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on 25 November 2001
Witness To Hope by George Weigel
This is an incredible book about an incredible man. I cannot pretend to have understood it all! At a time in history when nations around the world are looking for great leaders, men of integrity, there is one, not the leader of a nation but of a church. That man is John Paul II. He must be 'the man of the 20th Century'. There can be very few people, even public ones, whose lives are so well documented. Here is a man of integrity, a man of substance, a man, whose life witnesses to his faith.
First lay aside any prejudice, especially religious, Catholic or otherwise. Many no doubt totally disagree with him and his stance on life and various issues, but surely none can fail to respect him for his wholehearted following where God has led him. The book is, indirectly, a powerful apologetic for Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular. It is a must read for any serious student of church history of the 20thC, and dare I add, any student of history or sociology or politics; any serious theologian; and no doubt many more, including his fans! For this man has definitely made his mark on world history and on the lives of countless individuals of all ages and cultures, across all strata of society.
It is not the easiest book to read! It is a vast subject: a man, a priest, a bishop, the longest serving Pope of the 20th century. Nor is he just a figurehead, as many might initially believe. Here is a man who is a philosopher, a thinker at the deepest levels but also a man of action. To get an idea of the vast statistics of his life, and a brief resume of much of his papacy, it is worth reading the last chapter first.
This book will repay the effort to read, even skim read. For the more serious, it will definitely repay more serious study. Get reading!
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on 20 July 2001
This biography is compulsive reading and paints a fascinating portrait of Pope John Paul II. Not only a religious leader but philosopher, poet, actor, dramatist, statesman and patriot.
The treatment is dynamic and engaging - this is not hagiography but a very human and charming pen picture of a most remarkable leader.
Will be of interest to Catholics and non-Catholics alike - John Paul II is bigger than the Church he represents and symbolizes the meeting of faith, reason and personal courage. As a non-Catholic myself, I was inspired by this account of a most inspiring world figure. A must read.
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on 19 October 2009
This is most of the tale of the route to and papacy of John Paul II. 'Most of' as it was written before he died, and so lacks the end of this remarkable life story. And it does not start at the start, but later on in his life.

Having said that, it is a good academic treatise on a significant life story, perhaps the most significant of the twentieth century. You see the young man who rejected natural marriage and potential fatherhood, for a life of service to friends and community, who rose to unexpected heights, but remained as modest and simple a life as can be imagined. A man who wielded immense power, but who gave away even his clothing and died owning nothing but a simple crucifix.

It is a tale of a very different life from that of our secular world leaders, and most religious ones too. But, for me the real insight is that it is a book of a life of two halves: before and after the papacy. I don't know if it was the writer's intention, but we see first a man of great energy and activity: the Polish priest and bishop who challenged and defeated secular atheist communism. This, the first part of the book, is truly exciting and even riveting. The second half of the book, as the role of Pope becomes his job, becomes turgid and administrative.

It is difficult not to see a contrast between a Polish evangelical priest whose life was self/God-directed and capable of amazing feats. Against this the book shows a life increasingly tied up in the administrivia of Vatican life. You see a man who lives a deeply spiritual life still, but in an atmosphere that is less so than he is.

This is not an anti-Catholic criticism by this protestant critic per se. It is what the book, or its writer, shows evidence of. Whether it was a reality only John Paul II knew, and he is no longer with us.

