Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Good Pope by Greg Tobin

The Good Pope is the story of the life of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, a man born to peasant-farmers in rural Italy, who became one of the most influential popes in modern history. Greg Tobin constructs the life of Roncalli--Pope John XXIII--using a wide variety of sources, describing a humble man, full of passion for other people.

Tobin does a great job of making what could have been a boring recitation of facts about a good man's life into an interesting story. One of the ways in which he accomplishes this is by showing Roncalli's humorous side. At the pen of Tobin, Roncalli is a man who carried his sense of humor with him as he traveled to his various posts, including the Papacy. One of my favorite examples of this was when Roncalli was asked how many people worked inside the Vatican City State. He replied, "Oh about half of them."

Roncalli entered the clergy at a time when the Catholic Church was involving itself in social change. The Industrial Revolution was leaving many people cold and hungry in its wake. The Church set up soup kitchens and shelters to combat this social ill. Roncalli was secretary to Bishop Radini-Tedeschi, who was a vocal proponent of these social programs. Many of the sweeping changes that were a part of Vatican II had their roots in this period of Roncalli's life.

Tobin assumes very little advanced knowledge on the part of his readers, taking time to describe what may seem to some as common knowledge about the Catholic Church. As Brent alluded to in his review, Roncalli--at least as Tobin describes him--was nearly devoid of character flaws. Whether this is due to the editorial choices of Tobin or simply reflective of Roncalli's life is open for debate. But there are numerous points throughout the book where Tobin shows restraint and caution in his reliance on sources. It appears that Roncalli was a man with a deep faith in the Catholic Church and a deep love for humanity.


Brent Waggoner said...

Good review. The book really does make him seem like a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

It is good to know that readers don't need a great deal of background knowledge in order to understand this book; that opens it up to a much wider audience.

Thanks for being on the tour!