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The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II Hardcover – November 2, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (November 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514840
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514842
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,004,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Praise for John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope:

“[Hitler’s Pope] redefines the entire history of the 20th century.”
—Tad Szluc, Washington Post

“As Cornwell brilliantly demonstrates, Pius XII brought the authoritarianism and the centralization of his predecessors to their most extreme stage.”
—Saul Friedlander, Los Angeles Times

“Explosive… [Cornwell] makes a case in Hitler’s Pope that is very difficult to refute.”
New York Times Book Review

“Devastating…instead of a portrait of a man worthy of sainthood, Cornwell lays out the story of a narcissistic, power-hungry manipulator.” —James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly

“A book that cannot, and should not, be ignored.”
—The Reverend John F. Morley, Commonweal


“If anything, given the hideous consequences of the Holocaust and the culpability of millions of people who did not fight against it, Cornwell is circumscribed and methodical…. Read this book.”
—Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun

Praise for John Cornwell’s Breaking Faith:

“A provocative, deeply personal, and intelligent book.”
Library Journal

“[Cornwell] knows the inner workings of the Vatican and the tensions dividing conservatives and liberals.”
New York Times Book Review

“Vigorous … honest … compelling.”
—Rupert Shortt, Times Literary Supplement

From the Inside Flap

Over more than a quarter of a century, John Paul II has firmly set his stamp on the billion-member strong Catholic Church for future generations and he has become one of the most influential political figures in the world. His key role in the downfall of communism in Europe, as well as his apologies for the Catholic Church's treatment of Jews and to victims of the Inquisition, racism, and religious wars, won him worldwide admiration. Yet his papacy has also been marked by what many perceive as misogyny, homophobia, and ecclesiastical tyranny. Some critics suggest that his perpetuation of the Church's traditional hierarchical paternalism contributed to pedophiliac behavior in the priesthood and encouraged superiors to sweep the crimes under the carpet. The Pontiff in Winter brings John Paul's complex, contradictory character into sharp focus. In a bold, highly original work, John Cornwell argues that John Paul's mystical view of history and conviction that his mission has been divinely established are central to understanding his pontificate. Focusing on the period from the eve of the millennium to the present, Cornwell shows how John Paul's increasing sense of providential rightness profoundly influenced his reactions to turbulence in the secular world and within the Church, including the 9/11 attacks, the pedophilia scandals in the United States, the clash between Islam and Christianity, the ongoing debates over the Church's policies regarding women, homosexuals, abortion, AIDS, and other social issues, and much more. A close, trusted observer of the Vatican, Cornwell combines eyewitness reporting with information from the best sources in and outside the pope's inner circle. Always respectful of John Paul's prodigious spirit and unrelenting battles for human rights and religious freedom, Cornwell raises serious questions about a system that grants lifetime power to an individual vulnerable to the vicissitudes of aging and illness. The result is a moving, elegiac portrait of John Paul in the winter of his life and a thoughtful, incisive assessment of his legacy to the Church.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on April 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a gauzy, sweet biography of Pope John Paul II in these days since his death on April 2, please look elsewhere. If you are interested in a frank and sometimes brutal look at his life and policies, read on!

In "The Pontiff in Winter," John Cornwell (author of "Hitler's Pope") casts his gimlet eye on Karol Woytila, the man who became Pope John Paul II, from his early years through the decline of his health and (Cornwell argues) papacy in the first years of the 21st century.

"The Pontiff in Winter" combines biography, history and analysis -- in more or less equal parts -- as it seeks to understand the Pope as a person, and the value of his teaching to the Church and mankind. Cornwell is absolutely unsentimental about his subject, giving praise where due, but zeroing in with devastating effect on the Pope's weakness and missteps. The multi-faceted man who emerges is both repelling and attractive: intelligent though not brilliant; a victim of totalitarians yet autocratic; an actor (even a bit of a prima donna) whose public, smiling persona masks a desire to be center stage; a man of true and extreme piety with a weakness for its more outlandish manifestations.

Cornwell sees John Paul as a man embodying maddening contradictions. A wily and successful fighter for freedom in his native Poland, John Paul II did not trust others (e.g., Archbishop Oscar Romero) to do the same. Claiming to support Vatican II, he gutted its central push to decentralize the papacy and increase collegiality among bishops. Advancing the Church's relations with Jews and Muslims, he nevertheless undercut that pose by denying the status of "Church" to non-Catholic religious bodies like the Anglicans.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Let me preface this review by saying I am not Catholic and though I have Catholic leanings I have resisted converting because of my liberal religious outlook. Seemingly, this is an outlook I share with Mr. Cornwell. I--like him--hold John Paul II in very high regard as a man of peace and one of the most influential agents of positive change in the past fifty years. On this aspect of his papacy, I feel Cornwell provides great examples and writes with appropriate zeal and praise.

However, the areas that are of concern to many non-Catholics, which include ordination of women, contraception, marriage of clergy, and even papal infallibility, are presented in such a negative and sarcastic light that I fear no one will take them seriously. Cornwell claims to be a reform-minded Catholic. Unfortunately, his presentation of real concerns for thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics alike are handled with such vitriol that this book will prove to be more divisive than unifying.

Ultimately, I feel that in spite of differences in belief between the author and the Pope this book could have been infused with a great deal more respect for a man who will be missed by millions. After all, in Cornwell's own admission, John Paul II has done more for peace in the world than anyone. Somehow, it seems that after saying that about someone repeatedly referring to him as "old boy" is entirely inappropriate. I had hoped for an unbiased (although this is seemingly impossible when writing about religion) and thoughtful portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of John Paul's papacy. Unfortunately, I got a venomous diatribe.
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24 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Art History Professor on February 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I must say that of all the book reviews that I have ever read on Amazon, the reviews for this book have been the most disappointing. It seems that when it comes Catholicism generally or the Holy Father more specifically, we lose our abilities to be reasonable and revert back to what it was like to fifteen when anything you didn't like was not good at all. Newsflash: Citizen Kane is a great movie whether you liked it or not.

Of course, I am not comparing this book (in any way) to Citizen Kane, but it illustrates the point of previous reviews. You either love this book if you are critical of the Holy Father's last decade, or you hate the book if you believe that the Catholic Church is under firm leadership under John Paul II.

I first came across this book while searching for a book to read at then Anglo-American bookshop in Rome. As all English books in Rome are expensive, I instead bought and read John Cornwell's "A Thief in the Night," an excellent book that explore the death of John Paul I. I was impressed with Cornwell's impartiality, and thought I would give "The Pontiff in Winter" a read when I returned to the states and would not have to pay 30 Euros for it.

In all, I found Cornwell's "Pontiff" to be a highly critical, but not a highly unfair book. The first half of the book deals with JPII's life prior to becoming pope, and if anything, it was highly positive. I am not a fan of the hagiography, and was pleased that Cornwell presented Wojtyla in human terms rather than in a saintly profile. It was only during the second half of the book when Cornwell becomes critical, sometimes overly so. If I have a criticism of this writing or this book, it is the way that Cornwell would occasionally throw along an unneeded adjective to increased his pathos.
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