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The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church--The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II Hardcover – September 25, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“In spite of his farm-bred love of land and custom. John XXIII was, in the best possible sense, a revolutionary—a Pope of modernization who kept in continuity with the church’s past, yet made even the most enlightened of his 20th century predecessors seem like voices of another age.” (Time magazine)

“You cannot understand contemporary Catholicism without understanding Pope John XXIII. Greg Tobin’s new marvelous book is a terrific introduction to the pope who changed the church, and to the man whose spiritual wisdom may change your life.” (James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything)

“The story of Good Pope John is always worth telling but all the more so in the current climate of retreat from his vision of aggiornamento. Greg Tobin tells it very well. As we wait for better days, this story will help to keep hope alive.” (Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College and author of Will There Be Faith and What Makes us Catholic)

“[Pope John XXIII] impressed the world with the friendliness... which radiated the remarkable goodness of his soul. . . . Everyone remembers the image of Pope John’s smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world. How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart!” (Pope John Paul II, upon the beatification of Pope John XXIII)

“In 1958 John XXIII set in train a series of events which have since moved that huge old galleon, the Roman Catholic Church, back into the mainstream of world history and have profoundly altered the silhouette it presents to mankind.” (Life magazine)

“This is the best single volume on John XXIII and the events he set in motion 50 years ago, transforming the church and the world.” (David Gibson, author of The Rule of Benedict)

“A beautiful and enlightening book about a humble priest who became one of the most powerful and beloved pontiffs in the history of Catholicism.” (Mary Higgins Clark, author of The Lost Years)

“A sincere, adoring look at the life and legacy of the humanist pope who helped modernize the Catholic Church with the convening of Vatican II.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“In his newest book, The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church, Tobin delved into the life of the man who became the catalyst for... changes: Pope John XXIII.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Tobin’s well-rounded, comprehensive biography offers an authoritative portrait of an inspiring, courageous man who radiated ‘an aura of humility, humor and sanctity’ even in the face of opposition.” (Shelf Awareness)

“Both biography and Vatican II overview, this book offers new generations . . . a fresh look at a world figure who balanced continuity with change and opened dialogs with believers and nonbelievers alike. Recommended.” (Library Journal)

The Good Pope is both a well-written and thoughtful biography of Pope John XXIII, and a helpful study of the events, personalities and issues of the Second Vatican Council.” (

From the Back Cover

On November 23, 1958, Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the son of peasant Italian farmers, became Pope John XXIII. Widely expected to be a transitional pope, John surprised the Church hierarchy and the world by convoking an ambitious ecumenical council—the first such council in more than a century—to bring the Catholic Church into the modern era. "I want to throw open the windows of the Church," he said, "so that we can see out and the people can see in." Broken into four sessions and held over four years, the Second Vatican Council ("a new Pentecost," according to John) breathed new life into the Church and its pastoral mission, knocking down the centuries-old wall between the Church hierarchy and the laity and repositioning the Church as a universal instrument of hope, justice, and compassion for people of all faiths.

Fifty years after he convened the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII remains one of the most beloved and remarkable fi gures in the history of the Catholic Church. Affectionately known as Il Buono Papa, or the Good Pope, John is remembered today by Catholics and non-Catholics alike as an enduring symbol of peace, ecumenicalism, and Christian spirituality. In The Good Pope, Greg Tobin recounts John's remarkable story, from his impoverished childhood in Bergamo, Italy, and his successful tenure as a papal ambassador in war-torn Europe to his surprise ascendancy to the throne of St. Peter. In the process, he traces John's legacy as the spiritual father of the modern Church and explains why the Good Pope and his great council are as vital, vibrant, and important to Catholicism as ever before. Meticulously researched and engaging, The Good Pope captures the heart, soul, and spirit of the man who ushered in a new era of religion in the twentieth century.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062089439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062089434
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Greg Tobin is publishing director of A.A. World Services. He is the author of multiple titles including Saints and Sinners and Holy Father (a biography of Pope Benedict XVI) and was featured widely in national and international media. He lives in West Orange, New Jersey, with his wife and sons.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a non-Catholic I came to this book with no knowledge of Pope John XXIII or the tenets of the faith, but I enjoy stories of great people and how they got that way. Tobin's biography did not disappoint as he took us through the life of Pope John; from his peasant childhood in the Italian mountains to the beginnings of his greatest achievement, Vatican II.

