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The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe [Kindle Edition]

David I. Kertzer
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)

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Book Description


From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.

The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.
In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years.
The Pope and Mussolini brims with memorable portraits of the men who helped enable the reign of Fascism in Italy: Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius’s personal emissary to the dictator, a wily anti-Semite known as Mussolini’s Rasputin; Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, an object of widespread derision who lacked the stature—literally and figuratively—to stand up to the domineering Duce; and Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, whose political skills and ambition made him Mussolini’s most powerful ally inside the Vatican, and positioned him to succeed the pontiff as the controversial Pius XII, whose actions during World War II would be subject for debate for decades to come.
With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the Pope’s complex relationship with his Fascist partner can finally be told. Vivid, dramatic, with surprises at every turn, The Pope and Mussolini is history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.
Praise for The Pope and Mussolini
“Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy. This is a sophisticated blockbuster.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer
“A fascinating and tragic story.”—The New Yorker

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

“David Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy. They all come together in The Pope and Mussolini to document, with meticulous scholarship and novelistic flair, the complicity between Pius XI and the Fascist leader in creating an unholy alliance between the Vatican and a totalitarian government rooted in corruption and brutality. This is a sophisticated blockbuster.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer
“Much more attention has been given to the Vatican’s compromises and complicity with Hitler, but Kertzer tells a fascinating and tragic story of its self-interested support for Mussolini when he was vulnerable early on.”The New Yorker

“A compelling case that the Catholic Church should pay greater penance for its support of Mussolini and the rise of fascism . . . The Pope and Mussolini matches rigorous scholarship with a fair yet forceful prose voice. It is an impressive work of history.”The Daily Beast
“[Kertzer] reconstructs, as if in a historical docudrama, the paths taken by these two men who had such a great impact on the course of the twentieth century. . . . [A] brilliant narrative . . . [with] pages that display enthralling narrative skill.”—Marco Roncalli, Avvenire

“Meticulously researched and captivating . . . a remarkable achievement.”Commentary
“Brisk, rigorously documented and persuasive.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Gripping storytelling . . . a book whose narrative strength is as impressive as its moral subtlety . . . Kertzer has uncovered a fascinating tale of two irascible—and often irrational—potentates, and gives us an account of some murky intellectual finagling, and an often startling investigation of the exercise of power.”The Guardian

“Vividly recounted . . . Kertzer had access to recently opened Vatican archives regarding Pius XI, and his thorough research goes a long way in overturning conventional notions about Catholic church resistance to Mussolini.”USA Today
“Captivating . . . the real Da Vinci Code—only it’s rigorously documented and far less implausible.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Compelling . . . Kertzer charts his own course not only by virtue of the depth of his archival research and analysis, but also by virtue of his engaging prose.”America: The National Catholic Review

“The papacy of Pius XI remained essentially a foil for discussing his successor. Kertzer’s excellent volume will change all of that. . . . From the outset of his new book, Kertzer deftly reconstructs the parallel lives of Achille Ratti, who became Pius XI, and of Benito Mussolini, both men whose beginnings do not point to the historic role that they began to play in 1922. The narration unfolds along the separate political, ideological, and institutional backgrounds of the Pope’s and Duce’s careers and brings up in fascinating detail the issues on which their interests converged and clashed. . . . Kertzer’s essential book reveals a window on this sordid history—a window that for a long time was shuttered, but will not be obscured anymore.”The New Republic
“Stunning . . . remarkable . . . Kertzer authoritatively banishes decades of denial and uncertainty about the Vatican's relationship with Italy’s fascist state.”The Christian Science Monitor

“At once sweeping and nuanced . . . required reading for anyone with an interest in the Roman Catholic Church and early twentieth-century European history.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Fast-paced and well-written . . . This book is a readable popular history, with well-drawn characters and interesting incidental detail. It is also a serious study that incorporates the most recent scholarship made possible by the 2006 opening of the Vatican archives for the reign of Pius XI.”The Irish Times

“A capstone on David Kertzer’s already crucial work, The Pope and Mussolini carefully and eloquently advances the painful but necessary truth of Vatican failure to meet its greatest moral test. This is history for the sake of justice.”—James Carroll, National Book Award–winning author of Constantine’s Sword

The Pope and Mussolini is a riveting story from start to finish, full of startling, documented detail, and nobody is better prepared to tell it than David Kertzer.”—Jack Miles, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of God: A Biography

“Wholly deserving—even demanding—the adjectives ‘groundbreaking,’ ‘courageous,’ and ‘captivating,’ The Pope and Mussolini decisively challenges the received narrative about Pius XI and the Fascist leader. The relationship, in short, was one not of hostility but of mutual dependence. David Kertzer’s conclusions are unflinchingly and conclusively proven, thanks to his profound and thorough research, scholarly authority, and narrative panache. This is a meticulously researched and crafted book, exquisitely written, fresh, mesmerizing, and enlightening.”—Kevin Madigan, Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard University

