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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’s 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.
Advance praise for The Pope Who Would Be King
“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, 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.”—James Carroll, author of The Cloister
About the Author
David I. Kertzer is the Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University, where he served as provost from 2006 to 2011. He is the author of twelve books, including The Pope and Mussolini, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for biography and the American Historical Association Prize for best book on Italian history; The Popes Against the Jews, a finalist for the Mark Lynton History Prize; and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a finalist for the National Book Award in 1997. He has twice been awarded the Marraro Prize from the Society for Italian Historical Studies for the best book on Italian history and in 2005 was elected to membership in the American Association of Arts and Sciences. He and his wife, Susan, live in Providence, Rhode Island, and Harpswell, Maine.
“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
“Kertzer provides an exceptionally deep archival and scholarly foundation and has a rare capacity to tell the story of a critical chapter in European history with novelistic verve. He brilliantly links the history of Italian characters to epochal changes in modern European history, including the changing fortunes of the papacy and its rule over the Papal States, of the time-honored tradition of divine right, and of the separation of church and state.”—Kevin Madigan, author of Medieval Christianity
“The Pope Who Would Be King is a remarkable achievement—both a page-turner and a major contribution to scholarship accomplished with outstanding clarity and economy. Kertzer gives this story a notable degree of freshness, and brings out vividly the determination, passions, blood, and gore of this dramatic moment in European history.”—John Davis, editor, Journal of Modern Italian Studies
“This lively, sympathetic yet critical account of the early years of the pontificate of Pope Pius IX is worthy of its distinguished author.”—Rev. John W. O’Malley, S.J., author of The Jesuits
“Exhilarating and hypnotic, The Pope Who Would Be King shines the spotlight on a time when today’s world struggled for birth as the church fought tooth and nail for every last shred of power and relevancy.”—John Guare, playwright, Six Degrees of Separation
“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 (starred review)