From the very beginning his parents were committed to the faith as they waited all day at the church for the priest to return so Angelo (Pope John) could be baptized. "There was no question of returning later" as hard life in the country had taught them tomorrow may never come, at least for some. It is a great message for all those who procrastinate the truly important, like living a more righteous life.

The general theme of the man (and the book) was one of ecumenicism, that respect for others and worrying about the weightier matters in life would do more to further the work of God, or at a minimum, peace in this world. Too often in life, especially in politics, religion, sports, etc., people become severely partisan. So much so their entire focus becomes how the other side is wrong. They sacrifice understanding why they believe what they do in order to understand all the ways others are not right. They build walls to separate themselves from others and eventually lose the ability to work with those different from themselves.

While stationed in Turkey Atatürk banned all religious displays including clothing. Angelo Roncalli said "What does it matter whether we wear the soutane or trousers as long as we proclaim the word of God." It demonstrates how people get fixated on some outward appearance rather than what is on the inside.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne Dobbins on March 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
“They called him Il Buono Papa, ‘the Good Pope.’ During Pope John XXIII’s lifetime – and especially in the immediate aftermath of his death from stomach cancer on June 3, 1963 – Italian Catholics and Socialists alike; journalists and diplomats; Roman Catholics, Protestants, non-Christians, and nonbelievers across the globe; men and women of every race, class, and nation called him ‘good’ and mourned his passing.”

I was born after the death of Pope John XXIII. My generation vividly recalls the impact our own saintly pope, John Paul II, had in reaching out to non-Catholics and his stance against Communism. But this era of ecumenism is actually a continuation of the Papacy of John XXIII.

In The Good Pope, author Greg Tobin examines the life of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, from his early years as a peasant farm boy, to his priesthood, where he was sent to study Canon Law, and eventually sent abroad to “backwater” countries where Catholicism was by far the minority. As the story develops, we see this young priest shine in the area of diplomacy – reaching out to all of God’s children, not just the Catholics. His rise to the Papacy seems quite improbable, but yet, he was, in the end, the perfect man for the job. In a time when the world experienced a split between capitalism and communism, and at the same time, our world was becoming smaller with the advent of new technologies, change was in the air. As Pope, John XXIII, called for a new ecumenical council – Vatican II. As Tobin asserts:

“This pope still matters because he stood with his feet planted firmly in the swiftly flowing river of history and, like the legendary Saint Christopher, helped his people move safely from one bank to the other without being swept away by raging currents beneath.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Paul Kocak on September 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"The Good Pope" by Greg Tobin is a sober reminder of how things have changed since the days of Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II. (I am not without prejudice: those days were formative in my own life, and Pope John's inspiration at that time is not forgotten.) Tobin deftly evokes an era as he sketches a loving portrait of this very good man. "The Good Pope" is important reading, underscoring the hunger of these times for a saintly person who can reach across religious or secular or cultural boundaries, as Pope John did. Tobin also illuminates the drama of the Council that John set forth and explores its implications for the Catholic Church and beyond. Most of all, Tobin's story-telling gifts as a novelist inform this very readable narrative.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Kuligowski on June 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Pope John XXIII was one of the most beloved religious representatives in the 20th century. Why? What made him such a popular individual with the lay people of the Catholic Church? What background shaped this "caretaker" Pope, originally expected to do little while holding the seat warm until the next election?

"The Good Pope: John XXIII & Vatican II" by Greg Tobin is a good look at the life of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, a son of peasant farmers who entered the priesthood, served in various capacities, and rose to the highest position in the Roman Catholic Church. This last sentence actually summarizes the book quite distinctly and delineates the major aspects of his life and career - the things that molded him into the man who would lead the Catholic Church into the 20th century (more than halfway THROUGH that century ...)

The book is largely written from a secular standpoint for the layman's benefit; it reads much more like a traditional biography than a religious treatise. Of course, it would be impossible to review the life and times of such a man without delving into Christian and Catholic beliefs, but these are done as though from an outsider looking in. Only in the last chapter does the author begin to assume that the reader is "one of the faithful", freely utilizing phrases like "inspired by the Holy Spirit". I would have expected the book to conclude in the same manner with which the first 95% was written - or else expected that first 95% to match the conclusion. This inconsistency does not significantly draw away from the writer's accomplishments.

"The Good Pope" is a great book for Roman Catholics of all ages, whether you were old enough to remember John XXIII or not - and it's a very good book for those of other faiths, as well.

DISCLOSURE: I won this book in a blogger's contest; no conditions, including even a commitment to write a review, were requested or made in return.
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