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