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 10
Personally, this is the best book I've read in a while. I really enjoyed the author's writing style and how she mixed history with fiction. Despite what you think about Pope Joan (fictional creation or real person who's history has been covered up), I think you will appreciate this book for its compelling story telling and wonderfully fleshed out characters. Joan feels trapped in her female body and tries to gain acceptance as a girl seeking an education. When that fails and nearly gets her trapped in an unwanted marriage, she assumes her dead brother's identity and continues her education as a man. Joan struggles with her female urges as she is in love with her kind benefactor, a relationship that is initially impossible because he is married and she is living with his family, but is later made more difficult because Joan is living as a man. I couldn't stop talking about this book after reading it (and while reading it), so even though I had originally intended to swap it when finished, I can't bring myself to part with it just yet! If you are looking to read something that is going to make you think, this is the book! :-)
MarciNYC avatar reviewed Pope Joan on
Helpful Score: 8
I really enjoyed this book although when I started it, I didn't think I would. The first bit dragged for me, but when Joan got the opportunity to study and follow her dreams, I was pulled into the story.

While I have no opinion either way whether Pope Joan did or did not exist, I did spend a lot of time clicking through my Google search on her. I found it to be an interesting story and if Pope Joan did exist, it made for fantastic reading.
beachgal avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 30 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 7
I really enjoyed both the history and the characters in this historical fiction novel. I didn't know much about the ninth century and the author really brought that period to life for me.

This is the story of the only woman to become pope (or so it is said). Joan loves to learn but as a woman, she is barred from it. When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, Joan sees her chance and assumes his identity. She enters a Benedictine monastery where she learns and becomes known as a scholar and healer. Eventually she goes to Rome and in time, becomes Pope. The story is vivid, honest/realistic, and the characters are exceptionally well drawn. A great read!
reviewed Pope Joan on + 15 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
A very interesting account of a 9th century woman who refuses to follow the traditional, limited female life and instead adopts the identity of her brother to gain an education. Cross does a good job of portraying life at that time, even if the main characters sometimes seem a bit modern in their thinking.
Philly avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 38 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
A mesmerizing tale of the dark ages and the ability of a woman to succeed in getting an education, and become a rising member of the Catholic Church. Though this book is historical fiction, there is plenty of evidence to support the theory that she did exist and, indeed was a reigning Pope for two years.
tish avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 384 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
a wonderful historical fiction about the mythical Pope Joan.
it got a little tedious at the end
reviewed Pope Joan on + 21 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I LOVED this book! It's the story of a woman and the trials she went through to live in a man's world during a time when women weren't considered human.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
As a Catholic, I read this book from a fictional point of view and enjoyed the story. The author does state that she has changed several things in order to make a good story and there are no way for the facts to be proven. That said, she is an excellent write with a wonderful ability to put you deep in the story. Our entire book club did agree that she painted a very good time line toward the front of the book, but you were left wondering how much time past in the second half. This was a very fast read and a difficult book to put down. I would recommend this book in a minute.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 44 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This book wasn't quite what I had expected, but it was a great read. The misogynistic tendencies of the 9th century comes across with vivid clarity, and the very acute danger implicit for a woman who wanted to use her brains--or be in any way different--is emphasized in a way which makes one think that Pope Joan's life was truly a miracle. I'm frustrated to not be able to know more about this pope!
reviewed Pope Joan on + 264 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This book is loosely based on true events of the early nineth century. During the Dark Ages, very few people could read or write, and it was considered unnatural, even evil, for a girl to want to learn. Joan had an extraordinary mind that was hungry for knowledge. Despite severe punishments, she sought schooling at every turn, eventually disguising herself as a man in order to enjoy the freedom of pursuing her education and her career as a healer. She had to deal with keeping her secret and the danger of her practical questions during a time when questioning anything was seen as heretical.

