The best books about the pope

3 authors have picked their favorite books about popes and why they recommend each book.

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The Vicar of Christ

By Walter F. Murphy,

Book cover of The Vicar of Christ

I am lucky to have lived a few lives – I am a lawyer, was a television consultant and analyst, and am now an author.  But that’s nothing compared to this book’s protagonist, a man who was a medal of honor winner, then a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, then a monk, and finally the Pope. Creatively told and excellently written, this book inspires me to think that anything, any path is possible. 

The Vicar of Christ

By Walter F. Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vicar of Christ as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times Bestseller is now available in its 35th Anniversary Edition, featuring an extensive new introduction by Justice Samuel Alito of the U.S. Supreme Court. (NOTE: Only the new edition from QUID PRO BOOKS is an all-new printing and includes the new Foreword, even if this description erroneously appears under used copies of old versions.) This book is universally considered to be an unusual, fascinating, and well-written observation of the life of a man who was first a hero and Medal of Honor winner from a brutal war, then Chief Justice of the United States, later a monk…

Who am I?

If I hadn’t become a lawyer, I might well have been a history teacher. I’m always reminded that history is just a story that's isn't yet complete. We're constantly uncovering things that alter our knowledge of the past, but we also become aware of just how many things could have gone differently. My first alternative history novel The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington, was inspired by an 18th Century rumor that I stumbled upon: That the British army planned to kidnap George Washington and spirit him back to England to be tried for high treason. Whether that was true or not, it seemed a great plot device for an alternative history novel.


I wrote...

The Day Lincoln Lost

By Charles Rosenberg,

Book cover of The Day Lincoln Lost

What is my book about?

Abby Kelley Foster arrived in Springfield, Illinois, with the fate of the nation on her mind. Her fame as an abolitionist speaker had spread west and she knew that her first speech would make headlines. One of the residents reading those headlines would be none other than the likely next president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln, lawyer and presidential candidate, knew his chances of winning were good. All he had to do was stay above the fray of the slavery debate and appear the voice of reason until the people cast their votes.

As his rival President James Buchanan's term ends and his political power crumbles, he gathers his advisers at the White House to make one last move that might derail Lincoln’s campaign, steal the election and throw America into chaos.

The Road to Gandolfo

By Robert Ludlum,

Book cover of The Road to Gandolfo

I have always loved spy thrillers (Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, John le Carre, Jason Mathews) because of the plot's intellectual twists and turns, and with the characters' struggle and moral flexibility necessary to survive. But in most spy thrillers, you know who the good guys are supposed to be. Ludlum’s The Road to Gandolfo (and sequel The Road to Omaha) takes an absurd (but plausible) turn on that contention. The characters are loveable and the comedy (plus thriller are equally) fast-paced. I laughed until I cried on more than one occasion while reading this (these) book(s). 

The Road to Gandolfo

By Robert Ludlum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Road to Gandolfo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

War hero and infamous ladies’ man General MacKenzie Hawkins is a living legend. His life story has even been sold to Hollywood. But now he stands accused of defacing a historic monument in China’s Forbidden City. Under house arrest in Peking with a case against him pending in Washington, this looks like the end of Mac’s illustrious career. But he has a plan of his own: kidnap the Pope. What’s the ransom? Just one American dollar—for every Catholic in the world. Add to the mix a slew of shady “investors,” Mac’s four persuasive, well-endowed ex-wives, and a young lawyer and…

Who am I?

My hero and mentor in life was my mother. She was a remarkable human being. Her lifelong coaching was that there were only two worthwhile pursuits in life: Learning and laughter. Comedic thrillers fulfill this maxim remarkably well. They ask you to think, while also reminding us that life is pretty funny when you can take a step away from the fray. (I am an entrepreneur and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley with over 7 million airline miles cumulatively. Yes, of course, my butt is entirely flat and fat.)  


I wrote...

The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley

By G. Craig Vachon,

Book cover of The Knucklehead of Silicon Valley

What is my book about?

Comedic-thriller examines Silicon Valley's unbridled innovation culture.

