Thomas Cahill, Author . Lipper/Viking $19.95 (176p) ISBN 978-0-670-03057-6

Cahill uses the same felicitous prose and refreshing approach to history that characterized his bestselling books How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews, here offering a short biography of John XXIII, the "people's pope" who initiated the Second Vatican Council. Cahill begins with a brief thumbnail sketch of the papacy, a chapter so replete with memorable details that many readers will hope that Cahill will someday prepare a magnum opus on the subject. He then narrows in on Italian peasant Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1881–1963), paying particular attention to his schooling in "social Catholicism," or the Church's official and unofficial interventions on issues such as poverty, war and community activism. In his twenties, he served as secretary to a bishop whose modernist leanings incensed the Vatican but deeply impressed the young Roncalli. As he rose through the ecclesiastical ranks, Roncalli managed to navigate a middle course between antimodernist rigidity on one hand and the liberals' tendency to jettison Church traditions on the other. When he was elected pope in 1958, most Catholics assumed he would be a transitional figure, never expecting that he would instigate the most sweeping reforms the Church had seen since the Catholic Reformation—from doubling the salaries of Vatican employees to redefining some of the Church's foundational doctrines. Cahill tells Roncalli's story with sincere admiration for the liberal, loving, corpulent pope who did not live to see the completion of Vatican II. (Jan. 14)

Forecast:Cahill is a well-established writer, with several previous bestsellers under his belt, so expect strong sales for this biography of the beloved pope. Viking plans a six-city author tour and national publicity, specifically targeting the Catholic market.

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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