An insightful airing of dirty cassocks within papal politics, from a masterful, controversial scholar.




Contrary to the history books, the Middle Ages didn’t end with the Renaissance in Italy. They lasted until September 20, 1870, when “Europe’s last theocratic government was ended.”

So writes Kertzer (History/Brown Univ.; The Popes Against the Jews, 2001, etc.) in this rousing tale of clerical skullduggery and topsy-turvy politics, laced with plenty of cross-border intrigue. Pope Pius IX had made no secret of his hatred for democracy, nationalism, and other modernizing political forces sweeping Europe in the mid-19th century, and for good reason: a united secular Italy, the dream of Garibaldi and his red-shirted legions, could mean only that papal power would wane, and Pius counted as a great blasphemy the modern notion that “Church and state should be separate or that the papacy could survive and even flourish without owning its own land.” Even if the Savoyard king opposing Pius was unimpressive (“Lazy and pig-headed, he had little sense of his own limits, which were considerable”), and even if Italy, “a patchwork of states and duchies propped up by foreign forces,” was ill-equipped for unification, the leaders of the Vatican sensed that they were on the losing side of history and that the increasingly whittled-away Papal States were not long for the world. Thus a campaign of intrigues, some involving assassination attempts on revolutionary and monarchical leaders, some seeking the intervention of France and Austria, the two leading Catholic powers of the time, against the Italian government. Even as such efforts failed, the Vatican promulgated a new doctrine—that of papal infallibility. Vatican scheming against the Italian state continued even after Pius’s death, writes Kertzer, and it was not until after WWI that a successor pope lifted the ban against Catholics’ serving in parliament or even voting. Whereupon the Vatican, eager now to battle socialism, forged a pact with Mussolini, granting it sovereign-nation status and requiring that Catholicism be Italy’s sole and official religion.

An insightful airing of dirty cassocks within papal politics, from a masterful, controversial scholar.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-22442-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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