Ralph Gibsen isn’t your typical spy. In fact, he may not be a spy at all. He's lumpy, blundering, and abysmal at chatting up the fairer sex. Yet, he is attracting a significant amount of attention from the intelligence community. After all, as a 30-year Silicon Valley mainstay, he can phish your passwords, bust firewalls, and has developed software used by millions to circumvent government censorship. And now his world is closing in as he thinks he has stumbled upon a cabal who is pushing to misuse his own technology for world domination.

Soldier of Christ

By Robert A. Ventresca,

Book cover of Soldier of Christ

The leading expert on the Holy See during World War II, Ventresca offers us an immensely readable and authoritative biography of the elusive Eugenio Pacelli. In many ways, it surpasses all previous biographies in its comprehensive and convincing analysis of its central subject, Pope Pius XII. Ventresca adeptly bores through the polemical and problematic arguments that encompass the decades-long “Pius Wars” and offers us a balanced portrait of Pacelli, who is neither a condemned reprobate nor an exalted saint. Rather, Ventresca shows that Pacelli was a man of his time, burdened with nearly insurmountable challenges, who nevertheless consistently preferred to address them through a diplomatic path of prudence and caution that always placed the needs of the institutional Church before all other concerns.  

Soldier of Christ

By Robert A. Ventresca,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soldier of Christ as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Debates over the legacy of Pope Pius XII and his canonization are so heated they are known as the "Pius wars." Soldier of Christ moves beyond competing caricatures and considers Pius XII as Eugenio Pacelli, a flawed and gifted man. While offering insight into the pope's response to Nazism, Robert A. Ventresca argues that it was the Cold War and Pius XII's manner of engaging with the modern world that defined his pontificate.

Laying the groundwork for the pope's controversial, contradictory actions from 1939 to 1958, Ventresca begins with the story of Pacelli's Roman upbringing, his intellectual formation in Rome's…


Who are we?

We are historians of twentieth-century Germany who investigate the relationship between church and state from 1918-1945. We are fascinated by the choices of Christian leaders during this time as they negotiated the challenges of living and leading under National Socialism. In our writing, we seek to understand the connections between Christian antisemitism and National Socialists’ racial-based exclusionary ethnonationalism and antisemitism and seek to understand how religious communities navigate ethical and practical challenges of living through political upheaval and fascism.


We edited...

Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars

By Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand (editor),

Book cover of Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars

What is our book about?

Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars places the interaction between religion and ethnonationalism – a particular articulation of nationalism based upon an imagined ethnic community – at the centre of its analysis, offering a new lens through which to analyze how nationalism, ethnicity, and race became markers of inclusion and exclusion. Those who did not embrace the same ethnonationalist vision faced ostracization and persecution, with Jews experiencing pervasive exclusion and violence as centuries of antisemitic Christian rhetoric intertwined with right-wing nationalist extremism. The thread of antisemitism as a manifestation of ethnonationalism is woven through each of the essays, along with the ways in which individuals sought to critique religious ethnonationalism and the violence it inspired.

Pope Joan

By Donna Woolfolk Cross,

Book cover of Pope Joan

I love this novel because of how it takes what seems like an impossible story (a female pope?!) and writes it so carefully and compellingly that the impossible becomes completely plausible. The young woman’s journey from her home and family to becoming pope…how she navigates a world that is completely not designed for her…I was totally captivated by the story.

Pope Joan

By Donna Woolfolk Cross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pope Joan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Pope Joan has all the elements one wants in a historical drama—love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets. Cross has written an engaging book.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review

In this international bestseller and basis for the 2009 movie of the same name, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day.

For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die—Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who…


Who am I?

I’ve been reading fiction set in the middle ages since…well, since I could read! Tales of Arthur and his knights featured largely on my childhood bookshelves. In graduate school, I got the chance to study both the literature and the religion of the middle ages and read up on the source texts. Reading literature from the period itself – whether saints’ lives or poems or travel tales – made me realize how rich the age was, and how few stories we tend to retell. I became passionate about writing more about the experiences of those who didn’t fit the mainstream expectations of gender and sexuality. There are a wealth of tales that need to be retold.


I wrote...

The Story of Silence

By Alex Myers,

Book cover of The Story of Silence

What is my book about?

