The days I do book recs are always fun for me, and I thought I’d give this one a twist by adding a theme: PAPAL THINGS. I have long been fascinated by papal history; the intricate plots of Vatican politics are far beyond even the abilities of the most diabolical thriller writer to conjure. So much power! So much intrigue! If you feel the same, here are a few books that might interest you.
*THE NUNS OF SANT’AMBROGIO. Don’t be put off by the heft. Hubert Wolf does a masterful job of relating the dark deeds behind convent walls in 19th century Italy. It all begins with a novice–born a German princess–who insists she’s being poisoned by the novice mistress. From there it spins out into a story about holy visitations, sacred mysteries, secret love affairs, blackmail, and murder. It’s superbly written–and tremendous credit to the translator as well. Here’s a great review from the Independent that actually uses the phrase “lesbian killer nuns”.
*THE POPE AND MUSSOLINI. David Kertzer’s newest chronicles the long and intricate relationship between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini. (Kertzer also wrote an excellent book–PRISONER OF THE VATICAN–about the papal withdrawal to the Vatican after the unification of Italy. Did you know that for 59 years, the popes didn’t leave the Vatican? They refused even to set foot in St. Peter’s square or give blessings from the balcony of the basilica.) Kertzer was able to draw upon newly-released documents covering the activities leading up to and through WWII–documents that disprove MUCH of what people have believed to be true about Vatican attitudes towards fascism and Mussolini in particular. This one just won the Pulitzer and it was WELL deserved.
*MISTRESS OF THE VATICAN by Eleanor Herman. Chronicling the life of Olimpia Maidalchini, the sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X, Herman’s book explores the life of a woman who loomed large on the international stage. She crafted policy, made appointments, and even influenced the outcome of papal conclaves. Innocent may have reigned, but Olimpia ruled, and she is a woman who deserves not to be forgotten.
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