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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jehanne
Donald Spoto takes a departure from the pop-culture biography and applies his efforts toward the life of a young woman whose name is recognized by practically everyone, but whose life, although very well documented, has been perpetuated with myth and mysticism. There is something about Joan of Arc that that draws affection and devotion from people, something beyond her...
Published on March 2, 2008 by Seachranaiche

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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately Unknowable
This book disappointed me, but I think it was probably inevitable. I have a lot of respect for Spoto as a celebrity biographer, and as a professional theologian with a Ph.D. in religion, he's got the chops to write Joan's life. And, as he points out, due to the extensive contemporary historical records, including her long interrogation sessions, we probably know more...
Published on August 1, 2007 by Timothy Hallinan


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jehanne, March 2, 2008
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Donald Spoto takes a departure from the pop-culture biography and applies his efforts toward the life of a young woman whose name is recognized by practically everyone, but whose life, although very well documented, has been perpetuated with myth and mysticism. There is something about Joan of Arc that that draws affection and devotion from people, something beyond her remarkable exploits--something about Joan herself. As Spoto tells her story, he avoids the mythological and mystical: he does not dwell on the provenance of her sword, her seemingly divine ability to have been able to recognize the dauphin Charles, or the sudden change of wind at Orleans. He focuses instead upon the girl, in language that is often poignant and revealingly endearing.

For those who have studied Joan's life, through countless books, films, poems and plays, Spoto's take will read with the freshness of clean mountain air. Those who are just now taking up Joan's life (and especially those who have only seen the movies) will probably benefit more from Spoto's telling than any other available account. He embeds a chronology into the story, sometimes a day-by-day account, which helps the reader to comprehend events. He applies some of his own translations, which helps to clarify some of the fuzzier aspects of Joan's popular interpretation, and he includes some key details that are often overlooked, such as the unrelated deaths of Joan's older brother and sister, that two other brothers joined her during her campaigns, that her mother and father met her at Reims, and that her family was in Rouen during her imprisonment and execution. These are small details, but make for a more thorough story while eliminating the embellishments that have given rise to so much mythology. Spoto shows that Joan's factual life is much more compelling than her mythological life.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grace apparent through a teenaged girl, September 20, 2007
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Spoto's picture of Joan is of a brave, patriotic, spiritual girl who followed what she believed to be God's will.

His descriptions of her months of loneliness, terror and suffering -- chained in a dark dungeon and nearly starving -- and the disgraceful and dishonest onslaught from her tormentors will touch even a Joan skeptic.

Spoto's message: 1) God is against imperialism; and 2) He often sends the least likely person to do the job (in this case, defending the French nation and culture from English invasion).

Spoto's writing is lively, and he doesn't try to hide his admiration for this teenaged girl or his religious sensibilities. It is not a sermon, though, but an enthralling biography that makes a good introduction to Joan of Arc or adds to the understanding of those whom she continues to fascinate nearly six hundred years after her execution.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prelude to murder, February 23, 2009
By 
The first lesson to be learned about Joan's life is that it can't be understood strictly in modern context. Her life in fifteenth century France is remarkably well-documented, yet the girl eludes our understanding. Born in 1412 in the village of Domremy in eastern France, she grew up tending the family flocks and crops and learning the domestic arts. Like village girls of her time, her education was exclusively based around church and home; there was nothing extraordinary about her until she began having visions at the age of twelve.

Biographer Donald Spoto reminds us that a person of Joan's time--of any time--had only the vernacular to describe the indescribable. Saints and angels, sent from God, telling her to travel to Orleans and break the English siege, to bring the Dauphin to Rheims to be crowned as Charles VII ... the sheer implausibility of it!

England and France were engaged in a long-running dispute over the throne of France, with England claiming the French throne through the royal family's French connections. This dispute, The Hundred Years' War, had raged intermittently from 1337. After a huge French defeat at Agincourt in 1415, England took parts of France and formed alliances with French supporters of the English claim. In 1429 the English armies were on the brink of taking Orleans by siege, when Joan persuaded the Dauphin to let her lead the troops against the English.

