We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Western Exceptionalism–the idea that European civilizations are freer, wealthier, and less violent–lies beneath a vast array of world events and political activities, past and present. It has been a source of peace and prosperity in some societies, and ethnic cleansing and havoc in others. It has also been the subject of more than a hundred years of academic debate.

The fundamental question — why are Western societies better off? — has given rise to many political theories, including some of the most dangerous and racist ones in the world. In this book, political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita lays waste to these treacherous ideas, and explains the consolidation of power in the West through a single, little noticed event: the 1132 Concordat of Worms (pronounced “Verms.”)

Bueno de Mesquita makes a deeply researched and very persuasive case that the Concordat changed the terms of competition between churches and nation-states, incentivizing economic growth and benefiting citizens over kings and popes. In the centuries since, those countries that have had similar arrangements have been consistently better off than those that did not.

This is a remarkable work of scholarship — insightful, original, and essential all at once. Popes and Kings asks who we are and where we came from, and answers these questions resoundingly.