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Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II Hardcover – October 6, 1999

4.8 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Witness To Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel is as comprehensive a biography of its subject as can be hoped for while the Pope still lives. Weigel, a journalist who came to the Pope's attention after the publication of his book, The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, wrote Witness To Hope with his subject's encouragement and assistance. Weigel had unprecedented access to the Pope's correspondence (with, among others, world leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev). He reports lengthy conversations with many members of the Pope's inner circle, and he occasionally reveals vivid details of the Pope's daily life (for example, at the beginning of each day, the Pope's adviser's hear moans and groaning from John Paul's solitary prayers in his private chapel).

According to Weigel, the Pope told him that other biographies "try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside." Unfortunately, Weigel's method for understanding the Pope "from inside" depends on psychological conjecture ("It may help to begin by thinking of Karol Wojtyla as a man who grew up very fast") and is weakened by his extreme eagerness to praise his subject ("the man with arguably the most coherent and comprehensive vision of the human possibility in the world ahead"). More troubling, Weigel does not ask some of the really difficult questions about this Pope--regarding his involvement with sects such as Opus Dei, for example, or the relationship between his innovative "theology of the body" and his conservative stance on homosexuality, or even the vicissitudes of prayer life. Witness To Hope is a valuable book because it reports many facts that others have not reported. But for incisive analysis of this Pope's theological and political significance, or for insight into his spiritual life, readers will have to wait until the principals in his life story are free to speak more frankly with some future biographer. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Weigel's massive work aspires to be definitive: it is subtitled "the," not "a," biography of John Paul II. Weigel, a Catholic layman and a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., enjoyed the cooperation of the pope and access to top Vatican officials, so the book is rich in new detail. Determined to explain this papacy from the "inside out," Weigel successfully focuses on John Paul's trademark ideas: Christian humanism, the inner connection between freedom and truth, and culture as the driving force of history. As a guide to the pope's thought, Witness to Hope is invaluable. Yet as biography, it is often defective. Weigel frequently dismisses John Paul's critics rather than debating their ideas. The author's strong pro-Americanism leads him to misrepresent the pope as opposing a "third way" between capitalism and socialism and to treat his criticism of the Gulf War as a rare misjudgment. Though John Paul is a towering 20th-century figure, the assertion that his papacy is the most important since the Counter Reformation seems overblown. The book is well written (if somewhat repetitive, perhaps inevitably so with more than 900 pages) and Weigel's command of the material is impressive, but Witness to Hope reads more like a valedictory hagiography than a sober work of journalism. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1008 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (October 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006018793X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060187934
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I did not expect to find Weigel on the Pope so engrossing. I decided to buy it because I have come to realize just how significant a figure in both Christian and world affairs the Pope has been. Karol Wojtyla's biography has inspired me to look beyond the present. As I read I realized how deeply I had misunderstood the Pope. There is little doubt that he is one of the greatest figures of our time. Some of my misconceptions of John Paul were due to my own personal discomfort as an Anglican with various facets of Roman Catholicism. However, our own limited perceptions should not distort our recognition of greatness.
Just as I brought my own preconceptions to the man, so have the media who have been covering him since that day in 1978 when he was elected. The press have distorted this man because they have read him through glasses tinted by their own secular conditioning. As a result there is a "good" John Paul who affirms some of their social agendas, and then there is the "bad" John Paul, who seems not to understand their progressive preferences. Weigel makes it clear that they have profoundly misunderstood him because will not measure him on his own Christian terms.
To grasp the significance of John Paul, we need to come to terms with the complexities of his personality and his origins in a family beset by tragedy in his early years. But that is not enough. From there we need to explore his own personal Christian journey, his theological formation, his philosophical studies, and the tough environment in which he grew to adulthood and exercised the first 30 years of his ministry. Furthermore, this man who cannot be understood unless we see him first and foremost as a priest, a pastor, and a man of mystical prayer.
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Format: Hardcover
For this Presbyterian, George Weigel's book about Pope John Paul II was a revelation not only about a remarkable figure in history, but also about Catholic thought and practice. Weigel has written far more than a conventional biography. "Witness to Hope" is also a sweeping history of John Paul's times and his papacy, a trenchant observer's comments on politics in the '70s and '80s, and a sharp-minded theologian's explication of John Paul's voluminous writings. A couple of critics have sniped that Weigel's book lacks "incisive criticisms" of John Paul. In fact, Weigel does speak critically at many points; he simply does so with such civility and respect that bloodthirsty adversaries of the Pope and his church are likely to be disappointed. Far more valuable is Weigel's fidelity to a principle that he states at the outset: that John Paul's life and papacy can only be understood "from the inside." Weigel's vantage point is as "inside" as any author is likely to get; footnote after footnote reveals that information provided by Weigel comes directly from conversation with John Paul II. Weigel's own credentials as a religious thinker and writer, his access to the Pope and to senior officials of the Holy See, the dramatic life of his subject--- all these make the nearly 900 pages of this immense book richly rewarding for the serious reader. Consistently throughout "Witness to Hope," George Weigel paints a fervently evangelical and intellectual Pope who presents Christianity as demanding, but exciting and fulfilling. One might say the same about George Weigel's book: it makes greater demands upon the reader than would a more superficial, sentimental biography--- but it richly rewards the reader with its account of an important life.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a comprehensive biography of Pope John Paul II, based on extensive interviews and a thorough study of writings by the Pope covering more than 50 years. Despite the size of the book, it is very readable. The author places emphasis on the significance of John Paul's contributions to philosophy, theology, evangelism, and the Catholic Church over the long run. Hence the book is more than journalism, a common fault of most treatments of the life of this Pope. While the author has made a strong case elsewhere (in the magazine First Things) for Pope John Paul II as the most important person of the 20th century, this book leaves one with the clear impression that of all the leaders of the 20th century, John Paul is the most likely to have the greatest influence on the course of the 21st century. I cannot think of a better book to read as the new millenium approaches.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a solid, traditional biography that well chronicles the life and times of John Paul II. The work is rich in detail and, on the whole, sound in its analysis of the significance of John Paul's Pontificate. The author does an excellent job, moreover, of describing the theological ideas and works of Karol Wojtyla pre-1978. The work has two relatively minor flaws. First, there are places where catalogues of information -- e.g., the topics of each of Karol Wojtyla's addresses on Vatican radio during the early 1960s, a list of the subjects of each of series of seminars given by Fr. Wojtyla during a certain period -- are inartfully inserted into the text. This leaves one with the impression that the author felt compelled to include all information discovered even when it did not contribute to the portrait being painted. The second is a lack of spiritual depth and sensitivity. Decisions and actions that are essentially religious in nature are analyzed primarily for their worldly consequences and/or presentation. The discussions of "Humanae Vitae" and "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," for example, are the standard secular analyses one would read from the likes of a Michael Novak. This leaves the reader feeling that the portrait of the man fails to reveal his full spiritual dimension. Overall, however, this is an excellent work of historical biography and Mr. Weigel is to be highly commended.
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