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TOP 100 REVIEWERon December 13, 2012
Author George Weigel is a theologian and author of books such as The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored,The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform And The Future Of The Church, etc. He notes in the Prologue to this 1999 book, "He [the Pope] is an accomplished philosopher, recognized as such by peers throughout the world, but he never took a serious course in the subject. He is a mystic who was a vigorous sportsman for almost seventy years. He is a celibate with a remarkable insight into human sexuality... He is a Pole with a marked sensitivity toward ... Judaism." (Pg. 13)

Weigel notes that Karol Wojtyla was a seminarian in Nazi-occupied Poland, and "The archbishop then decided to take the seminary fully underground. Candidates would be accepted secretly. They would continue their work, telling no one of their new position. They would study in their free time... And in due course, it was hoped, they would complete their studies and be ordained, having managed to avoid the Gestapo in the interim. Karol Wojtyla was among the first ten seminarians chosen for this extraordinary process..." (Pg. 70)

At age 38, he "found himself the youngest bishop in Poland." (Pg. 147) He "was created a cardinal in 1967 by Pope Paul VI, at the exceptionally young age of forty-seven, [and] was the first bishop of Krakow in the thousand-year history of the see who was not born to the gentry class." (Pg. 187) After he was elected Pope, "This new Bishop fo Rome would not be crowned with the triregnum, the papal tiara. Rightly or wrongly, John Paul noted, the tiara had come to be considered a symbol of the Pope's temporal power." (Pg. 262)

He observes that "On December 27, 1983, John Paul II gave a personal witness to the imperative of reconciliation by celebrating Mass at Rebibbia prison and visiting his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in his cell... John Paul patiently explained [to Agca] that Mary, whom many Muslims venerated, was the Mother of God, that she loved all people, and that Agca shouldn't be afraid." (Pg. 474)

Although there was early hope for talks with Anglicans, "The hope for visible unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics would continue to fade---despite the ongoing theological dialogue, warm welcomes to Rome for the archbishops of Canterbury and other visiting Anglican leaders, and impressive joint efforts to heal the historical memories caused by the martyrdoms of the Reformation era... institutional ecclesial reunion seemed very far away indeed." (Pg. 522)

Similarly, "During the mid-1990s, there was widespread expectation that years of ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics would result in a joint declaration on 'justification by faith,' the core issue of the Lutheran Reformation." But on the same day that a Joint Declaration was released in 1998, the Vatican issued a "Response," which "suggested that further clarification on the doctrine of justification and its relationship to other basic truths of the Christian faith was required... Lutherans were not happy with what seemed, at least through media reports, to be Catholic reneging." (Pg. 826-827) Ultimately, Weigel concludes, "John Paul's major investment in ecumenism has yielded rather modest concrete accomplishments." (Pg. 858)

He notes in conclusion, "These numbers and institutional facts tell a story of remarkable personal energy. Inside the numbers, it can be argued, is an even more impressive story of accomplishment that will shape the life of the Catholic Church... well into the third millennium of Christian history." (Pg. 845)

This is an exceptional biography, and will provide great insight into one of the key figures of the 20th century.
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on June 14, 2015
At over 1000 pages, this might be considered to be a massive book. But, the story being told is massive and its subject is intense and deep and large in wisdom and self-discipline and faith and hope and love. More could have been said. The description of the person and events is actually sparse in comparison to what it might have been.

Such a story and journey of a life it is! What a leader! Such clarity of philosophical thought! Such self-giving! Such prayer and vision and courage!

Well-researched. Well-organized. Insightful analysis and commentary. Well stated and written.

