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Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  2,548 ratings  ·  131 reviews
“Fascinating...sheds light on the history of the twentieth century for everyone.”—New York Times Book Review

The definitive biography of Pope John Paul II that explores how influential he was on the world stage and in some of the most historic events of the twentieth century that can still be felt today.

Witness to Hope is the authoritative biography of one of the singular f
Paperback, 1056 pages
Published April 8th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published October 6th 1999)
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Michael Gerald
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Pope John Paul II's greatest legacy may be his reminding the world of what true humanism means. The world knows what false humanism can do, when the unbridled desire for what one wants is let loose. It did not lead to a utopia; it resulted in Auschwitz and the gulags. And he also taught that false humanism can also exist in democracies, when the presence of freedom can be misconstrued as just doing what one pleases and subjecting everything to the trap and hollowness of atheism and moral relativ ...more
Par Donahue
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This 900 page book is quite a read! I spent 6 months reading it a couple of years ago, and it was worth every minute I put into it! It combines European history since the end of WWI, church history, and the life of JPII. There are brief reviews of his many encyclicals, his writings from Vatican II, and many of his other written words.

George Weigel is a phenomenal writer. If I hadn't known the story I would have thought it was a piece of fiction.

If you have not read this book do yourself a favo
Doreen Petersen
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
What can I possibly say about the subject matter of this book that hasn't been said many, many times over. Saint John Paul II is truly one of God's Blessed People. May sound strange but when he was elected Pope you just knew he was destined for greatness far beyond what any of us could hope for. I pray every day to him and my prayers never go unanswered. For anyone interested in the Catholic religion of John Paul II this is a must read. ...more
Julie Davis
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was fascinating both for the historical context (a lot of which I never knew or had forgotten) and for the inspirational content woven throughout. It was uplifting in a way I didn't expect.

I was interested to see how many of John Paul II's controversial writing or actions are actually mirrored in some ways by Pope Francis ... resulting in many of the same sorts of critiques, from different sides of conservative/liberal thinking.

The audio is only available in abridged version but that didn't
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Witness to Hope is a monumental work by George Weigel, and is put - along with The Civil War: A Narrative - into a special category of books that I have read. They are books of serious matters and are books of serious weight as well. I dropped this book from 5 to 4 stars only because its length and subject matter required two reading efforts - separated by a few months - to complete.

The narrative of Poland under the Nazis, of the suffering of many groups (Jews, Christians, priests, professionals
Apr 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Witness to Hope is a wonderful, detailed biography of Blessed John Paul II. Not only does it describe all of the work that he accomplished during his pontificate, it also gave an insight into the motivation behind so many of his actions. Some may consider this book overly kind to the Pope, but as someone who grew up during the JPII generation, I gained a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the Holy Father.
Christian Geirsson
Dec 26, 2011 rated it liked it
A no more definitive biographical account could one ask for, "Witness to Hope" (or "Witness to Grope," as my sardonic brother said years ago) goes into extraordinary detail into the John Paul's theological, philosophical, personal, and ecclesiastical agendas, providing an almost completely chronological narrative of his 20 years in the papal office at the time of the writing. What this authoritative biography lacks compared to today's famously successful biographers (McCullough, Goodwin-Kerns, I ...more
Dan Sr
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I read this book partly as an exploration of Roman Catholicism. As I studied, I found a liberal evangelical church leader who claims to be Bible believing said that I would find Pope John Paul to be a true saved believer in Jesus Christ, even though he is a Roman Catholic (and the highest ranking).

It was an enjoyable read. He is a very charismatic leader. It is a great rags-to-riches story of an unlikely person climbing the ladder to the top.

He clearly is not trusting in Jesus Christ's atonemen
Brian S
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Finally made it through this one, have to admit with a bit of skimming. Early on in this JPII biography George Weigel laments the fact that the media so often portrays the goings on in John Paul II’s world from a purely political viewpoint, when in reality, while certainly having a political role, the pope was primarily motivated by the spiritual aspect of his office. Nevertheless, this biography reads as a chronology of the political forays of the now late pope. Never ending accounts of the pop ...more
Apr 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Witness to hope is a well-researched and comprehensive biography of John Paul II. It does a learned job in providing backgrounds to the political and social climates covered in Karol Wojtyla's past. This gives a feel for the tension and precarious balances present in a World War II-era Eastern Europe (Poland) and Cold War-era Western Europe (Rome). This also allows for a context and understanding of those times and what living in those eras would have felt like.