I loved this book! The story flowed smoothly around events that happened during the period while following the characters and their individual lives as they were influenced or changed by the politics of their times. It was easy to read - you do not get bogged down in the history itself. The author takes you to their world so that you feel you know them. That is what I like most in a book. I definitely enjoyed this book!
reviewed Pope Joan on
Helpful Score: 1
A great read, it was hard to put down. I had never heard about this Pope, but the author's research has convinced me ...
reviewed Pope Joan on
Helpful Score: 1
If you love historical fiction, you will love this! I never learned a darn thing from history classes...I get it all from books like these!!! wonderful read.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Whether you consider this book historical fiction or just fiction, it makes for a very interesting read. A very insightful narrative of the lives of women in the 800s, as well as everyday life and the power of the Catholic church.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 25 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
What I really enjoyed in this book is the feel you get for 9th century life. It's view of the Christian Church at that time and how positions within the church were politically bought and sold is also a good reminder of of how much corruption existed at the time.
reviewed Pope Joan on
Helpful Score: 1
Excellent Read! Well written and researched, the ending was a little thin but the novel as a whole was good.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 2 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
The story is fascinating and well worth reading, with this caveat: the author's reliance on some storytelling devices common to historical/romance novels makes various situations, reactions, characterizations, etc. too obvious. When my reading group discussed the book, my criticism was in the minority; most of the others focused on the historical event--a woman who served as pope--and thought I was too critical. However, I think the author "took the easy way out" in telling the story. Also, the Reader's Guide questions at the conclusion were very simple--and the writer of the questions seems to be unaware that women continue to experience inequality, even in the United States. Still, I hope others will read the book.
reviewed Pope Joan on
Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed this book. great story with lots of historical detail!
reviewed Pope Joan on + 143 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!
"Engaging...Pope Joan has all the elements: love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets." ---Los Angeles Times
reviewed Pope Joan on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Intelligant, well-written, well researched. A joy to read and to recommend to friends who like this genre.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 192 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
A very interesting story
sfc95 avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 686 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
this is an exceelent historical fiction book. Now Joan has some extrordinary things happen to her that are far fetched, but hey you know she is going to be pope by the title, so it really isn't a mystery. if you can get past the far fetched things you will love the book as I did.
paige avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
This is an excellent read, wonderful history and a great story line. Shows the power of women and the religion of the time very well.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 2 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Very good book!
reviewed Pope Joan on + 16 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
interesting combination of history and fiction.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 14 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
It has all the elements one wants in a historical drama: love, sex, violence, duplicity and long-buried secrets.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 70 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
If you're fascinated with Church history, this is interesting and
compelling reading. Historical in some fact and great reading all the way.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 34 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Fascinating and intriguing.
ruthleesugarandspice avatar reviewed Pope Joan on
Excellent read! Even if Joan's reign as Pope is fictionalized, as other reviewers point out, it's a fascinating look into medieval Europe reminiscent of Follett's Pillars of the Earth. Joan is a strong, likable character living in a time where women's roles were limited to little more than child-bearing as she tries to transcend her traditional role to reach greatness.

Personally, I found the author a little detached from the story, and other readers may not enjoy the slightly lengthy descriptions of life in the Middle Ages as much as I did, but all in all, a highly recommended read for feminists and history-lovers alike.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 141 more book reviews
For thousand of years men have denied her existence- Poap Joan, the womanwho disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. Now this compelling novel animates the legend with a portrait of an unforgettable woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.
When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his identity and enters a Benedictine monastery where, as brother John Anglicus, she distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer. Eventually drawn to Rome, she soon becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics that threatens her life even as it elevates her to the highest throne in the Western world.
UALabGeek avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 46 more book reviews
Loved it. I'm not convinced that it's very accurate but it sure ought to be. A "what if" as in "what if a woman somehow slipped into the Papacy?"
reviewed Pope Joan on + 54 more book reviews
This was a truly fascinating novel, based on the real legend of Pope Joan, a woman who disguised herself as a man and became Pope of the Catholic Church. In addition to being a compelling story in itself, the author did a great job of describing what life (and the Catholic Church) was like 1200 years ago with enough depth to put the reader back there, but without reading like a dry history book.

