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Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life Hardcover – March, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The world would not seem to need another biography of Francis of Assisi, the Italian saint who has charmed the religious and the irreligious alike in the eight centuries following his death in 1226. Indeed, House, who has spent many years in the publishing world in London, begins this one with an explanation for having added to the "legion" of books about the saint. Quite simply, he confesses, he was curious about Francis and "this book is the result." It is a happy one at that. The four years House devoted to writing about and researching the life of Francis were clearly well spent; his book is not only comprehensive in treatment but superbly written. He draws the reader into the saint's life with the ease of a master storyteller who has organized the details so skillfully as to allow them to do the work of spinning the tale. His method of setting Francis in the context of the times that shaped him is especially effective. He explains, for example, how dreams were taken seriously in the Middle Ages and how they in turn were significant to Francis in discerning his spiritual calling. Without casting Francis as a modern environmentalist or feminist, House nonetheless shows how the saint's great love for creation and regard for women captured the essence of these later movements. House's approach also gives the relationship between Francis and St. Clare new texture and meaning without overly romanticizing it. By writing for those of any or no faith, the author has given aficionados of Francis and Clare as well as the merely curious much to savor. (Mar.)Forecast: Although the market is comfortably full of biographies of this popular saint, this title offers additional crossover appeal to women and those interested in ecospirituality. This biography attracted stellar reviews when it was published in the U.K. last year; Hidden Spring will support the book's U.S. debut with national publicity, New York and San Francisco author engagements and a 500,000-piece direct mail campaign.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

House has provided a sizzling tale of adventure and spirituality within the format of a biography of St. Francis. An enormous amount of legend surrounds the few historically certain facts of the saint's life, but the author displays his awareness of the problem. Acknowledging that he is not a historian, House is still able to produce a work that makes creative use of both historical and legendary material while always being conscious of the historical roots. Three things make his work different from others. First, he makes the most of the "almost continuous drama of [Francis's] life without sacrificing accuracy." Second, he effectively sets Francis's life within the social, economic, military, and religious forces of Italy during this time (1182-1226). And third, he shows in detail how the lives of Francis and Saint Clare were interwoven. Beginning with Francis's youth, including his military time, House describes the visions of Francis, his relations with various Popes, and the eventual founding of the Order. His description of events at the end of Francis's life are especially interesting. What results is not a spare presentation of historical facts but a vivid, interesting, and readable extended historical speculation on St. Francis.DDavid Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HiddenSpring (March 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587680092
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587680090
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,250,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adrian House saunters through the life of Francis of Assisi pretty much as I imagine Francis himself traveled the Italian countryside. He is in no particular hurry, he takes time to digest the curiosities of his journey, and on occasion he stops altogether to sing and celebrate what he had discovered. House is deeply respectful of his sources--Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure of the thirteenth century, for example, or Bishop John Moorman of our own day-and he is less skeptical than other biographers of devotional sources like The Little Flowers. He has produced a biography that neither labors under its own gravity nor settles into the bog of ecclesiastical mush.
It is House's periodic detours that also distinguish this work. We get a primer of Italian city-state politics, street life in the towns, the idiosyncrasies of bishops and noblemen, and the temper of contemporary church life and piety. We get a very thorough immersion into the appalling poverty that was the routine lot of most grim souls in the thirteenth century. We get descriptions of the papal court on vacation, the atmosphere of a medieval ecumenical council, and the eccentric sumptuousness of the Sultan's war camp. We learn probably more than we want to know about the horrors of the siege of Damietta during the Fifth Crusade. We also enter into the private musings of the author himself who takes time to speculate on such matters as whether Francis had some premonition of the Big Bang Theory.
House's Francis is a saint in every sense of the word: a humanitarian of historic proportions whose religious commitment to Gospel and Church almost single-handedly redeemed medieval Catholicism as a holy communion. In retelling an oft-told tale, House succeeds in giving us new ways to look at Francis.
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Format: Hardcover
I have long admired St. Francis of Assisi. A truly holy man, I was confirmed under his name. And yet, his ideal of living a life of poverty and service is something I could never find the courage to emulate to any significant degree. Still, it is heartening to read of his life. In our modern world, we need all the inspiration we can find. Adrian House has done a good job of using the life of Francis to provide inspiration for us.
One of the main things I like about House's work here is that he provides the story of man who is truly human. I quickly tire of biographers who try to throw only good light on their subjects. This is a particular danger when writing of a person many consider to be a saint. Still, for saints to really inspire, to lead us towards the good, we must be able to see ourselves in them. Like many great saints (Paul, Augustine, etc.), Francis lived the rather loose life of a wealthy young man for many years before the revelation that turned him into the man he became and House is not afraid to show us this. Even better, House recounts instances of Francis losing his temper and making mistakes after his transformation but with the caveat that Francis, unlike most, always tried to make amends for his transgressions. This, in my mind, is what is best about Francis.
The weakness of this book is that is caters a little too much to a modern, ecumenical audience. Francis was a product of twelfth century Italy and we lose a sense of time with all the interspersed quotations from post-Middle Ages, multicultural sources which shed little light on the man Francis was. I love to read Shakespeare, Buddha and the like, but not here. This is somewhat a matter of taste, however.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Usually, a historical text such as this one bores me to death with its "educated" language and more detail than one could ever care about. But today, while searching for a birthday gift for a friend who, like me, has been touched by the piety of Francis, I sat and read for an hour, and was compelled. I usually am especially intrigued by the relationship between Frances and his young protegé, Clare. I was pleased to find a book that admitted that theirs was a love affair, albeit unconsummated, and pretty much in her mind, only; a situation I can relate to, unfortunately, only too well. Finally, here is a text that shows me what Francis was about, but doesn't seek to convert or evangelize. Detailed enough to clear up some things I may have read elsewhere without boring me with too much. When I got to the photographs in the center of the book, it was the photograph of the bones of Francis that brought home to me that this man did exist, and I found myself mourning his loss right there in the bookstore. When a book does that to me, I've got to have it.
Did we need another biography on Francis of Assisi? In my opinion, yes, we did, and this is the best of all of them. This is a book that, once I was able to try it, I bought it. Not at the bookstore in which I auditioned it, but here, at Amazon.com, where it was cheaper.
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Format: Paperback
The strongest parts of this biography are in House's relation of the changing feudal world around Assisi and Perugia to the papal-German battles in Italy and the rise of the mercantile class into which Francis was born. Also, the chapter that looks into the early spirituality of the first friars adds valuable understanding to what must have inspired many to take up the evangelical and mendicant challenge.

The excursion into the Middle East, especially the siege of Damietta, remains helpful for an appreciation of the never-ending cruelty of warfare in this contentious region, but you do lose sight as a reader of the place of this episode within the immediate experience of Francis' diplomatic apostolate. In later stretches of the narrative, the debate over poverty receives important attention, but the machinations of the friars replacing the discipline of the Order's founder with a more pragmatic system needed further explanation, as did the claim by House that the refusal of the Third Order to bear arms for a lord undermined the whole feudal structure and helped advance the power of the middle class. Certainly, the latter theory deserves much more depth than House gives to it here.

The few photos are excellent. One in particular, near to the life of the saint, shows his face hallowed out like an El Greco figure, if not as elongated, seemingly hunched over and suffering with an individuated expression as if drawn by one who knew him. It speaks eloquently for a man who, while praising nature, punished his Brother Ass of a body into an early death.

Such a contradiction, House only can hint at, stands as his legacy.
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