cover image Pope Benedict XVI: A Personal Portrait

Pope Benedict XVI: A Personal Portrait

Heinz-Joachim Fischer. Crossroad Publishing Company, $19.95 (213pp) ISBN 978-0-8245-2372-5

Amidst a growing sea of crash-published papal biographies that look at the life, ecclesiastical rise and teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, this one stands out as a spicier, more thorough and more personal look at the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. (It was also, not coincidentally, mostly written before the papal election, so the overall effect is not haphazard and hasty, as so many of the other new pope books are.) Fischer, the Rome correspondent for a leading German newspaper, has known Ratzinger since 1976 and focuses this account not on Ratzinger's early life in Bavaria, wartime activities, or early teaching career, but on his more public career as a cardinal and leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He bases the book on Ratzinger's record as a church leader and public intellectual as well as his extended conversations with the man. Readers will enjoy savoring personal tidbits and glimpses of the pope's personal life, which he has always striven to keep private: his love of classical music, his thoughtful choice of gifts, his inability to suffer fools gladly. Fischer balances this praise with genuine discussion of various reasons Ratzinger was a controversial choice as pope, some theological (his disciplining of liberation theologians and others) and some personal (Fischer concedes that the pope can ""turn cold"" and isn't characteristically warm and open). The book also features 24 pages of photographs of Pope Benedict's life and career, many of them in color.