Two thumbs up.
reviewed Pope Joan on
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Excellent book!
reviewed Pope Joan on + 27 more book reviews
Gives a good background of the time of the "Dark Ages" in
Europe and the lives of people during that era of history. It was enlightening to me to see that even though women were seen as inferior, there were those who recognized their value.
Story line kept you interested and involved in her life.
I definitely recommend and would like to see other writings by this author. Lots of research was required to come up with this.
reviewed Pope Joan on
A fascinating book, I gave it 4 stars out of 5. Could have done with about fifty less pages, though, as kind of dragged on near the end.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 8 more book reviews
This book was much more interesting than I had expected. I found myself wanting to keep reading to find out what happened next. I really enjoyed it.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 17 more book reviews
Loved the story!
Nedheadz avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 128 more book reviews
A fascinating exploration of the legend of Pope Joan. It certainly gives a gal pause when considering is there a war on women today????? Hardly, after reading the prejudices and the persecutions that Joan endured growing into womanhood it's little wonder that she assumes her dead brother's identity and pursues her own ambitions. A well written engaging tale that gives good supporting documentation for the existence of the story.
paigu avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 120 more book reviews
Reminded me a lot of the sequel to "Pillars of the Earth" in terms of strong female characters struggling against the male-dominant world of the middle ages. But whereas the characters (male and female) in "PoE" were overboard/exaggerated and highly entertaining, most characters in "Pope Joan" were just too quiet and bland to really register. Joan was definitely the strongest voice throughout, but unfortunately she resolves a good deal of her problems by just, well, running away. Ugh. Her love conflict is predictable and boring. But if you hold on, the last few chapters that describe Joan's life inside Rome and the politics inside Vatican City (guess it wasn't called that yet) are energetic and quite interesting.
Modaba avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 75 more book reviews
Donna Woolfolk Cross has created a wonderful historical novel. Joan is a heroine that will live in my heart forever. When I started reading this book, it was at a time when I was unable to devote my undivided attention to reading it. For this reason, the story seemed to drag a bit. I think this was my fault and not that of the story itself. Once I was able to spend more time with it, I couldn't put it down. Well written and creative, it will make you think about the likelihood of the real possibility that indeed a female Pope once ruled in Rome. Of course, the author portrays Pope Joan as a Pope of the we all know a female Pope truly would be! A great read!
reviewed Pope Joan on + 34 more book reviews
When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his indentity and is eventually drawn to Rome. Here she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics. I liked this book even though as a romantic I found parts of it tragic.
TXGrobanite avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 270 more book reviews
At first, I didn't think I would like it. In fact, I put it aside when I had more time. I decided to give it another try and as it got going, I couldn't put it down. Joan's character developed really well and it gave you something to really think about.
vavoice avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 158 more book reviews
I was very impressed! Though this work of fiction is based on a legend that has its roots in the deepest, darkest part of the dark ages, the historical questions raised are as significant as those attributed to Dan Brown's 'DaVinci Code'. I know this story has been around a while--It was also made a movie...twice--but I would still recommend it to those who, as I was, are unaware of this historical singularity.
komd avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 2 more book reviews
I thought this was a very good read. Lot's of history even though it's a book of fiction. The characters are interesting even though some are not quite believable. All in all it definitely held my attention.
nnaylime avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 14 more book reviews
I would actually rate this at about 3.5 stars. It wasn't a bad book, in fact I quite enjoyed it. And while the author did a great deal of research there were still anachronisms--e.g., the protagonist appreciating a masterpiece of medieval architecture (really??)

I did like that she took pains to make John a very learned, generally quite chaste woman--which makes sense in the context of the times for any women who was attempting to get out of the expected role.

However, at the same time, the hard lot given to women of the time was somewhat heavy-handed, and a little more subtlety rather than direct statement in this area would've been appreciated.