There was once, long ago, a foolish king who decreed that women should not, and would not, inherit. Thus when a girl-child was born to Lord Cador – Merlin-enchanted fighter of dragons and Earl of Cornwall – he secreted her away: to be raised a boy so that the family land and honour would remain intact. That child’s name was Silence.

Silence must find their own place in a medieval world that is determined to place the many restrictions of gender and class upon them. With dreams of knighthood and a lonely heart to answer, Silence sets out to define themselves. Soon their silence will be ended.

John Paul the Great

By Peggy Noonan,

Book cover of John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father

Peggy Noonan's biography of Pope John Paul is as much a memoir of Noonan, herself, and how she was shaped by the pope. Her portrait of John Paul II recounts his struggles against Nazism and communism and his work for freedom. 

One part that has always stuck with me—Noonan also describes her love of the Rosary. Pope John Paul helped foster this love of the Rosary in her. Noonan said of the Rosary, that saying it puts her whole day on the right trajectory. If she would just start the day with the Rosary, all her thoughts, words, and deeds would subtly shift, come together, and follow the path laid out for her by God. Days without the Rosary were more chaotic and jumbled.    

John Paul the Great

By Peggy Noonan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked John Paul the Great as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Peggy Noonan comes "a beautifully written testimony about . . . the most historically recognized pope" (Library Journal)

With such accla imed books as When Character Was King, Peggy Noonan has become one of our most eloquent and respected commentators. Now she offers a stirring portrait of a spiritual and intellectual giant who personally confronted all of the worst tragedies of his age. Drawing on scholarship, interviews with prominent Catholics, and her own experience, Noonan traces the extraordinary life and struggles of Pope John Paul II with characteristic insight and probity-and explores how much…

Who am I?

Scott L. Smith, Jr. is a Catholic author, attorney, and theologian. He is the author of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II, the St. Joseph Consecration for Children and Families, along with Fr. Donald Calloway, a new translation of St. Louis de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. He contributes regularly to his blog, The Scott Smith Blog, and is the co-host of the Catholic Nerds podcast.


I wrote...

Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

By St. John Paul II, Scott L. Smith,

Book cover of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

What is my book about?

St. John Paul II said, “the Rosary is my favorite prayer.” So what could possibly make praying the Rosary even better? Praying the Rosary with St. John Paul II! Here are the pope's own words and meditations on the mysteries of the Rosary. 

Angels & Demons

By Dan Brown,

Book cover of Angels & Demons

There’s nothing like a Dan Brown book to get you racing from page to page, and for me this is one of his best. It helps that I love Rome, and was working there as a tour guide when I read it. This is the easiest way to learn about Rome, and one of the most enjoyable. Alongside the fast-paced plot and intrigue, there is a lot of information about the history and in particular art history of Rome. A wonderful read if you are about to visit Rome, or would love to be transported there in your imagination.

Angels & Demons

By Dan Brown,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Angels & Demons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

CERN Institute, Switzerland: a world-renowned scientist is found brutally murdered with a mysterious symbol seared onto his chest.

The Vatican, Rome: the College of Cardinals assembles to elect a new pope. Somewhere beneath them, an unstoppable bomb of terrifying power relentlessly counts down to oblivion.

In a breathtaking race against time, Harvard professor Robert Langdon must decipher a labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols if he is to defeat those responsible - the Illuminati, a secret brotherhood presumed extinct for nearly four hundred years, reborn to continue their deadly vendetta against their most hated enemy, the Catholic Church.

Origin, the spellbinding…


Who am I?

I may be English by birth, but my soul has always felt Italian! I have lived and worked in Italy for many years, first in Rome, then Milan, and finally Tuscany when we fell in love with an abandoned farmhouse. I wrote The Chestnut House while we were living in the mountains of the Garfagnana in northern Tuscany, inspired by the wartime stories our neighbours shared with us. For me Italy is the perfect country—great weather, food, wine, language, and culture! I love both reading about it, and writing about it. I hope you enjoy the books on my list as much as I have!


I wrote...

The Chestnut House

By Anna Valencia,

Book cover of The Chestnut House

What is my book about?