It is a large book but it provides a large education. Topics addressed include culture, philosophy, ethics, policy, strategy, tactics, history, prayer and theology.
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on January 1, 2015
John Paul II was a transformational character of the 20th C. Even though I'm not of a like mind in many areas of religion and Catholicism, I admire people who follow their hearts to the extent this pope did. Weigel is definitely an admirer of this pope as well. Nicely written.
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on May 17, 2000
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. "The sheer drama of Karol Wojtyla's life would defy the imagination of the most fanciful screenwriter," says Weigel.
The Poland in which Wojtyla grew up briefly emerged from Nazi tyranny, only to be swept into the Russian sphere of influence and be subjected to a different kind of totalitarian repression as a result of the unfortunate dealings at Yalta. In the brief twilight between these two oppressions, he was ordained and sent to Rome to study. If we are to understand the Pope's perception of world affairs, we have to realize the significant part Yalta plays in his grasp of global realities.
An actor, playwright, priest, philosopher, pastor, and athlete, John Paul II seems almost too good to be true. "Given the expectations of contemporary biography, a writer almost regrets the absence of detractors and critics of his subject. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that Karol Woytyla's intelligence, creativity, and pastoral success did not attract clerical jealousies... He lived a singularly integrated priestly and personal life."
The opening 250 pages focus on Wojtyla's life prior to the papacy. The remainder deals life since. In the years before his election, Wojtyla had become a major player in world Catholicism, having been appointed Archbishop of Krakow and then a cardinal at an exceedingly early age. Only after he was installed as archbishop did the authorities realize the sort of man they were up against. What they seemed not to have understood is that Wojtyla's approach was not direct confrontation of authorities who only seemed to understand the language of power, but the longer term task of undermining them through Christian "cultural resistance." He was not going to roll over and play dead before his oppressors, but would gradually pull the rug out from beneath their credibility, revealing their spiritual, moral, social, political, and cultural bankruptcy.
Because of his Polish heritage in a country trapped between totalitarian Germany and Russia, the Pope has had a lifelong passion for human freedom. His two doctorates in philosophy were built around this topic, and it has been the subject of his most significant pronouncements. However, he is misunderstood if interpreted through the lenses of secular liberalism. His perception of freedom is that ultimately it is focused in obedience and self-giving to the One who died upon the Cross.
In the middle is a chapter entitled "In the Eye of the Storm." It is pivotal. The honeymoon was over, and the principalities and powers were out to neutralize his papacy. His approach had literally put him in the eye of political, social, and theological storms. This chapter deals with his response to and encouragement of the Gdansk shipyard strike in August 1980, and the rise of Solidarity in Poland. His affirmation of such activities put him on a collision course with the Soviet empire, and led to the unsuccessful assassination attempt of 1981. Weigel suggests that his constant challenge eroded the ability of an undemocratic Communism to survive. The Pope was a catalyst for world-shattering change. While all this was going on, the Pope was proceeding against what he perceived to be error within the church. It would seem that the policies he had outlined in the first years of his primacy were now taking on a shape and form that would have a profound impact upon the future -- these were an affirmation of human dignity, a passion for prayer and truth, the yearning for unity among Christians and peoples, and the evangelization of the world.
His concern for evangelization is a key component of this man. He believes that for a human being to be truly free and whole, that person must surrender to the One who died for us. The Pope's faith is utterly Christ and Cross centered. He sees mission, unity, and truth belonging together, and that if truth or unity are compromised then mission suffers. Put simply, John Paul wants the world to know the good news about Jesus Christ that has led him throughout his own life to be utterly self-surrendering in order that the one to whom he surrenders may have the whole of him. This book is a winner.
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on May 8, 2012
I should begin the review by mentioning my 'bias': I admire the figure of John Paul II, as a Pope (I'm not a Catholic, anyway), as a global figure, and as a leader. This biography, while not complete (because there's a second part of the biography), provides a very excellent and ambitious biography of one of the most defining figures in the 20th century.

Weigel tells the story in a very chronological way (instead of thematic, an approach which partially chronological yet does not focus on the chronology, but on the defining themes of the figure's life). For historical buffs, the format will be easy to follow. The stories are pretty detailed, providing many insights that often unknown to the public. The story is pretty much enchanting and inviting. Readers who want to discover more of the Pope will find this satisfactory. In fact, from some 10+ biographies of the same Pope that I've read, this is clearly the best and most detailed, hands down.