The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two remarkable men, Achille Ratti, Pope Pius XI, and Benito Mussolini, Duce of Fascism. Both demanded absolute obedience. Those who knew the pope called him ‘a block of granite’ and ‘cold as marble.’ The highest prelates trembled in his presence. Mussolini, swollen with his success, became ‘a statue’ who listened to no one. David Kertzer tells their stories in counterpoint as they could never have been told before. The opening of the Vatican archives in 2006 and the discovery of a vast archive of Mussolini’s spies in the hierarchy of the Vatican provide Kertzer staggering new evidence, and his wonderful portraits of everybody involved give this book the fascination of a great novel.”—Jonathan Steinberg, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History, University of Pennsylvania, and New York Times bestselling author of Bismarck

“David Kertzer, who pored through the recently opened Vatican secret files gives, us a ghastly history of the poisonous alliance between a weakened Vatican and an ambitious Mussolini. The Pope’s blessing gave Il Duce the needed credibility to take Italy and the Italian people where he wanted them to go. In exchange for that approval, the Fascists provided the Church with its only perceived bulwark against the forces of Communism and the modern age. Enter Hitler. I can imagine Machiavelli overseeing the manipulations on both sides and saying either ‘Well played’ or ‘You go too far’ or ‘Beware.’ David Kertzer has written a harrowing portrait of a ghastly union whose only by-product was the nightmare of World War II.”—John Guare, award-winning playwright and author of Six Degrees of Separation

“A thoroughly engrossing story with an ever-changing cast of fascinating characters . . . Like a couple in a loveless marriage, entered into for all the wrong reasons, Pius XI and Mussolini could not get free of each other. Mussolini hated priests. Pius XI swallowed his scruples about the Duce’s growing megalomania. Each reckoned that he had much to gain from the other. Beneath their endless squabbling about precedence, their continual posturing, Pius and Mussolini undermined and ultimately squandered the happiness of the millions who trusted them. Kertzer has written the definitive book on this tragic history.”—Richard S. Levy, professor of history, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and co-editor of Antisemitism: A History

“The author spares no toes in his crushing of the Church’s ‘comforting narrative’ around its relationship with Mussolini’s Fascist regime. . . . Kertzer is unflinching and relentless in his exposure of the Vatican’s shocking actions. . . . Deeply troubling revelations around Vatican collaboration with evil.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Kertzer unravels the relationship between two of twentieth-century Europe’s most important political figures and does so in an accessible style that makes for a fast-paced must-read.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From Booklist

Two leaders came to power in 1922 in Rome, Achille Ratti was elevated to the papacy as Pius XI, and Benito Mussolini was appointed Italian prime minister. How relations between them developed until the pope’s 1939 demise occupies this original history, which rests on Kertzer’s thorough research of available Vatican archives and other sources. His main line of inquiry, the degree of support Pius XI accorded to Mussolini, guides Kertzer’s narrative, which begins with Mussolini’s opportunistic about-face from anticlerical socialist to Catholic-tolerating nationalist. Papal approval during the 1920s, when Mussolini’s regime survived political crises, received its reward in 1929 with the Lateran Accords that reestablished the Vatican as an independent state. Although he finds points of conflict between Pius XI and Mussolini, Kertzer underscores affinities between the Catholic Church and the fascist state, which may arouse controversy. Was the church as acquiescent to Mussolini’s persecutions of Jews as Kertzer portrays? In any event, he adduces evidence that Pius XI seems to have regretted his tacit alliance with Mussolini. An important work of history, Kertzer’s adroit profiles of Pius and Mussolini will broaden its audience. --Gilbert Taylor

Product Details

  • File Size: 9313 KB
  • Print Length: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (January 28, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Pope and Mussolini December 25, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The title of David Kertzer's new book is technically accurate, in that many of the details revealed here were not public knowledge until recently, but it suggests a level of shocking intrigue on which the book doesn't necessarily deliver. Readers who imagine the Catholic Church of the mid-twentieth century to have been benign and apolitical will be surprised to discover the wheeling and dealing of Pius XI's Vatican, and the reactionary attitudes that made an alliance with Mussolini's fascism seem a reasonable option. (Of course, there was more at work than ultra-conservative ideas, and Kertzer's treatments of the rise of Fascism and of the uneasy Italy/Vatican relationship explain well the pragmatic aspects of the alliance.) Those who expect large institutions, religious or otherwise, to fall short of their ideals will be less amazed, and may find Kertzer's solid, detailed, and carefully-supported account a touch on the dry side: despite chapter titles like "Assassins, Pederasts, and Spies," it can be slow going at times. But the frank portraits of grand ambition and petty "office politics" are frequently striking. I might quibble with Kertzer's use of government spy reports as sources: like many scholars using similar material, he acknowledges the issues of bias and gossip that render them questionable and suggests interpretive caution, but tends not to exercise that caution in specific cases. That aside, though, this is a balanced account, critical but never unduly so, and a fine study of an unpleasant chapter in history.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Matter of Fact February 13, 2014
By R. Bono
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I saw a PBS interview of the mild mannered academic researcher, and read his book which I found to be carefully researched, thorough, and insightful. It took seven years to write. Kertzer, in my opinion, did not do a "hit job" on the pope. If there is a hit job, it was done by the pope to himself, and not incidentally, to the Italian people. But the reasons are revelatory.