So, a useful piece of work on the life of an amazing man and a very significant role in a world-leading organisation. Read it, but be prepared to battle through to the end.
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on 1 April 2002
...This is an incredible book about an incredible man. I cannot pretend to have understood it all! At a time in history when nations around the world are looking for great leaders, men of integrity, there is one, not the leader of a nation but of a church. That man is John Paul II. He must be 'the man of the 20th Century'. There can be very few people, even public ones, whose lives are so well documented. Here is a man of integrity, a man of substance, a man, whose life witnesses to his faith.
First lay aside any prejudice, especially religious, Catholic or otherwise. Indirectly, a powerful apologetic for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, this is a must read for any serious student: of church history of the 20th C or of history or sociology or politics; any serious theologian; and no doubt many more, including his fans! For this man has definitely made his mark on world history and on the lives of countless individuals.
It is not the easiest book to read! It is a vast subject: a man, a priest, a bishop, the longest serving Pope of the 20th century. To get an idea of the vast statistics of his life, and a brief resume of much of his papacy, it is worth reading the last chapter first.
This book will repay the effort to read, even skim read. For the more serious, it will definitely repay more serious study. Get reading!
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on 24 December 2011
This is an excellent and beautifully written biography of one of the most significant and controversial religious leaders of the twentieth century. I found it impossible to put down. Weigel is particularly good on Karol Wojtyla's life before becoming Pope in 1978, which is in many ways is more fascinating and intriguing than his Papacy. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the remarkable life of Karol Jozef Wojtyla. It should also be read alongside Weigel's latest book, The End and the Beginning, which chronicles the last years of the late Pope's life.
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on 9 March 2012
A great book by a great man and an outstanding Pope. I have read this book with much benefit. Pope John Paul 11 has the ability to deepen one's spiritual insight, explaining aspects of one's life and relationship with God which enrich life in every respect
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on 4 September 2015
An excellent read which shows the Great Pope's life and influence on 1989 very well
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on 16 October 2000
Any Christian who wonders what the Pope is really all about should try this vast book. It is not just a life - it is an account of a remarkable and inspirational person. The Holy Father is living proof that an intellectual can also be a mystic. His wartime experiences, his early life as a priest in Poland under communism, keeping faith alive under enormous pressure - these put many of his later actions, which I don't feel so happy about, such as his backing for Opus Dei, into a better perspective for me.
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on 9 February 2009
This book is subtitled 'The biography of Pope John Paul II 1920-2005' and carries the legend 'Updated with a new preface'. As such you would expect it to be a full biography of his life from birth to death (and perhaps a little beyond). Wrong! In fact this biography actually only covers the period 1920-2000 and doesn't cover the final five years of the Pope's life, although his final years do get a sentence or two in the preface, which is a heinous thing to do. I would have thought that, given the strength such a man showed in the full vigour of his life and papacy, his final years would have showed not only his humanity in coping with a terrible disease, but also his unshakeable faith in God in the face of death.

Leading on from the 'updated' claim, as I've said the author has added a couple of sentences to bring it 'up to date', but apart from that the main text has been left very much as it is. So it is littered with present tense ('he is', 'he has' etc) instead of past tense ('he was', 'he did' etc), which can be confusing and somewhat annoying, especially when you remember the boast on the front and the price. In fact I found this downright sloppy and felt that the author was too lazy to really go through the text to give it the update it needed.

Turning now to the text itself, the author is (as his thumbnail biography tells us) a Roman Catholic theologian, so perhaps not the best person to write a biography. He appears to have taken the writing of this book as an excuse to provide 'insights' (presumably his own) into the theology of the Catholic Church and the Pope's own writings, musings etc. Whilst some of this can be insightful (I found his analysis of Vatican II to be very helpful) the rest is, at best, turgid and at worse it feels like I'm being preached at. I found it really distracted from the the main topic - Pope John Paul II. I would have much preferred the biography to be just that - a telling of the Pope's life and death with an analysis of his impact on the modern church and the world, along with his relationship to key players both within and without the Vatican. What I didn't want was theological essay after theological essay of what the Pope meant when he wrote his plays, poetry, gave speeches etc and how that relates to God, Jesus and the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, with the odd 'oh yes, and he also was made cardinal'. A particular example of this is Wojty'a's promotion from Archbishop to Bishop. This happened whilst he was attending Vatican II, but we are told nothing of the circumstances of the promotion, just that one moment he was archbishop and the next bishop. And this isn't the only example!

So, in short, I wouldn't recommend this book as I'm sure there are shorter, pithier and more relevant biographies of a man who towered over the world like a colossus, bringing hope to millions and making those who use tyranny to subdue their people quake in their boots. I feel that this book has done little to serve such a man as was Pope John Paul II.
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on 31 January 2015
Best book ever!
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