A Thief in the Night: Life and Death in the Vatican

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A Thief in the Night: Life and Death in the Vatican [Paperback]

John Cornwell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Just 33 days into the reign of Pope John Paul I in 1978, it was reported that he had died of a heart attack. But within the Vatican, there were conflicting answers to the most basic questions: Who found the body? What was the time of death? What was the actual state of the pope's health prior to death? A Thief in the Night is John Cornwell's investigation of the mysterious circumstances surrounding John Paul's death. It is also a profound exploration of the nature of sin and the definition of crime. Inconsistencies in the story spawned rumors of conspiracy to murder the so-called "smiling pope," whose ideological stances were sufficiently complex as to threaten both conservative and liberal interests in the Church and abroad. Fingers pointed towards the KGB, the Freemasons, and the pope's own top advisors. Then, in 1987, the Vatican invited Cornwell (whose other books include the bestselling Hitler's Pope) to conduct an independent investigation of the pope's death. His investigation reads like a detective novel: 44 short chapters record Cornwell's encounters with most of the major characters of this mystery, including the Pope's personal secretaries and the Vatican doctor who signed his death certificate. Ultimately, A Thief in the Night argues that John Paul showed clear symptoms of fatal illness in the days leading up to his death, and that these symptoms were willfully ignored by everyone around him. Thus, Cornwell argues, the sins that killed John Paul were sins of omission. The fantastic conspiracy theories, he argues, serve one purpose: "they deflect attention from the most obvious and shameful fact of all: that John Paul I died scorned and neglected by the institution that existed to sustain him." --Michael Joseph Gross


A deep and exhaustive penetration of the Vatican. -- Graham Greene

A model of investigative journalism and a small masterpiece of the genre. -- Anthony Burgess

As brilliantly written as a prize-winning mystery story. -- Andrew Greeley

About the Author

John Cornwell is in the department of history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University. He is a regular feature writer at the Sunday Times (London) and the author and editor of four books on science, including Power to Harm, on the Louisville Prozac trial, as well as Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII and Breaking Faith: Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?
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