Pius XI's withdrawal of support of the center Catholic party, made Mussolini's reign possible, which the dictator readily acknowledged. In fact he couldn't believe his good fortune, that his chief opposition would cave. With this tacit backing, all other political parties were destroyed by the thug black shirts. Pius XI, as enabler, was more comfortable with a dictator, who like himself, demanded absolute obedience. Mussolini was "the man of Providence", to use Pius's words. Pius was happier with a dictator than he ever could be with a democrat, or anyone on the left. If the reader is uncomfortable with this idea, be forewarned, for it is very well documented.

Additionally, the author presents a very acute discussion of the difference between German and Italian attitudes towards Jews....both anti-Semetic. One, the Nazi, purely being race based; the other, the Italian, being behavior based. How all this got mixed with with nationalism, politics...and historically, with religion, is an important thread of the book. In fact, it was those same ancient (now renounced) historic sources of anti-Semitism of the RCC, which were part of what gave Mussolini legitimacy, as he used church support for his particular strain of anti-Semitism.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I heard Mr. Kertzer speak in DC a few nights ago, purchased the book, and read it right through in just a couple of days. It is a gripping, well-told, well-documented and largely appalling story that should be read by anybody interested in the origins of World War II and in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Pius XI and Mussolini each had their own reasons for supporting each other, but in the end it was a disaster for everybody concerned. The Pope was blinded by his own lust to regain the stranglehold he once had over the Italian people, a dominance which was lost once the Papal States were absorbed into a united Italy in 1870. He and the rest of the hierarchy were obsessed with the supposed dangers of democracy, Protestantism, separation of church and state, the imaginary world-wide Jewish Conspiracy that somehow controlled both Communism and Capitalism, freedom of thought and association, Freemasonry, etc. etc. and were more than eager to let a ruthless totalitarian state help the Catholic Church regain its old glories. Mussolini, for his part, needed the visible backing of the Vatican to maintain the loyalty of Italy's Catholic faithful. Kertzer's book fully describes the rise and fall of this unholy alliance.

Though the author spent seven years in research for this book through previously secret records from the Vatican and other sources, I am amazed by just how much of the sordid story has been a part of the public record all along. If there has been controversy among historians and others over just how much support the Vatican provided Mussolini, much of it must be because of a refusal in some quarters to admit the all-too-real fallibility of the political judgments of the Catholic Church.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars BUY THIS BOOK!
Excellent Book. You can trust David Kertzer to get at the REAL dirty truth about the Catholic Church, as he has done in so many other wonderful, courageous books.
Published 18 days ago by Mike Finn
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
This is a seminal book which greatly clarifies a complex relationship in the struggle for the hearts and minds of Italians,and the world.
Well written.
Published 1 month ago by Rodger Hammerstein
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Very good on telling a part of life during WW2, that few people have written about.
Published 2 months ago by Rico
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Informative and excellent
Published 2 months ago by Edmond Rainey
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchman's ego trip
Very deep scholarship, it seems. Shows the feel of the times and the culpability of powerful men, no matter what the source of the power ( church, state, etc. Read more
Published 2 months ago by donald hariman
5.0 out of 5 stars i ueed to be catholic now I'm an American. you grow.
Very interesting subject matter. I can't believe what went on in the vatican.also read hitlerss pope. Crazy times.I
Published 2 months ago by Bradley Gelbart
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wealth of Historical Knowledge
I’m forty-eight years old now, but as a child I was raised by a Catholic mother and taught that the Catholic church was this great ethical and perfect institution and that the Pope... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Stephen C. Coyle
3.0 out of 5 stars A good presentation of the Italian dynamics but a little weak ...
A good presentation of the Italian dynamics but a little weak on the Musslini/Vatican interplay with the Nazis. Read more
Published 3 months ago by sam c. bertolet
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Not done reading it yet but am enjoying the reading of History of that period.
Published 3 months ago by Alma D'Onofrio
1.0 out of 5 stars ie=UTF8&qid=1412726443&sr=8-1&keywords=Eugenio+zolli I think that the...
David I. Kertzer seems to have an axe to grind against the popes, whom he calls antisemitic. How does he then explain the fact that the Chief Rabbi of Rome converted to... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Patricia A. C. Evulet
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