Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi” as Want to Read:
Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  296 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
Acclaimed biographer Donald Spoto strips away the legends from the life of Francis of Assisi to reveal the true story of a man who has too often been obscured by pious iconography. Drawing on unprecedented access to unexplored archives, plus Francis's own letters, Spoto places Francis within the context of the multifaceted ecclesiastical, political, and social forces of me ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Reluctant Saint, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Reluctant Saint

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jan 02, 2008 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
I'm not Catholic but I read this book before I visited Assisi this summer. St. Francis was an interesting character, to say the least, and someone for whom I have the upmost respect. This book seems to be one of the better, more balanced biographies, and Spoto does a good job of historically contextualizing the stories and legends. I don't read a lot of this type of book, and I didn't know what to expect, but I liked it.
Mar 26, 2008 Sharif rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 15, 2008 Marissa rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: catholics; those searching for strength
Recommended to Marissa by: Jeffery Turman
It is definitely a different take on Francis, one that really gets into the nitty gritty of who he was as a man. The author mentions somewhere in the book that saints are often portrayed as these people who looked at life with rose colored glasses and never faltered. This is not that type of story. It allows the reader to see the true humanity of Francis, being able to identify with his pain and suffering, as well as his triumphs. It makes me want to know more about Francis, to delve deeper into ...more
Mar 13, 2008 Gregory rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, spiritual
Spoto gives a fascinating cultural/historical framework for St. Francis' life. This is not a work of hagiography, but a responsible and respectful biography on this most popular saint in the Christian world. Spoto adds his own musings on the challenge of following Christ as he tells us about St. Francis. A very inspiring book.
Dec 20, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Recommended to Rebecca by: Jackie Giles
3 1/2 stars

Whatever it is that keeps me from selling all that I own and living a life of servitude and simplicity is probably also keeping me from reaching a level of holiness that Francis Bernardone achieved. Clearly the man was holy.

While traveling in Italy, and Assisi in particular, during college, I was introduced to Francis of Assisi via Cimabue and Giotto's frescoes in the Upper Church of Francesco's (pre-earthquake!) as well as a visit to the Poor Clares of San Damiano. But my true admir
Apr 02, 2011 Holly rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Always wanted to know what made a saint. This was interesting. Not a perfect person, but one who sought to serve, and sought holiness. Interesting. At times the supposition and lack of concrete data bored me although I suppose the author did the best he could with the information available.
Max Anadon
Well, the reading is going a little slow, and I'm usually not one for biographies. I had this in my library because I've always been humbled by the prayer of his namesake.

A lot to think about so far in this book, but one section I wanted to highlight was on page 48..."We begin to acknowledge, accept and know God--always imperfectly and darkly--when we seek to be free of our idolatry of self, love others unselfishly and accept our existence as meaningful, despite its unmanageability. When we reno
May 02, 2010 Jessica rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was absolutely exquisite. It gives a frank look at life in the middle ages and a wonderful down-to-earth portrait of St. Francis. The prose is intelligent but still accessible. I found St. Francis to be personally inspirational. I have a new hero! What a magnificent person. He struggled to know God's will for Him, and had to accept that what God wanted him to do and what he wanted for himself was not the same. A must read for any wishing to become a true Christian and true di ...more
Dan Hazen
Jul 27, 2010 Dan Hazen rated it really liked it
Scholarly foundation, but highly readable. The author is respectful, and orthodox in his view, yet doesn't romantasize and oft overly romasntasized subject.