When Emma inherits Stazzana, a crumbling farmhouse in the wilderness of northern Tuscany, she embarks upon a quest that will take her from Scotland to Italy, from the present back to the Second World War in search of her ancestors and the reason they left Stazzana all those years ago. The past and the present connect in the form of Luciano, a retired farmer, who befriends Emma and her family, and eventually leads her to Giuliana. Can the truth about what happened at Stazzana set them both free?

Witness to Hope

By George Weigel,

Book cover of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul died when I was just on the cusp of manhood. Sadly, I never really understood who he was until he was already gone. He and Mother Teresa were the faces of Catholicism to me growing up. This book taught me, not just about his life, but the proper perspective on the last several hundred years of human history. While expansive, it is also deeply personal. This is a book I regularly consult for inspiration on leadership, fatherhood, virtue, and all these in the face of overwhelming odds.  

This is the most authoritative, expansive, and beautiful of the biographies of Pope St. John Paul II. Here is the story of the priest from Krakow who brought down Soviet Communism. George Weigel was personally chosen by His Holiness for this task, and it was an excellent choice.      

Witness to Hope

By George Weigel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Witness to Hope as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Fascinating...sheds light on the history of the twentieth century for everyone.”—New York Times Book Review

Now, with an updated preface, the latest edition of the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II that explores how influential he was on the world stage and in some of the most historic events of the twentieth century that can still be felt today.

Witness to Hope is the authoritative biography of one of the singular figures—some might argue the singular figure—of our time. With unprecedented cooperation from John Paul II and the people who knew and worked with him throughout his life, George…


Who am I?

Scott L. Smith, Jr. is a Catholic author, attorney, and theologian. He is the author of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II, the St. Joseph Consecration for Children and Families, along with Fr. Donald Calloway, a new translation of St. Louis de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. He contributes regularly to his blog, The Scott Smith Blog, and is the co-host of the Catholic Nerds podcast.


I wrote...

Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

By St. John Paul II, Scott L. Smith,

Book cover of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

What is my book about?

St. John Paul II said, “the Rosary is my favorite prayer.” So what could possibly make praying the Rosary even better? Praying the Rosary with St. John Paul II! Here are the pope's own words and meditations on the mysteries of the Rosary. 

A Pope and a President

By Paul Kengor,

Book cover of A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

I love reading about how the strength of conviction, not strength of arms, defeated Communism. The work of these two leaders, John Paul II and President Reagan, was as consequential as that of Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. A lot of their story is known, but a lot remained unknown... until now. 

This is a fascinating portrait of two world leaders that survived assassination. It is a strange coincidence, don't you think? They did. They believed that they were spared by God as part of the "DP," as Reagan spoke of it: the "Divine Plan" to rid the world of Soviet Communism. It is a fight they have passed down to us, as well.  

A Pope and a President

By Paul Kengor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Pope and a President as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Even as historians credit Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II with hastening the end of the Cold War, they have failed to recognize the depth or significance of the bond that developed between the two leaders. Acclaimed scholar and bestselling author Paul Kengor changes that. In this fascinating book, he reveals a singular bond-which included a spiritual connection between the Catholic pope and the Protestant president-that drove the two men to confront what they knew to be the great evil of the twentieth century: Soviet communism. Reagan and John Paul II almost didn't have the opportunity to forge this…

Who am I?

Scott L. Smith, Jr. is a Catholic author, attorney, and theologian. He is the author of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II, the St. Joseph Consecration for Children and Families, along with Fr. Donald Calloway, a new translation of St. Louis de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. He contributes regularly to his blog, The Scott Smith Blog, and is the co-host of the Catholic Nerds podcast.


I wrote...

Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

By St. John Paul II, Scott L. Smith,

Book cover of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

What is my book about?

St. John Paul II said, “the Rosary is my favorite prayer.” So what could possibly make praying the Rosary even better? Praying the Rosary with St. John Paul II! Here are the pope's own words and meditations on the mysteries of the Rosary. 

