• The Pope and Mussolini

  • The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe
  • By: David I. Kertzer
  • Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
  • Length: 14 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (351 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize Winner
Named One of the Best Books of the Year by San Francisco Chronicle 

From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe. 

The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of 20th-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and "Il Duce" had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. ("We have many interests to protect," the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals. 

In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life - as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler - the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years. 

The Pope and Mussolini brims with memorable portraits of the men who helped enable the reign of Fascism in Italy: Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius’ personal emissary to the dictator, a wily anti-Semite known as Mussolini’s Rasputin; Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, an object of widespread derision who lacked the stature - literally and figuratively - to stand up to the domineering Duce; and Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, whose political skills and ambition made him Mussolini’s most powerful ally inside the Vatican, and positioned him to succeed the pontiff as the controversial Pius XII, whose actions during World War II would be subject for debate for decades to come. 

With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the Pope’s complex relationship with his Fascist partner can finally be told. Vivid, dramatic, with surprises at every turn, The Pope and Mussolini is history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.

©2014 David I. Kertzer (P)2014 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"David Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy. They all come together in The Pope and Mussolini to document, with meticulous scholarship and novelistic flair, the complicity between Pius XI and the Fascist leader in creating an unholy alliance between the Vatican and a totalitarian government rooted in corruption and brutality. This is a sophisticated blockbuster." (Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer)
"A capstone on David Kertzer’s already crucial work, The Pope and Mussolini carefully and eloquently advances the painful but necessary truth of Vatican failure to meet its greatest moral test. This is history for the sake of justice." (James Carroll, National Book Award–winning author of Constantine’s Sword)

“Revelatory...[a] detailed portrait of the inner workings of the Vatican in this period... The general outlines of this story have always been matters of public record, but Kertzer’s book deepens and alters our understanding considerably. The portrait that emerges from it suggests a much more organic and symbiotic relationship between the Church and fascism. Rather than seeing the Church as having passively accepted fascism as a fait accompli, Kertzer sees it as having provided fundamental support to Mussolini in his consolidation of power and the establishment of dictatorship in Italy.” (The New York Review of Books)

What listeners say about The Pope and Mussolini

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

It is not narrated well - the delivery does not keep it as captivating as this book should be

It is an incredible story that if narrated by the right person can be very captivating.

8 people found this helpful

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Great factual review

Gives new meaning to the phrase 'politics makes strange bedfellows '
Surprising how recent Catholic history has evolved
Well researched and written
Enjoyed tempo and reader

3 people found this helpful

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ONLY HUMAN

David Kertzer reminds the world that organized religion is only human. Religions are subject to the goodness and sins of human nature. Whether one believes in a Supreme Being or not, actions of organized religion are freighted with human error. Kertzer is only one of many who have exposed the perfidy of organized religion. His target, in “The Pope and Mussolini, is the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Ratti becomes Pope Pius XI during the ascension of European Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 30s. Ratti is characterized as a pedantic, conservative, and sometimes bellicose Christian believer in, and defender of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XI agrees to support the government of Benito Mussolini in 1929 in return for the creation of an independent Papal State in Rome. Mussolini agrees to pay the church approximately $100 million for formally confiscated church land. Pope Pius XI acquires for himself and future Popes the right of independent rule, religious interpretation, and Christian doctrinal dictatorship. In return Mussolini gains the support of the Roman Catholic Church, the dissolution of Catholic political parties, and a title as II Duce, “The Leader” of Italy. At the stroke of a pen, Mussolini becomes a hero of Italian Catholics (over 90% of the population) and the totalitarian leader of Italy.

Pius XI compromises his morals and paves the way for Pius XII, a closet Christian anti-Semite, who becomes a Hitler’ collaborator by tacitly endorsing the immoral belief of religious purity. Though not widely known at the time, Cardinal Pacelli acted as a “too clever” intermediary between the German and Italian governments to undermine the growing discontent of Pope Pius XI with Germany’s treatment of Christians and Jewish converts to Christianity. Pope Pius XI commissions a new Catholic encyclical to condemn German treatment of Catholic citizens but dies before publication. Pope Pius XII (Cardinal Pacelli) buries the last encyclical of his predecessor in the archives of the Vatican library.