I love Francesco even more than I did before reading this...
Nov 01, 2010 Julia rated it really liked it
This was a great new look at someone I thought I knew. Apparently I didn't! So well researched, well written, and interesting. Biographies can sometimes be dry, but this one kept me going- I couldn't put it down. Francis was so revolutionary: teach by example, don't judge, love everyone. Such an interesting view into the Medieval Church and times. Any book that inspires me to want to be a better person should get 4 stars.
Feb 28, 2011 Kathy rated it it was amazing
Wonderful description of a life that I knew vaguely, in romantisized terms, and a prayer that I had grown up with. Well researched with insight into faith and relationships to God.
Apr 07, 2011 Krista rated it it was amazing
This book was wonderful! It was a little hard to read through at times but I loved learning about a "Saint" that was so simple and down-to-earth and just loved Jesus! Catholicism tends to taint everything and everyone in overly religious tones and it was great to find that Francis of Assisi was just not that way!
Jun 01, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting and readable book about Francis of Assisi. Many parts of the book read like a devotional book. The author is obviously a devout man who wants to inspire his readers to walk more closely with God.
Jun 09, 2012 Jason rated it did not like it
St Francis of Assisi is a key personality in the history of the church and I wanted to learn a little more about him. Unfortunately this book did not enlighten me much. Still looking for the book I want!
Aug 21, 2012 Tina rated it really liked it
This is a short (ca. 200 pages) bio of St. Francis that does a great job of going back to source documents to explain his life. I could have done without the author's theologizing, but I appreciated the great research that went into the book. I read the book because my ex-husband used to say that St. Francis was crazy, and I wanted to see for myself. Good news--apparently he wasn't. It's an inspiring book, good for spiritually-minded readers (and even ex-Catholics)!
Tammy Reasbeck
Oct 11, 2012 Tammy Reasbeck rated it it was amazing
I'm not an overly religious person but I have always been interested in the life of this man, not the perfect saint but the man. Every book I have read so far on him has depicted him as flawless and saintly, which is unrealistic of anyone. This is the first bio about him that I felt showed me who he truly was, a flawed man who strived to be better and serve God. I could actually relate to him as a fellow human being! This is an amazing book if your interested in the truth verses a depiction of p ...more
Willa Grant
Mar 15, 2013 Willa Grant rated it it was amazing
This is the best biography of St Francis I have ever read, the author presents a good medieval history backround & has clearly studied his references well. I loved Francis even more after reading this. Francis was no plaster saint but a real, human & holy man of medieval times. As a follower of Francis I appreciated the realities of his life & beliefs being presented in such a clear manner.
Tobey Aubert
May 09, 2013 Tobey Aubert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Up to date, historically detailed bio with spiritual insight. I wish he had detailed what the friars in the later years of Francis' life were retaining of his original lifestyle when they wanted to stray into areas that other Orders had. Besides that, I enjoyed it immensely.
Mary Jane
Aug 07, 2013 Mary Jane rated it really liked it
This book appears to have been well-researched. Indeed, I learned quite a bit about St.Francis - more than I ever gave thought to. What I did know - and had confirmed - was that he spoke and lived a simple truth - love Jesus, live simply, treat others with peace in one's heart.
I'm glad I read this one.
Sep 30, 2013 L rated it really liked it
This was my latest read in a study of the life of St Francis of Assisi. Donald Spoto has a whole series of life examinations, and spends time examining old documents, diaries, etc to prove/disprove myths and legends about famous people. The author describes the book in this fashion: "Reluctant Saint has been writen from the author's perspective that faith is primarily an attitude about reality. In the final analysis, that is what attracted me to Francis of Assisi--that he saw his journey to God ...more
Oct 31, 2013 Anita rated it it was amazing
The bio of St. Francis that I consider the best I've read: complete with historical background and culture of the time, to help the reader try to understand this saint. I loved it.
Nov 02, 2013 Andrea rated it really liked it
This is the second time I have read this book. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to read a meaningful biography, grow deeper in acts of Faith, or better understand such amazing characters in the Middle Ages.
Margie Dorn
Dec 08, 2013 Margie Dorn rated it it was amazing
Really the best telling about Francis that I can imagine, for the modern reader. I've now read it twice.
Jan 14, 2014 Bethany rated it really liked it
A great inside look at the life of a saint - not just what he did, but a glimpse into how he felt and how he attempted to live a life pleasing to God. A great reminder to seek God's will and to carry our cross as God intended and not as the world or our own fleshy desires intend us to. Also a good reminder that saints are people who at times struggle in their pilgrimage to make sense of it all just as we do. Dry at times, but well worth the read to discover the richness within.
Don Becher
Jan 27, 2015 Don Becher rated it it was amazing
Although the author/biographer treats the subject with respect and is obviously a fan of the saint, this was meant to be a book that was not done through a religious haze, but as an accurate account of this twelfth century man’s life. This honest treatment of the man who became the saint, increased my understanding of him and respect for him. As an aside, the book is made even more interesting by its incorporation of the politics and competing empires and beliefs of the time.
Aug 12, 2015 Amy rated it really liked it
If you want to understand Pope Francis, studying St. Francis of Assisi is a must. This book was factual and did an excellent job explaining the Middle Ages (while Francis was alive) and how this beloved saint became the man he was and the legacy he has left in his wake.