Finally, while I appreciated the political machinations and general instability of 'regions' as a necessary background to the broader story (given that the Catholic church was so central all of it and the only authority higher than emperors and kings), given the way the countries don't resemble what they are now maps (where is Frankenland (is it France? Germany? Belgium? Who are the Saracens and where do the come from? etc) would've been very useful and appreciated.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 2 more book reviews
I got this for my wife, she loved it, great for fans of historical fiction
TarynC avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 213 more book reviews
I Loved the first half of this book - it was filled with well reseached history of the brutal times of the 9th century - life, rules, law, medicine etc. Then the author decided to turn it into a romance and it lost me. Its hard to write historical fiction I am sure, but I think the author wasnt sure where she was going with this book. Nevertheless it was still a fairly interesting read.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 134 more book reviews
Just couldn't get into this one enough to finish the book.
katknit avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 355 more book reviews
Well researched and written tale about the legendary female pope.
dogblueglass avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 5 more book reviews
Excellent book! Very engaging. I didnt want the story to end.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 16 more book reviews
This book was good, took me longer than usual to finish but it wasn't due to not liking it, I just had to reread things at times. What she did was amazing and as a person who lives in a time where we could have a woman president I just can't believe history was the way it was...
reviewed Pope Joan on + 93 more book reviews
Interesting book.
Tesstarosa avatar reviewed Pope Joan on + 151 more book reviews
Life in Dark Ages of 9th Century Europe was hard and it was especially hard for women. It was even more difficult if you were a woman who wanted to be educated. Pope Joan is a historically fictional account of the life of Joan/John Angelicus who, according to legend, was made Pope and ruled the Catholic Church for about two years in the mid-ninth century.

Joan is the third child born to a Catholic priest and his pagan wife. A woman who he saved when the Christians invade the Saxon countries. She has two older brothers, Matthew and John. Matthew is very intelligent and is studying to be a priest as his father. John struggles with his studies but this is not a problem until Matthew dies. Now his father expects John to take Matthews place and become a priest, but John doesnt have the aptitude for studies and struggles with his lessons.

In the meantime, Joan has secretly started to learn she convinced Matthew to teach her before his death. Joan learns the lessons readily and strongly desires to learn more, but she has to do so without her fathers knowledge or she must face his wrath.

The Greek tutor her father hires to teach her brother John learns that Joan is an excellent student and wants to teach only her. Her father reluctantly agrees with the caveat that the tutor must work with both John and Joan.

Her Greek tutor leaves, but promises that he will send a new tutor for Joan. When the time comes for Joan to go for more tutoring, her father insists that the requested student is John (Johannes) and that the name Joan (Johanna) written on the letter is simply a mistake. Her brother John is taken for further study. That night, Joan sneaks out and follows the caravan with her brother.

In their new home, Joan befriends Gerold who becomes her benefactor and is allowed to continue her studies. Her brother John, while continuing his studies, is also allowed to pursue his true desire to become a soldier along with his studies.

A tragedy befalls the village where Joan lives and her brother is killed, but Joan is one of the lone survivors. As her brother was about to be sent off to a monastery, Joan takes this opportunity to assume his identity. She cuts off her hair and binds herself and heads off to the monastery to continue her studies and her life.

She is accepted as her brother, John, but also has to work very hard to not be discovered.

Eventually, she ends up in Rome working with the Curia. Much to her surprise she elected Pope. She has a very brief, roughly two year reign as pope.

The story ends at her death.

The Catholic Church has claimed the legend of Pope Joan to be a story to somehow subvert the Church. Yet, as the author has pointed out, the legendary story of King Arthur is consider based on fact and she has found less actual evidence of the existence of King Arthur than she has found for evidence of Pope Joan. The author did not want to prove or disprove the existence of Pope Joan, so she chose to write an historical fictional account of a woman who disguised herself as a man and accidentally became pope.

I had heard the legend of Pope Joan and enjoyed this story immensely. While reading the story, I knew that eventually she would become Pope, but I was always a bit apprehensive about whether or not she was about to be found out and what would happen so that she could continue living as a man.

The author constantly reminds the reader that Joan is not a man by writing about Joan as Joan. She is only referred to as Brother/Father/Pope John when addressed by other characters in the story.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.
reviewed Pope Joan on
Read book some time ago remember as a good read.
reviewed Pope Joan on + 12 more book reviews
Engaging...POPE JOAN has all the elements: love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets.
-Los Angeles Times
reviewed Pope Joan on
I am (always) reading several books at the same time. Currently the number is 4.

I have them scattered in different parts of the house. Usually, where I feel most comfortable reading the subject matter.

If you saw the movie there's no reason to compare them because everyone knows they are never the same.

By choice, I am not a fast reader. So far, I am liking the book and it's easy writing/reading style. I find it very enjoyable to read and it does keep my interest.

I enjoy reading books about Europe (with no particular time period liked over another) because I lived in Germany for 9 years and traveled to most of the countries.