5 people found this helpful

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worth the time keeping the characters straight

loved the detail and perspective. after a few chapters the names were easy to remember because the writing was so specfic to each person invojved.
great reminder of the periles faced and choices made that informs the world today

1 person found this helpful

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Thoroughly investigated story

Awesome clarity and historical authenticity. Very well written and narrated. A historical eye opener rich in detail

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Fascinating History of Collaboration Between Popes and Fascism

Shocking and well documented study of ways in which Popes and Mussolini used each other to advance their political objectives and feared to dispute Hitler and betrayed democracy and Jews. Only objection was use of flashbacks made it sometimes hard to follow when listening to narrative.

1 person found this helpful

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Award winner

I selected this book because it won the Pulitzer Prize. It was better than I imagined. The author did a tremendous amount of research. He is excellent story teller. He discovered collaboration by some Catholic leaders that has been covered up.

1 person found this helpful

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A good listen

Very very very good account of the relationships of Pope Pius XI and the future Pius XII with Benito Musillini and to a lesser degree, Adolph Hitler.

Pius XI originally was please to find a working partner in Il Duce as he saw the chance for the Vatican to grow in influence against Pius XI's two ideological enemies, the Protestant Movement and Communism. Additionally Pius XI did not believe in a representational type of government.

Where Pius XI began to have serious rifts with Musillini was over the newly passed anti-Semitic laws. Pius XI believed that christian compassion should extend to the Jews. Additionally, Pius XI also held different ideas when it came to baptized catholic jews.

The future Piux XII, the papal secretary of state, favored strong ties to Mussilini and by extension, Adolph Hitler. Upon XI's death, XII ordered the total ban on the yet unpublished XI's papal encyclical which was viewed as very unfavorable to Hitler and Musillini. Both XI and XII have "a lot of 'splanin to do." Pius XII always had a cloud of antisemitism hanging over his head and this book greatly adds to that belief

Buyer beware tho ..... Lots and lots of Italian names most of which are superfluous to the main story.

5 people found this helpful

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Very biased but informative

This book is basically a well-researched hit piece on the Catholic Church and Pius XI in particular. The author did his homework, apparently, and you will certainly learn a lot of 20th-century Church history, but don't expect the author's conscience to be bothered by little things like logical consistency or moral depth.

The author regular accuses Pius XI of one thing and then even within the same paragraph accuses him of the opposite. For instance, why won't Pius XI just "get with the times!" on one page, but on the next page, "how dare Pius compromise and inch with Mussolini, the most popular political ruler of the time!" Similarly, "how dare Pius sign an agreement with a fascist!" on one page, but on the next page "how dare Pius be so stubborn in refusing to go along with Mussolini's fascist policies!" These sorts of inconsistencies in the author's invective against Pius XI are on almost every page of the book. It is almost comical. Similar inconsistencies can be found with his treatment of anti-semitism, something he wants desperately to accuse Pius XI of although the actual historical facts keep forcing him to acknowledge over and over again instances throughout Pius XI's life and reign in which he continually condemns anti-semitism. The author and readers can avoid falling into these paradoxes by simply viewing the history not from a liberal perspective—one in which Pius XI's actions make absolutely no sense—but from the perspective of Catholic history and theology. From the latter perspective, there is still probably room to criticize Pius XI's actions in places, but those criticisms certainly wouldn't resemble the one's launched by David Kertzer.

The style in which this book is written is terrific. It flows well and the performer, Stefan Rudnicki, matches the narrative perfectly. The story covers the reign of Pius XI, but spends a considerable amount of time detailing the early lives of both Pius XI and Mussolini. While the minutiae make for an entertaining story, one wonders while listening how much is historical fact and how much is gossip. Since there aren't any footnotes, listeners ought to take much of this book with a grain of salt since much of it is driven by accounts of this or that private conversation, which only a handful of people could have recorded, usually all of them interested parties. In general, the author seems to have adopted the editorial practice of usually going for whatever is the most salacious version of events.

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Fascinating history

Amazing and sad history and excellent narration. Takes the listener behind the scenes into a secret world.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-18-19

loved it

An excellent and interesting history of pre-war Italy. Good narration (when speed up a bit in the app).