Here is the money quote from the book: "As life became more problematic, more complicated and more painful, he kept his focus not on himself but on God. He did not use people to find God: he began with God and then moved on to fi
Jun 13, 2015 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting this to be a biography but it is more of a commentary, interpretation, and application of lessons learned from the life of Francis. Spoto's opinions are many. At times, his editorial remarks eclipse the story of the life of Francis.

Some of the lessons I took away: (1) Francis followed the Nike dictum: "Just do it." He did not plan, think through, justify, or contemplate. He heard the command of Jesus and just did it, without considering the consequences. This got him into trouble
Nov 29, 2015 Tom rated it it was ok
I found the book tedious reading. While I expected a biography, I didn't expect the frequent theological sermons, explaining Francis's behaviors or thinking just as one might in a Sunday School class or from the pulpit. The milieu in which he operated and built his brotherhood was interesting.
Kelly Kittel
Jan 13, 2016 Kelly Kittel rated it liked it
Let me begin my 2016 reviews by noting that my reviews are heretofore brought to you by the new and improved Goodreads which now wants me to remember not only when I finished reading a book, which was already a challenge given my propensity to procrastinate coupled with an inability to remember numbers, but now also expects me to record when I started reading? Which was even longer ago? Sigh. Why?

Let me also note that I was looking forward to reading this book. Who doesn't love St. Francis, afte
Mar 19, 2016 James rated it liked it
The problem with books about ancient religious figures is that they are light on facts and lean heavily on the author's view. This book employs a lot of scripture reference and is both repetitive in its presentation and its conclusions. Overall not a lot of new information or a particularly noteworthy read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Road to Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis
  • Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life
  • An Infinity of Little Hours: The Trial of Faith of Five Young Men in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order
  • Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics
  • The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy
  • A Book of Hours
  • The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria
  • Priestblock 25487: a Memoir of Dachau
  • Catherine of Siena
  • Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety
  • Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen
  • Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes
  • A Concise History of the Catholic Church
  • The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton
  • Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism
  • God's Fool: The Life of Francis of Assisi
  • Francis: The Journey and the Dream
A prolific and respected biographer and theologian, Donald Spoto is the author of twenty published books, among them bestselling biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, and Ingrid Bergman. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Donald Spoto earned his Ph.D. in theology at Fordham University. After years as a theology professor, he t ...more
More about Donald Spoto...

Share This Book

“When we renounce our fear of life and give up trying to have it under our control—that is, when we acknowledge our contingency and utter dependence on God—then God comes to us and turns us toward Himself.” 0 likes
“The idea of Christian perfection, which began in the ancient monasteries and spread to the world as an ideal, is one of the most appealing, demanding and ultimately hopeless notions of the spiritual life. By definition, only God is perfect—that is, complete and independent unto [God’s] self. Humans, on the other hand, are radically imperfect, and that, paradoxically, is welcome news, for the recognition of our incompleteness throws us on the mercy of God and enables us, as Saint Paul stressed, to put up with one another’s faults.” 0 likes
More quotes…