Book cover of The Delight of Being Ordinary: A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama

Did you ever want to escape your life? Like that soap commercial, “Calgon, take me away!” That just so happens in this book. The Pope and the Dalai Lama decide they need a break from their high-profile lives and just want to slip away into society. To be unnoticed and ordinary. So they don a disguise and escape the Vatican in a Maserati? Thus begins this story, a part whimsical, part spiritual road trip touring Italy, detailing cultural and political differences alongside the identities with which we define ourselves and that one difficult question gets asked, exactly where and how far does one person’s tolerance or openness end? This delightful story kept me captivated while sharing spiritual inspirations and words of hope and kindness. 

The Delight of Being Ordinary

By Roland Merullo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Delight of Being Ordinary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What happens when the Pope and the Dalai Lama decide they need a secret vacation?
 
Roland Merullo’s playful, eloquent, and life-affirming novel finds the world’s two holiest men teaming up for an unsanctioned road trip through the Italian countryside--where they rediscover the everyday joys and challenges of ordinary life.
 
During the Dalai Lama’s highly publicized official visit to the Vatican, the Pope suggests an adventure so unexpected and appealing that neither man can resist: they will shed their robes for several days and live as ordinary men. Before dawn, the two beloved religious leaders make a daring escape from Vatican…

Who am I?

More than anything, I consider myself an artist. I rely on intuition or “gut feelings” to guide me. The laws of the universe have proven to me that thoughts do become things. I often say, think good thoughts. The books I’m recommending, are all about following your instincts and releasing any outcome to find the treasures in your life. I believe in the law of attraction. I love food, music, and Hollywood and have invited it all into my restaurant. I’m a chef with a culinary arts degree, an award-winning author and chef to the stars. Feeding many celebrities from Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling to The Cake Boss and Alton Brown. Dreams do come true!


I wrote...

Is The Coffee Fresh? Confessions of Drama, Dysfunction and Daily Life at a Downtown Coffeehouse

By Marc Renson,

Book cover of Is The Coffee Fresh? Confessions of Drama, Dysfunction and Daily Life at a Downtown Coffeehouse

What is my book about?

Have you ever asked yourself, Why Me? Marc Renson, Owner/Chef/Author of Ambition Coffee & Eatery, in downtown Schenectady, NY, takes his readers on an outrageous journey of madness and mayhem while he operates his coffeehouse. 

Read about celebrities who eat there and meet the “irregulars” who keep the staff hopping with their crazy and cosmic questions. Interestingly enough, enduring all the insanity, results in an understanding that everything does happen for a reason. There is a purpose for meeting all these people and they collectively contribute to answer that age old question of…Why Me? Now, take a seat and make yourself comfy and as Marc would say, “Welcome to my world…and welcome to my Ambition!”  

Aretino's Dialogues

By Pietro Aretino,

Book cover of Aretino's Dialogues

I highly recommend the works of Pietro Aretino. I love satire, and Aretino was a satirist for the ages. I admired his raw courage, for he spared no one—including kings and popes—on his way to earning the title “Scourge of Princes.” He died in his early sixties, reportedly from “laughing too much.” I cannot imagine an epitaph I would rather have engraved on my headstone.

Aretino's Dialogues

By Pietro Aretino,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aretino's Dialogues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

tales from Counter-Renaissance Rome

Who am I?

Folk-singing was my first vocation, but I made a sudden left turn into comedy, becoming one-half of The Times Square Two. After a few years touring the world, I settled in Hollywood and became an actor, writer, and director. I was inspired to write The Food Taster by the maître d’ of a famous restaurant in Los Angeles. When I complained that my meal had made me ill, he smiled and said I should get myself a food taster.


I wrote...

The Food Taster

By Peter Elbling,

Book cover of The Food Taster

What is my book about?

When Ugo Di Fonte, a starving peasant, and his beautiful daughter Miranda are snatched from their farm by the despot Duke Federico, Ugo thinks life can’t get any worse. He’s wrong. The Duke orders Ugo to be his new food taster, a hazardous job made even more so by the Duke’s many enemies (including the cook). But it’s not just the food that’s dangerous. Miranda’s beauty brings perils of its own as she attracts the attention of the Duke himself. Ugo realizes he must find a way to protect Miranda from all those who desire her: his master, her lover, and perhaps, most sinisterly, his own lascivious brother.

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