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Saints and Sinners:
Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, by Eamon Duffy, is a wonder of comprehensive compression--a sumptuously illustrated, one-volume history of one of the most influential human institutions in world history. Duffy's lively portraits of the 261 scholars, scoundrels, and spiritual guides who have led the Roman Catholic Church are embedded in six historical essays that proceed chronologically from St. Peter to John Paul II. Duffy, a reader in church history and fellow at Cambridge, writes in the mannered yet affable tone of an avuncular English don. His narrative and arguments convey his own Catholic conviction that "the story of the popes is a crucial dimension of the providential care of God for humankind throughout history." Yet he also offers candid assessments of papal moral failings, including spectacular failures such as the orchestration of the Spanish Inquisition and the willed ignorance of Germany's Third Reich. Duffy's glossary of theological terms ensures that no secular reader will be lost in Christian arcana, and his excellent bibliographical essay will help motivated students zero in on the best resources for learning more about any period of Catholic history. For readers primarily concerned with current events, his analysis of John Paul II's papacy is extraordinarily useful and refreshingly free of cant. "To many people Pope John Paul seems a backward-looking figure, a man attempting to force a champagne cork back into the bottle," Duffy writes. "To others, he points the way towards a recovery of balance, a restoration of order and true faith in the flux of time. Only time, and the next conclave, will reveal which of these directions in their long walk through history the heirs of St. Peter will take." --Michael Joseph Gross [via]