The story is among the most widely retold in religious and secular culture: Joan in knight's armor leading the army to victory at Orleans; the triumphant coronation at Rheims; Joan's capture, Charles's refusal to pay her ransom, the irregularities and cruelty of her trial for heresy, her burning at the stake, and eventually her canonization as a saint. Records of testimony from the 1431 trial have been preserved, along with many eyewitness testimonies from the 1455 trial that exonerated her so long after her death. But understanding depends on medieval realities, such as the scriptural ban against cross-dressing, the significance of Joan's vow of virginity, the concept of divine right of kings to rule, and the peculiar power of the court of inquisition. In the end we can only try to understand.

Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint is a very accessible biography of a figure whose story is fascinating and unfathomable. I listened to the audio but can't really recommend it: the reading by the highly capable Dick Hill had an oddly staccato quality that, I believe, may have been engineered in somehow. Do choose this in book form; it's an excellent introduction to the life and times of the Maid of Orleans.

Linda Bulger, 2009
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately Unknowable, August 1, 2007
By 
Timothy Hallinan (Bangkok/Los Angeles) - See all my reviews
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This book disappointed me, but I think it was probably inevitable. I have a lot of respect for Spoto as a celebrity biographer, and as a professional theologian with a Ph.D. in religion, he's got the chops to write Joan's life. And, as he points out, due to the extensive contemporary historical records, including her long interrogation sessions, we probably know more about her life than we do about any of her contemporaries.

So why doesn't the book work for me? I think it is simply that Joan is ultimately unknowable. Much of how you regard her comes from what you think about the "voices" that guided her life -- were they legitimately divine, were they imaginary, were they the product of psychosis? Spoto knows this and spends a substantial amount of time on the voices, but in the end it's just impossible to come to any kind of opinion other than the one you held before you opened the book. And Joan in her testimony, straightforward and occasionally brilliant, is nonetheless opaque. When I finished the book, I felt I knew almost nothing more about her: she was an extraordinarily brave and clear-headed girl who heard voices, led military campaigns that essentially restored the king of France to his throne, and was abandoned by the monarch she returned to power and burned to death by the church that later sanctified her. But who was she, moment to moment? I'm not sure anyone will ever know.

Spoto subtitles the book "The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint." I'm not certain the mystery is one that can be solved.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-paced and compelling, February 3, 2009
Of the five biographies I've read on Joan, Spoto's stands out for it's even handed and compelling portrayal of one of history's more controversial figures. A depature from other biographies, Spoto's discriptions are vivid and exciting. His analytical skills are brought to bear as he dissects the trials of Condemnation and Rehabilitation, where characters that lie flat in other accounts are brought to life. This analysis is balanced by a sensitivity to Joan's spiritual side that, while far from being preachy, sheds light on the personal faith that was the basis for all she did. Spoto handles his subject with the skill of a well-trained biographer and the grace of a sensitive theologian. The result is excellent scholarship, insightful commentary and a well-paced narrative that make this an excellent read for believers and skeptics alike.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I liked this better than a more highly rated book on Joan, August 17, 2008
By 
Beck in SF (San Francisco) - See all my reviews
"Joan: The Mysterious Life" provided a chronological descripton of Joan's short life in a way that made her very human and compelling. This book provided great historical perspectives that gave insights into the possible thoughts and motivations of Joan, her supporters and her enemies - I learned a good deal about the French and English situations and ambitions in the early 15th century, and of the Church - enough to especially dislike the betrayal of Charles VII in failing to rescue the very person that gave him the crown and effectively saved France. It was emotionally involving, the things many people will do for money and power -- contrasting so sharply with the self-less, faith filled purity and purpose of Joan. Not that faith makes a differnce here to me (and the book does not take on the debate if Joan's visons were revealtions from God or not - only correctly suggests that Joan believed them them so, and this was enough), but Joan's purpose was decribed in such a way that reveals that her motives were indeed inspired and are inspiring.

To provide more understanding, I also just finished "Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc" which got 5 stars as opposed to this book's 4. "The Mysterious Life" presented Joan with much more personality and insight, "Myth" was more like a flat list of Joans' actions and activities by comparison.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Biography, August 19, 2008
Donald Spoto's Joan of Arc is powerfully written. The book addresses her early life as the daughter of a relatively prosperous farmer, her great piety, and, of course, the voices that she followed. Spoto describes earlier women who were believed to have been on divine missions and medieval beliefs regarding angels.

