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Publisher's Summary

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Pope and Mussolini takes on a pivotal, untold story: the bloody revolution that stripped the pope of political power and signaled the birth of modern Europe.

Days after his prime minister was assassinated in the middle of Rome in November 1848, Pope Pius IX found himself a virtual prisoner in his own palace. The wave of revolution that had swept through Europe now seemed poised to end the popes’ thousand-year reign over the Papal States, if not to the papacy itself. Disguising himself as a simple parish priest, Pius escaped through a back door. Climbing inside the Bavarian ambassador’s carriage, he embarked on a journey into a fateful exile.

Only two years earlier, Pius’ election had triggered a wave of optimism across Italy. After the repressive reign of the dour Pope Gregory XVI, Italians saw the youthful, benevolent new pope as the man who would at last bring the Papal States into modern times and help create a new, unified Italian nation. But Pius was caught between a desire to please his subjects and a fear - stoked by the conservative cardinals - that heeding the people’s pleas would destroy the church. The resulting drama - with a colorful cast of characters, from Louis Napoleon and his rabble-rousing cousin Charles Bonaparte to Garibaldi, Tocqueville, and Metternich - was rife with treachery, tragedy, and international power politics.

David Kertzer is one of the world’s foremost experts on the history of Italy and the Vatican and has a rare ability to bring that history vividly to life. With a combination of gripping, cinematic storytelling and keen historical analysis, rooted in an unprecedented richness of archival sources, The Pope Who Would Be King sheds fascinating new light on the end of rule by divine right in the West and the emergence of modern Europe.  

©2018 David I. Kertzer (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“The modern world was forged in a series of revolutions stretching from Philadelphia in 1776 to Paris in 1789 to the cascading cataclysms in Europe in 1848. In this original - and even thrilling - book, David Kertzer gives us a brilliant and surprising portrait of the role of Pius IX in the making of a new democratic reality in the West. Engaging, intelligent, and revealing, The Pope Who Would Be King is essential reading for those seeking to understand the perennial human forces that shape both power and faith.” (Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power)

“In this riveting tour de force, David Kertzer shows how and why Pope Pius IX turned Roman Catholicism into the nemesis of modernity, with drastic consequences not only for the church but for the West - consequences felt to this day, when religion and politics form a lethal brew. Elegant writing, the pace of a novel, scrupulous scholarship - these hallmarks of Kertzer’s body of work are all in evidence here, wonderfully so.” (James Carroll, author of The Cloister)

“Tense...probing... Diverse personalities, regimes, and philosophies come into focus as formative influences on the unpredictable evolution of church, city, nation, and continent. Essential reading.” (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting perspective, somewhat confusing

I enjoyed the historic recounting of this interesting and unsettled time in Catholic history. Naturally there are lots of players in the story and at times was confused on what was going on. the narrator spoke clearly and well, but at times seemed a little robotic. overall I'm glad I finished the book and am now more knowledgeable about this particular point in time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Enlightening read

I have really never had much interest in Catholicism or its history, but an NPR,review caught my attention prompting me to buy and read this fascinating book by a prized historian author. It is shocking to think as late as 1848 there was still papal rule. It really wasn't until after 1929 and Mussolini that the pope authority over the state changed and was reduced to Vatican only. And not until the 60s and Vatican 2 that many of the ancient beliefs about church authority and the notion of separation of church and state came to be. That's jjust crazy. We take for granted that separation and forget its importance. We still see glaring evidence of the issues it creates (think Arab nations), but forget it was not so long ago in our own western history when church was the state. I am ready for some more fascinating historical accounts from this author. As a note, this is a bit of a heavy read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • STAMFORD, CT, United States
  • 08-31-18

Like a Suspense Thriller

I had no knowledge of the life of Pope Pius IX (“Pio Nono” to the Romans) or the troubles in Italy during his tenure. So as this history progressed, I found myself wholly absorbed in the car, waiting to see what happened next. There were multiple players in a game of international politics—the French, the Austrians, the other Italian kingdoms, as well as the conservative cardinals and the rebellious Roman liberals. The major issues, primarily the church’s control of state government and the unification of Italy, were fascinating. And after the Pope’s exile from Rome (not a spoiler—it’s disclosed in the first pages), the suspense turned on whether and when he might return to Rome.

David Kertzer has a novelist’s ability to draw characters and create suspense. Characters like Cardinal Antonelli, Alexis de Tocqueville and Garibaldi are well-drawn. The pope himself comes across as somewhat tragic, longing for his people’s affection but suffering because of his own weaknesses and his tendency to be manipulated by others.

The history was well-read. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

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The audio

I do not know if I gave the incorrect rating for performance due to my lack of understanding of performance. I took it to mean that the overall flow of the read. I had issues with the audio. I feel like I missed a lot of words from the audio due to the smashing or skipping of words throughout the story. I think the skips came through when there was a change in chapters or sections.

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Enlightenment

This book fills many gaps in the history of the Papacy. I was not aware of the ferocious rebellion of the Papal States-which was justified. The Roman Church as governed by Pope Pius IX was a Medieval institution whose cruel methods of governing clearl in need of reform. The author has done an outstanding job describing the Roman/Italy Culture and the very difficult transition to modern era. I can better understand the nature of foreign military intervention as used by the Papacy against "his subjects" and especially the Jewish population of Rome. "Viva the Republic" What a great read!