There are a number of concerns, however, which may be minor to most readers. Firstly is the thick theological perspective. This is clearly a no-surprise, since what else would you expect from a religious figure such as the Pope? However, a layman (and non-Catholic) like me will find this a bit tedious to follow. It does provide a lot of insights to the Catholic belief, yet understanding what is written is another issue. To make it clear, not that it is bad, only somehow tedious. Secondly, I consider this biography to be a bit apologetic to the Pope, which rarely mentions the downside/other side of the Pope (not only as a Pope, but as a human being). Attempts to make a biography that covers both sides usually requires both opinions from supporters and opponents. I don't see this adequately within the biography. Thirdly, I don't see adequate details for a book that long. I take part of the blame since I've read numerous biographies (and watched numerous movies) regarding this figure, there are some expectations in terms of 'what's next'. Sometimes, I think it doesn't adequately fulfill my expectation, in terms of details of story. For instance, I was expecting more when reading about the Pope's first visit to his native homeland, Poland. The story, however, while providing new insights not provided in other book, is not put into a detailed perspective that I expected (e.g. a coverage on the mass in Warsaw, how the Polish authorities debated about the visit, or the alleged quote "better Solzhenitsyn to be the Secretary-general of the United Nations than a Pole becomes pope").

Regardless, I find this biography to be the best, and probably 'the most authoritative' biography of Pope John Paul II; and this put the competitors way behind in terms of biographical work. The above concerns may not matter at all for some readers, yet it does not decrease the quality of this book as a very ambitious work to elaborate the story of one of the most prominent figures of our lifetime.

Note: I purchased the Kindle version, and formatting wise, I find some technical problems in rendering letters with accents and marks, which are rendered as boxes. Kindle users may want to take this as an extra note.
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on March 12, 2017
A great biography of JPII. Well researched and written. I usually do not like Weigel's work because he is an ideologue.
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on October 29, 2015
Incredibly well written biography, I truly appreciated the amount of historical details, because there were so many things I did not know about JP II. This book gives an extraordinary description of JP II's spirituality. Great inspiring biography that should serve every man and woman live by the example of JP II.
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on April 28, 2014
This book will have universal appeal. It will resonate with teenagers to octogenarians or older and it will capture the interest of readers of varying interests. John Paul II is a profoundly significant figure of the 20th Century and not just for Catholics. This biography will edify, inform and illuminate as to the mind and character of a leader, theologian, philosopher, artist and a man dedicated to his faith and his love for God and all of humanity.

The author, George Weigel, though a scholar and intellectual, writes in a warm, conversational style and provides easily-enough understood explanations to historical, philosophical or theological issues as they arise. The book is very readable despite its rather intimidating size, not to mention the 500 page sequel which you can read after you finish with this volume!
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on January 28, 2015
This was the first biography I have read outside of school. I could not have made a better choice. The writing was excellent and through. It was dense and this took quite a while for me to read. An enjoyable challenge.

This book does take you on a journey with the Saint. I felt like I became a friend along this walk. I learned history and grew closer to God, the shaper of history. St. John Paul 2 was truly great and I see the echoes even now. The Church was shaped by the Holy Spirit through this man.

I walked away from this journey with a profound respect for a God, His instrument, human dignity and hope. I hope you enjoy the experience as well.
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on August 4, 2011
I found this book overwhelming in its narrative depiction of a profoundly gifted, historically challenged, and providential man who, on an unprecedentedly global scale, found himself driven by two basic principles (1) to love his God unconditionally and per that God's commandment (2) to love every one of us human beings as himself without exception as the equal children of that God.

In doing so Pope John Paul II tirelessly promoted the unlimited potential for greatness in every one of us, past, present, and future, through both his words and actions. He was equally deep in intellect and in heart, and he was guided to live for the ultimate benefit of all souls. John Paul's God blessed him with a fearless vision of hope through love that powerfully conquered all of the evils he faced on behalf of humanity. In so doing he now represents to us a promise of ultimate grace and redemption through love and beyond all fear.

Having spent many of my years as an atheist/agnostic, I had known little of this man prior to having happened upon this book. The truth is immeasurably greater than fiction, and there are so many aspects of truth to be gleaned from the biography of this great human being, Pope John Paul II.
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