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Pope John XXIII: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives) Hardcover – January 14, 2002

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Lives
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (January 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030576
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,146,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Cahill's prose is easily read; his history flows smoothly.
John Knight
Pope John XXIII indicated the way out of the tempest but we are still far from good weather.
Alberto del Castillo
I cannot call to mind one conservative opinion or decision Cahill praises in the book.
Benjamin D. Amundgaard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to get a look at the pope, but I couldn't see past the chip on Cahill's shoulder. Make no mistake, this book is not primarily about Pope John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli). It is primarily about Cahill's opinion of the papacy as an institution. John just serves as a model for Cahill's ideal. A good half the book is spent bemoaning the shortcomings of other popes.
Even once the author gets around to talking about Roncalli's life, he still spends a fair amount of words complaining of the conservative programs of the popes at the given time. It's not until Roncalli becomes pope that the story squarely centers on him, at which point the book actually becomes quite good. If Cahill would have kept his focus on Roncalli throughout, the book would have been much better.
I'm a protestant, so I have no particular love for the idea of the papacy, but I was distinctly turned off by the scornful, condescending tone that Cahill takes toward even the idea of orthodoxy. In short, there's just too much of the author in this book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth J. Luurs on March 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read all of the reviews here and then bought the book. I wasn't all that familiar with papal history and found that interesting. Still, it is one person's opinion and little space for such a huge undertaking. It's utility is that it helps to frame John XXIII's life. And obviously, that is what we want to learn about. Unfortunately, I feel we didn't spend much time with the pope and walk away feeling like we glimpsed him from a distance. Cahill's opinions abound, and he uses strong language in conveying them. Like a couple of reviewers, I feel that Cahill wanted to send a message about the Church and used this book as the vehicle. That's OK. I would not have minded a longer work with more evidence and analysis to provide an overview of the papacy or the Church in general. For me, John XXIII was someone I wanted to get to know more about. This book could have given me more. Still, while I feel this is a deficit, I still think this book is very much worth reading and recommend it...for the history, occasionally jarring opinions, and truncated bio.
John XXIII was one of the rarest of humans...a gentle, loving and merciful soul who touched the world in ways that will long be remembered. One can't help but wish for more time with him. Let us hope that we do not wait another age for another like him.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Thomas A. Diederich on September 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I discovered the author on the wonderful world of C-Span where one find authors not invited to Letterman, et all.
Thought now retired, I am still a slow reader-- and thus liked the brevity of Cahill's book. A still "recovering" Catholic, I wss enchanted with the story of John XXIII. Whatever the current Vatican may do, I regard him as saintly. Cahill's bio may be brief, but one gets a clear picture of a boy from a poor but devout rural Italian family. His pastor is well described, who was a lovig mentor. One sees this boy become the man Angelo Rancalli. And beyond as a priest he finds leaders who---it seems to me--- practice what they preach. At the same time Angelo manages to survive and become a leader, with no loss of integrity--in times of repression.
His success in helping Jews escape the Nazis is touched on, as well as the dramatic way he changed elements of anti-semitic liturgy.
This was a radical man--- in the best sense of the word. As I learned from the nuns years ago, Jesus was a true radical.
Cahill give us a history of the Church before and after John XXIII. At times witty, caustic, but clearly fond of this remarkable man.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Larry J. Schmitz II on May 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I just completed reading this book and found it to be a concise biography of a great man. I do admit that it left me wanting more.
It is obvious that Thomas Cahill has enormous respect for Pope John XXIII and feels that he is the most important pope of the modern era. I do agree with this.
I am a "cradle" Catholic who had lapsed for about 10 years and recently returned to the Church. However, I still have many problems with the conservative nature of the Catholic Church today and reading a book like this (as well as Hans Kung's book on the Church) gives me hope that the Church can return to the spirit of Vatican II.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Whether you are a Catholic or a non-Catholic will doubtless have massive implications for how you approach this book. I am a non-Catholic with very little grounding in the history or structure of the Western Church or of the Papacy. For myself, I would not have fully understood why Angelo Roncalli's Papacy was considered successful without the not so brief but engaging Papal history that takes up 72 of the book's 241 pages. It is a dizzying survey of Papal history, and obviously not definitive, but it gives Pope John XXIII a context within which to appreciate him. Some Catholics may take such a history for granted, and want to get to the meat of Roncalli's story. But, the author has to take into consideration those without a Catholic background so they can understand why he was not only a good Pope, but a good person.
Cahill does make much out of what Pope John XXIII had to contend with in the form of conservative Cardinals and Vatican administrators. There are times Cahill seems too harsh towards these people, and possibly he overplays it to demonstrate Roncalli's legacy. However, the Catholic church does have the reputation as one of the most conservative institutions in the world (there are many examples as to why, the case of forgiving Galileo about 300 years after the fact is only one), so perhaps Cahill's depiction is accurate. It is ultimately hard to know for a Vatican outsider, but Cahill's book, skewed or not, is a great starting place for non-Catholics on the subject of the Papacy.
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More About the Author

Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, is the bestselling author of the Hinges of History series.