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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2013
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This work takes one from the whispers of Vatileaks to the thunder of pedophile priests, from what is going on in the crypt beneath St. Peter's to the politicking that goes on when a pope is elected in the Sistine Chapel, from the secrecy of the ballots to the color of the smoke, from the tiniest crack in the aging crust of St. Peter's to the most pristine diamond in a papal tiara, from the elevator operators - janitors - guards - bell ringers to the top brass involved in shady deals in the Vatican Museum and the Vatican Bank, from the Vatican flophouses to its palatial palaces, from the deafening clamor of ancient bells to the faint papal tapping on Twitter, from a common priest who would say mass in the nude to a pope whose attire drew the comment from the British Queen, `too effeminate for my everyday tastes and far too elegant for royal affairs.'

Above all one is reminded that the Sovereign State of the Vatican--like all states--is a political one. Gone are the days when they elected the `holiest' man to the papacy. Today the primary quality of `Your Holiness' is `political acumen;' it has very little to do with the word `holy.' Consider the pedophile cover-ups that exploded in the press thirty years ago.

John Paul II never did much more than to lift a finger to control them. In fact, his inaction did all but condone them--pays-offs of victims persisted into this century. Yet--a political giant--he was able to keep the matter relatively in check for more than a quarter century. Benedict comes along and takes the bull by the horns and enacts strict policies to bring them to an end. Yet, unable to politically control the mess he bears the brunt of the blame. When canonized, the widely traveled Polish Pope will be remembered as `The Beloved Saint of All.' Benedict--if he ever makes it--will be tabbed `The Patron Saint of the Pedophile Priests.'

Yet, this book is more than just that. The author brings the Vatican to life. Here are the sounds, the smells, the touches, the tastes, the eyes, the voice, the very heart of a Vatican State too often wrongly viewed as a heartless regime of vast wealth and clandestine deceit. Here is the humor, the laughing, the joking, the tears, the pain, the joy, the struggle, the despair and the anxieties of a present day trying their best to nurture hope for a better tomorrow.

Most pointedly, John Travis bridges the vast canyon between what really goes on in the Vatican and what explodes in the media from day to day through rumors and innuendos. This is what is really important of this book -the truth.

This author writes in such a crisp and entertaining way he is able to reach the most brilliant scholar and a ten year old child in the same sentence and be understood by both.

Kind of reminds me of something John Paul I once said in his biography Murder by the Grace of God: The CIA and Pope John Paul I

"Some are like eagles soaring in masterly documents; others are like nightingales singing praises; I am a poor wren sitting on the lowest branch of the ecclesiastical tree saying it as it really is."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2014
This book was riveting and difficult. Riveting in descriptions that would never see the light of day and difficult in its revelations of backstabbing and feuding. It gave particular coherency to that axiom that the Church is always in need of reform. However the author is not very sympathetic to Pope Benedict concentrating rather too much on his seeming lack of emotion. His writing does not bear that out. I wonder what the author made of his resignation? Due to frustration and sorrow perhaps?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 June 2013
This was a very detailed and interesting book about life in the vatican. It was well written and easy to read, and it wasn't too heavy on religion. At times very funny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2015
I bought this for my dad. He can't keep talking about the interesting facts he's picked up in the book. He said he would read it again. Its unbiased and informative.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2014
Enjoyable book, well written and difficult to put down once I started. Interesting chapter in Pope Benedict at the end too. Would recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2013
It was a very objective view of the inner workings of the Vatican from a secular point of view. I enjoyed it
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2014
Book as described, delivered promptly. Great value
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2014
Very informative. A great insight into the Vatican
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2013
This is a book of two-halves. At its best its a fascinating insiders account of the Vatican City and its associated institutions, 'letting light in upon magic' (to quote Bagehot). We get an insight into the inner workings (and failings) of the Vatican, its personalities (great and small) and how an often disjointed and tribal institution works on the ground. Perhaps more importantly we get an unbiased appraisal of Pope Pius VII (often incorrectly described as 'Hitler's Pope' due to bad historiography) which is on the whole positive, though would work better as an extended book.

The Vatican is often viewed as an enigma hidden within a mystery - Thavis' book does much to remove some of that mystery, though it also becomes apparant that the Vatican is still one of the last absolute monarchies. It is like a series of medieval petty duchys, ruled over often by tyrants, quick to defend their feudal rights over others, even if this comes at the expense of the Pontiff. This, however, is one of the joys of the Vatican - were it a huge and well oiled machine it would not work in the same way. It is also a human institution, rather than a monolific edifice, and the presentation of its inner life provided by Thavis is less Dan Brown and much more 'Yes Minister'.

On the negative side, Thavis is (like many of his journalist colleagues) to quick to defend the rights and role of the Fourth Estate (the media) and to see failings and misreadings as coming out of poor communication, rather than the desire of the fourth estate for quick quotes, journalistic laziness and anti-intellectualism. Thus (like Rowan Williams, former Archbiship of Canterbury) Pope Benedict was often attacked by a media too quick to pass judgement without properly understanding the issues at stake, or having properly read speeches and briefs passed to them. The problem is not with poor media strategy, but with media hubris - the media often creating the stories they want to report, rather than true meaning of the text as given. Thus both Benedict and Rowan Williams both fell foul because of speeches they gave on Islam, on both occasions because the media failed to properly understand the speeches being made and too lazy to properly digest the text given to them. Thavis of course fails to recognise this, but it becomes apparent in this book that it precisely this failing of the media that is a major part of the problem.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2013
I normally avoid non-fiction as I worry it'll be dry, and while parts of this book dragged around the middle, over all it was a lot of fun reading about the various personalities inside the Vatican. It samples people from all areas of the Vatican, not just your usual suspects. From bored Swiss Guards to fiery Latin translators, from crusading nuns to cautious bell ringers - it pulled a lot of chuckles out of me and allowed me to see a different point of view for lots of issues I'd only glanced at on the news. I also learned far more about the Vatican than 13 years at a convent run school ever taught me.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book and I'd happily recommend it.
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