At times, however, the book reads
Alex Walker
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Pope John Paul II was a true inspiration to myself before I read this book. After I read it I realised how truly a great man he was.
His life story, if fiction, would be too far fetched to actually believe. From his simple upbringing in Poland he encountered the horrors of Nazi occupation and then the further horrors of a Communist regime and then to come through the end of all that and rise through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to become Pope and be one of the most witnessed human beings
Pete Iseppi
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
It took me quite a while to get through this book, but it was well worth the effort. What an amazing man Pope JPII was. Even if you're not a Catholic or even a Christian, you have to admire the effort that this man put into living and spreading his faith. The miles traveled, the numerous writings, surviving the Nazi occupation of Poland during WWII and then the Communist Government thereafter. Pope JPII raised the bar for future Popes. He was truly a giant of the 20th century, and his impact wil ...more
Jeff Cann
Dec 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Not for the faint of heart or the impatient! I gained a deeper insight into the life of a true leader of the Church. In particular, I enjoyed reading how JPIi set an example for Christian discipleship, used his influence for a greater good, and stood firm to uphold the teaching of Jesus Christ. Finally, this book gave me a new appreciation of papal encyclicals and their importance as learning resources for the faithful.
Fr. Ryan Humphries
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Weigel's tome is a must read for everyone. He loses a star because of the long and tedious hundred pages or so where Weigel recounts every conversation and letter that went into ending communism. Eck! Undoubtedly, it was important in understanding the pope, but Weigel obviously loves this stuff. 95 pages could be edited out and readers would - i think - be appreciative. Otherwise, it's an amazing work that ought to be on every bookshelf. ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you want to understand the challenges St. John Paul II had to face during his years as the successor of St Peter you must read this book. From the priest chastised on the tarmac at Managua's Sandino International Airport to the encounter with Mehmet Ali Agca, from the intervention in the Jesuits to the meeting with Mother Theresa, this book shows us how hard is the mission of the Pope and how hard was to John Paul II to be a Pope in those turbulent years. ...more
Brian Ballard
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
An incredible overview of the life, ministry, and impact of Pope John Paul II. The detail and thoroughness Weigel brings to this work is remarkable. However, the author’s own unabashed favorable view of Pope John Paul II at times colors the telling of history. A more critical look at certain challenges during Pope John Paul II’s papacy would have been interesting. Still, if you’re interested in Pope John Paul II this is the definitive biography and a great read!
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this as a protestant intrigued by the cultural impact that this man was making in the world at large. It called me to carefully examine my assumptions about Catholocism as a whole. What an inspirational human being. I you have read the pope's writings you may agree that Mr. Weigel I feel made his subject's mind and heart more accessible than John Paul could have done himself. ...more
Aug 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
No better history lesson on the 20th century than to study the remarkable life of JPII. The best thing about this book is Weigel gives an introductory summary of all of JP's writings... brilliant writings we will be unpacking for centuries! ...more
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
St. John Paul II gave George Weigel unprecedented ‘access’ into his life. Weigel included so much detail. Though the amount of details was overwhelming, the result, at the end, was that I felt like I had just ‘walked with’ John Paul through his life. It was precisely how Karol met God in the smallest details of his life that allowed his whole person to be taken up by the Spirit and be directed by God in all the ways he was.

After reading the book, I am again awestruck by just how profoundly infl
Justine B.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well worth the months it took me to read.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good. It got a little boring at the very end as the author was wrapping up the narrative and trying I guess to speculate about JP2s legacy. But otherwise very compelling.
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
To allege that this book is well-written would be an understatement. Each sentence and paragraph is packed with information, but it flaunts an easy flow and does not read like a textbook. I learned so much about JPII, the Church, and world politics over the past three months of experiencing this book. I cannot recommend this book more; I will definitely read it again.
Jun 10, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although not a Catholic, I found this biography of Karol Wojtyla to be an enlightening account of the life of Pope John Paul II and the remarkable and miraculous influence he had on the world during his early life and papacy.
A few favorite gems include (by summary or by quote):
• To a modernity dominated by the pleasure principle and by personal willfulness, JP II has insisted that suffering can be redemptive, and that obligation is at the core of Biblical religion. (Pt. 1)
• In an intellectual en
Czarny Pies
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Catholics and anyone interested in the History of the Catholic Church
Shelves: european-history
Witness to Hope is the authorized biography of John Paul II (Karol Woytyla) written by a former theology professor and prolific writer on Church issues. It is a stunning work that benefits from several important factors:

