The punchy Penguin Lives series is the best thing to hit popular biography in some time, and Thomas Cahill is just the fun and erudite guy to Penguinize Pope John XXIII. He captures both the irresistible character of Angelo "Little Angel" Giuseppe Roncalli, a peasant born in backwards Bergamo, and his place in world and church history. In fact, Cahill shows, as John XXIII, Angelo brought the church into the modern world in the 1960s, upsetting the poisoned apple cart of his nefarious predecessor, Pius X, whom Cahill convincingly likens to a Joe McCarthy with the private meanness of Nixon. John XXIII anticipated liberation theology by seven decades, reached out to Protestants and even non-Christians, and saved thousands of Jews from Hitler by wily machinations Cahill aptly compares to Paul's epistle to Philemon. (Cahill says it's unfair to brand Angelo's immediate predecessor, Pius XII, as Hitler's Pope
--though he was a "moral pygmy" next to the giant John XXIII.) Cahill gives a quickie history of the Papacy that generations of cramming history students will thank God for, and includes just enough about Pope John's irreverent wit and way of life--the La Grenouille chef, the Jackie Kennedy friendship, the possibly apocryphal quip to a buxom woman wearing a crucifix ("What a Golgotha!"). An exemplary brief bio of an exemplary man. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
Cahill uses the same felicitous prose and refreshing approach to history that characterized his bestselling books How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews, here offering a short biography of John XXIII, the "people's pope" who initiated the Second Vatican Council. Cahill begins with a brief thumbnail sketch of the papacy, a chapter so replete with memorable details that many readers will hope that Cahill will someday prepare a magnum opus on the subject. He then narrows in on Italian peasant Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1881-1963), paying particular attention to his schooling in "social Catholicism," or the Church's official and unofficial interventions on issues such as poverty, war and community activism. In his twenties, he served as secretary to a bishop whose modernist leanings incensed the Vatican but deeply impressed the young Roncalli. As he rose through the ecclesiastical ranks, Roncalli managed to navigate a middle course between antimodernist rigidity on one hand and the liberals' tendency to jettison Church traditions on the other. When he was elected pope in 1958, most Catholics assumed he would be a transitional figure, never expecting that he would instigate the most sweeping reforms the Church had seen since the Catholic Reformation from doubling the salaries of Vatican employees to redefining some of the Church's foundational doctrines. Cahill tells Roncalli's story with sincere admiration for the liberal, loving, corpulent pope who did not live to see the completion of Vatican II. (Jan. 14)Forecast: Cahill is a well-established writer, with several previous bestsellers under his belt, so expect strong sales for this biography of the beloved pope. Viking plans a six-city author tour and national publicity, specifically targeting the Catholic market.
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