A hodgepodge of facts, some tantalizing, some tiresome, about the Holy See. Packard bit off more than anyone could comfortably chew when he decided to write a guide to ""the little monarchy in the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica."" For despite its miniscule 108 acres, Vatican City, as the headquarters of ""the world's oldest and largest organization,"" possesses a political history and a spiritual importance that would take many volumes to cover adequately. Packard opts for a piecemeal approach, filling his plate with a quirky assortment of offerings: the architecture of St. Peter's Basilica, the process of canonization, the Church's shaky finances. Despite mounds of data and a funny, sometimes flip style, the mix doesn't really satisfy. A profile of John Paul II, for example, includes a vivid account of the pontiff's daily routine (rich meat for Vatican buffs) along with a superficial and un-nourishing analysis of his personality and political problems. Packard does do a first-rate job of unraveling the boggling complexity of the Vatican hierarchy, and he throws in a number of oddball items, such as a rib-tickling primer on ecclesiastical garb. A sort of ""Everything You Wanted to Know About the Vatican but Were Afraid to Ask."" But where else can you read about John Paul II's hassles in installing a Vatican swimming pool, or about the sex test that was administered to newly elected pontiffs for several centuries after the Pope Joan scandal?