A stoutly orthodox life by a rapturous Pope-watcher (""I was swept into his magic circle as everyone is who meets him face to face""). Still, Longford's book stands out above most of the competition because of its literate text--he is a distinguished English peer and a convert to Catholicism--and, still more, its fine color photography. The summary biography holds no surprises: Longford is heavily indebted to the research of Mary Craig and Peter Hebblethwaite (the best informed, though sometimes sharply critical, student of John Paul II), and he admits it. The story is familiar by now, but it retains a certain intrinsic appeal: Karol Wojtyla's boyhood in provincial Wadowice; his early loss of mother, brother, and father; his love of the outdoors (skiing in the Tatras), his scholastic brilliance, his ""career"" as an actor and worker in a limestone quarry, his two near-fatal traffic accidents, his narrow escapes from the Nazis; and finally his meteoric rise in the Church. Prodigiously gifted as he is (e.g., he speaks over a dozen languages), the Pope is also highly photogenic; and in the scores of well-chosen pictures assembled here, he radiates energy and charm. Whether visiting earthquake victims in southern Italy or handicapped children in the Philippines, chatting with Jimmy Carter or Emperor Hirohito, praying somberly in Auschwitz or cheerily fondling a baby in Zaire, John Paul II looks every inch the kindly patriarch. As for the Pontiff's decidedly patriarchal views and his habit of giving short shrift to liberals (Drinan, KÃœng, etc.), Longford firmly approves, though his tone is a bit defensive. An earliest, enthusiastic, relentlessly edifying tribute.