Spoto chronicles Joan's journey to the Dauphin's court and her successes at Orleans and Reims. He debunks the commonly accepted view that Joan's role was only inspirational: she actively led soldiers in battle (twice wounded) and helped draw up battle plans. Yet, she never personally killed an English soldier and would weep when she learned of English war deaths.

The treachery of Charles VII is well known and is reviewed by Spoto. That Charles did nothing to secure Joan's release remains beyond belief.

The puppet master at the interrogation and trial, Bishop Pierre Cauchon, is brilliantly portrayed, as is the whole sham tribunal. Joan's ability to match wits with the "learned" men who mercilessly interrogated her is, itself, a miracle.

Refreshingly, the author makes clear his own deep religious convictions throughout the carefully researched text.

This is a good, concise biography. Highly recommended for anyone who has any interest in keeping alive Joan's memory.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short, Concise and poignant, March 30, 2012
This review is from: Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint (Paperback)
If you are looking for another long, psychological investigative read into Joan's life filled, with an author's obsession with proving or disproving the voices that led Joan, this is not the book for you. Countless books focus on the historical Joan, theological Joan, mystical Joan, warrior Joan tending to focus heavily on one aspect while down-playing the rest. In Mr. Spoto's short book, he brillianty captures all the compex aspects of Joan, yet never wandering far from the simple farmer's daughter from Domremy with a remarkable mission. The style of the book invites one to live in Joan's world - France in the early 1400's and witness a truly historical, rare and other-wordly event without feeling that this is some type of mystical, Christian fiction. His capture of Joan's devotion to God and especially her respect for HIS Church does not overwhelm the story, but instead remains the driving force behind her actions. Mr Spoto couples that with her love of country and shows us that Joan is someone who would be a hero today against similar imperailism and tyranny. - RC
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A human life, May 29, 2011
This review is from: Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint (Paperback)
It is a concise and eloquent book, reminiscent of the beautiful clarity and careful construction of Joan's own words during her Kagaroo court of trial. It is a humble book, not designed to argue or imagine, but to weave together established facts into a tapestry of a human life. It does so, and with lively pacing and a latent character, shaping old subject matter until it takes on a life of it's own. It reads like a drama; Spoto takes a lot of time in painting the reality of her life, particularly her imprisonment, and it is sensitively-worded. He also has a flair for honing in on the juicy details of her story, like the courtly love between her and her "fair Duke" of Alencon, and her mysterious leap from her tower at Beurevoir. Joan has never been so alive in my heart, I believe that this is because the angle taken lets us glimpse some plausible human dimensions to our heroine. She is not disconnected from or heightened in the experience of human emotions here as she is stereotyped throughout film, literature and art. She does not come across as larger-than-life, but life-size. She feels surprisingly normal, not simply in the normalcy of her background but in the normalcy of her behavior. We see her utterly sociable, physically attractive and desirable, with a sense of humor, a woman who can be utterly vulnerable and scared, conventional, confused, practical and savvy. He preserves scenes where she jokes and cries, loves and misses others, has her confidence fail, relaxes, resents and calculates. And it's these touches of humanity that make her all the more endearing. I am also not of the opinion that the author's candid belief in God and that this wonderful, young woman was sent by him damaged the narrative, instead it allowed him to communicate her story with personalization, vividness and emotions, which a biography is nothing without, in the absence of these things they are simply extended Wikipedia articles. I say this from a non-partisan position, as I am not Christian or affiliated with any religion, I do not attend church and only read theological texts for their poetic value. Anyone can have a crush on this book, simply because it gives us something beautiful to see.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, balanced interesting read., September 9, 2007
By 
Having seen several films on her life, I wanted to know more.
The book explains the Englishes motivation to prosecute her, the wisdom of her responses, her belief in her life purpose/mission and expectation of an afterlife.
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Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint
Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint by Donald Spoto (Paperback - March 11, 2008)
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