Ah, for some real wickedness: Hofmann is a seasoned journalist (former New York Times Rome bureau chief) and long-time vaticanista (since 1938), but this rambling report of the papal and curial goings-on he's witnessed generally falls as flat as that roguish title and coy subtitle. Though he writes well enough and has no fatal biases (he's a genial lapsed Catholic), Hofmann treats the Vatican not just as an exotic mini-autocracy but a politically important force. Or at least he spends a great deal of time on subjects like Ostpolitik under John XXIII and Paul VI; financial scandals involving Michele Sindona, Roberto Calvi, and Bishop Paul Marcinkus, John Paul II's problems with underpaid and increasingly vociferous Vatican employees; why Italians often use the Vatican's postal system (less chaotic than their own) but seldom read L 'Osservatore Romano (too stodgy and predictable); and, getting down to the truly trivial, how Mother Pasqualina, Plus XII's Ã‰minence grise, infuriated certain cardinals, or how Monsignor Giovanni Benelli cracked down on all the schnorrers illegally shopping at the Vatican's cut-rate supermarket. These and other developments, like the growth of that strongly conservative and slightly menacing sodality called Opus Dei, might arouse our interest/alarm/concern a lot more if it weren't obvious that a) the Vatican is basically a symbol, not a state, and b) its power and importance, from every indication, are on the wane. Actually Hofmann knows all this, but he wants to chat about old memories, which he does engagingly enough for readers intent on studying the micro-circuitry of Catholicism--but even they would do better with George Bull's Inside the Vatican (p. 151).