-1- the author was allowed to interview John Paul II personally on six occasions
-2- he had access to individuals inside John Paul's inner circle at the Vatican on an "as needed basis"
-3- Jean Paul's former teaching colleagues at the Catholic University of Lublin and his friends
Richard Grebenc
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Five stars are not enough for this tome (no doubt the longest book I have ever read clocking in at 864 pages not counting end notes which I read if they were substantial). This is the definitive work on John Paul's life through 1998 (I can't wait to read volume two!).

I started this on his feast day last year although it has been on my bookshelf since it was published in 1999. I figured I was long overdue in reading about this amazing man.

An amazing work of scholarship, not only do we learn abou
Brittany Bond
My rating is by no means at all correlated with my opinion of the man, Pope John Paul II (JP2) it was just far from the most satisfying biography. For several reasons:
- a bit of a biased perspective
-- did not appreciate the entire last hour (listened to the audiobook) being reserved for countering detractors
--- did not feel the author did a good job at all at counteracting and rather he just stuck to what JP2 did and didnt do/say/write.
----started to also feel that the author was giving too much
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
An eye-opening biography of the life of Pope John Paul II -- it is a tapestry of the life of Pope John Paul II that weaves the 'threads of his life on the cloth of the world stage'. It progresses from his childhood and youth in totalitarian and Nazi controlled Poland, to his rise through the ranks of the Church through his role in resolving many world conflicts, including his historical involvement in the 'demise of Communism'. Weigel weaves his story with JP II's encyclicals and other writings ...more
Bobby Krueger
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I first read Weigel's biography of St. John Paul II as a freshman in college. Young, naive, wet behind the ears, I understood very little of the political and philosophical implications of the life of this remarkable man. Still, the book made an impression on me and John Paul II became one of my personal heroes.

Almost 10 years later, with seminary and four years of priesthood under my belt, returning to this book has been a profound spiritual experience. Beyond heroic, JPII was a man convinced
Matt Mitchell
Aug 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a man. What a life.

Reading this 12 years after JP II's death, I was struck not only by the lessons of history that he embodied and absorbed through his experiences but by his amazing amount of understanding for how this world works. He truly saw things as they are.

I expected this book to be most interesting for what happened in his life and pontificate prior to the fall of communism. What ended up striking me more were his observations for where society would go if it continued to fail in r
Elise Conner
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I must admit, this book was extremely daunting in the beginning. But after two chapters, I never wanted it to end and couldn't stop telling people about it.

George Weigel's book is a treasure, recounting the truly awesome life of one of the greatest men of the 20th century. With each vignette, this book gave me a greater understanding of how truly radical Blessed John Paul II was in the Church's history, challenged me to think on a different moral level, and inspired me to live a theology heavil
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American author and political and social activist. Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

Each summer, Weigel and several other Catholic intellectuals from the United States, Poland, and across Europe conduct the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society in Krakow, in which they and an assortment of

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“Much of late modernity assumes that dependence on God is a mark of human immaturity and an obstacle to human freedom. The life of Karol Wojtyła and his accomplishment as Pope John Paul II suggest a dramatic, alternative possibility: that a man who has been seized and transformed by the “more excellent way” can bend the curve of history so that freedom’s cause is advanced.” 2 likes
“The crucial issue of the times, he suggested, was the human person: a unique being, who lived in a material world but had intense spiritual longings, a mystery to himself and to others, a creature whose dignity emerged from an interior life imprinted with the image and likeness of God. The world wanted to hear what the Church had to say about the human person and the human condition, particularly in light of other proposals—“scientific, positivist, dialectical”—that imagined themselves humanistic and presented themselves as roads to liberation. At the end of 2,000 years of Christian history, the world had a question to put to the Church: What was Christian humanism and how was it different from the sundry other humanisms on offer in late modernity? What was the Church’s answer to modernity’s widespread “despair [about] any and all human existence”?” 1 likes
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