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Pope John XXIII: A Penguin Life

(Penguin Lives)

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  147 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Acclaimed not only for its "grace, skill and erudition," (The Washington Post) but also for its warm, engaging narrative, Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History series humanized the history of both the Jewish and the Irish people. In Pope John XXIII, he combines his remarkable insight and knowledge to portray this legendary and beloved pontiff.

Pope John XXIII opens with a concise but sweeping history o(The
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published January 14th 2002 by Viking Adult
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  147 ratings  ·  20 reviews

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Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book was disappointing because it was so biased. Before beginning his biography of Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council), Cahill writes a brief history of the papacy. This is where the bias is first evident. Cahill presents the church hierarchy and the institution of the papacy, pre-Roncalli, as doing almost no good in 2000 years. With a very, very few exceptions, it is as if the popes did nothing to further the Gospel or promote Christianity. At b ...more
If you buy into Cahill's agenda, Pope John was the only good pope of the last century ... or more. Not being a papal authority I can't refute many of his allegations against the other recent popes especially Pius XII and Paul VI but I find his offhand assessments highly prejudicial and suspect. That aside, it was a romanticized and extremely condensed view of Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli's life which I found dissatisfying on the whole, but then I haven't been overly thrilled with any of the bios in ...more
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found this both an interesting history of the papacy and its influence, but also a deeply moving biographical account. Even more than Cahill's other books, it clearly has an agenda and more than anything else provides the clearest view of Cahill's own beliefs. I actually wished there was an update for the current papal situation available. However, I found it well argued, moving and bittersweet and calling for a Catholicism that I could support. Perhaps most important for me while reading this ...more
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I changed my tag from "history" to "non-fiction." I was expecting a biography, but instead what the author delivered was a long essay (the author himself acknowledged such in the end notes). Years ago, I bought three books in the Penguin Lives series and this is the first I read. Perhaps the author was only fulfilling the intent of the publishers, since the books I own are all too short for real biographies.

I enjoyed the portion of the book discussing Angelo Roncalli's life (aka John
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
John XXIII is a wonderfully written historical book on the pontiff. It is an illuminating look at the office which he held and the life he led prior to and during his reign. It also details the life of a continually good person and highlights much that can be learned from him.

The first quarter of book is dedicated to the history of the papacy - objective warts and all - which gives context to the world and the city-state that John XXIII faced politically and socially. But while the w
Jan 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Too one-sided, even for Cahill, this casts every other Pope in history (save one) as an abysmal, power-hungry failure of a spiritual leader, the better to contrast with the shining, brilliant splendor of Pope John XXIII. While it provides insight into the life of a great man in a great time of Catholic history, he sets the story against an unfair backdrop colored by his own theology and cynicism. I think it is a decent read for anyone that is somewhat familiar already with Church history, but no ...more
Jul 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: penguin-lives
One of the best of the Penguin Lives series...the author starts off by using over a third of the book to give a history of the Papal institution, which is fascinating...this sets up the reader to understand exactly why and how John XXXIII was such a refreshing departure from papal tradition, why he was so beloved by his people, and why the actions he undertook with Vatican II were so extraordinary...

A great biography (from an author whose books I usually find quite tedious)...
Jul 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: catholic
Thomas Cahill (How the Irish Saved Civilization) gives a very readable, and at times critical, summary of the papacy in general, and John XXIII's life. He was a very unique pope who nearly single-handedly propelled the Catholic Church into the modern era, and instead of reactionarily condemning the cultural developments of the 20th century, he tried to discern what the Holy Spirit was doing in history.

Nov 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
I read this as part of a book club. I had no idea who Roncalli was until I read it. I can see where my parents, particularly my mother, got their inspiration in raising their children. It's too bad the work that Roncalli started never reached its full potential.
Ben Lariccia
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it

You get the history of the papacy in addition to John XXIII's bio. He's my favorite pope, a good man with insights on how to reform a church that badly needed it and still does.
May 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know about the history of the papacy as well as the life of John XXIII
Actually I am currently listening to this book on tape. Fascinating!
Rick Ludwig
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
As someone who has enjoyed most but not all books by Thomas Cahill, I was interested in how he would treat this topic. He gave a detailed background of the papacy, the man who became Pope John XXIIi, and both his immediate predecessors and successors through Pope John Paul II. I found the book enlightening and not filled with papal hero-worship. If anything Cahill made a point of bringing out every wart on the papacy from its inception onward. But his identification of Angelo Roncalli as an exce ...more
Oct 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I liked it. It was an easy read with tons of names thrown in to do further reading with.

I didn't like that there were no notes because one of the facts in the book does not correspond with the Wikipedia entry and I'd like to know the source of the story of John's first Good Friday prayer.
According to the book, John changed a very offensive prayer ("Let us pray also for the Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Chri
Dec 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: italy, non-fiction
This book is in two parts: one a general history of the papacy; the second a biography of John XXIII. Cahill is a practicing Catholic (I assume) and a great fan of John XXIII - but not of any of the recent popes. You certainly come away appreciating John but Cahill maybe goes a little overboard on his opinions of the church when you are expecting a straight-forward bio and not a lecture.

I have read other books in this series on Jane Austen and Mellville that I liked much better.
Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: catholic
Closer to 2.5 stars.

This author has some obvious biases regarding the papacy and the Catholic Church. I didn't care for his "brief history of the Church" nor his opinions about Paul VI and John Paul II. However, the middle portion of his book describing the life of John XXIII was engaging and enjoyable reading. However, the half of the book not about John XXIII causes me to give out a lower overall rating. If you just read the sections on John XXIII, I'd give those 4 stars.
Danny Bigioni
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Cahill uses many big words so his books are difficult to understand. But if you struggle through, you can learn a lot. He definitely has strong opinions on religion, but he's qualified to hold them. So while I respect the lower rated comments, I appreciate the effort the author put in. Great job and worth the read.
Bonnie Carruth
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not a biography, the first chapter is a short history of the papacy. The rest is a informal memoir of a remarkable man and priest. The chapter on the Second Vatican Council shows the behind the scenes maneuvering of the Curia.
Elizabeth Whelan
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: glad-i-read-it
Criticized for being biased. Depends on how one views role of church. If social justice is a priority, John was one of the greats.
Jesse Rice
Aug 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Biased, but honest about it. Good for Intro to history and of modern Catholic 'politics', as long as you are fine with a bit of Catholic bashing.
Very concise overview of the history of the papacy and the life and ministry of Pope John XXIII. It's marred only by the over-critical tone its description of the papacy of John Paul II.
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Jan 28, 2012
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Cindy Loomis-Torvi
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Sep 25, 2017
Scott Read
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Jun 30, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Feb 18, 2013
Bw Palm
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Dec 27, 2014
Stian Dalberg
rated it it was ok
Jan 11, 2017
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Jan 29, 2015
Kevin Hartigan
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Mar 08, 2015
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Nov 24, 2007
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Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in Queens and the Bronx, Cahill was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy in 1964, and a pontifical degree in philosophy in ...more

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