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For readers ofThe Da Vinci Code, John Allen's book on Opus Dei may be something of a revelation. One opens it expecting to find at the very least GPS coordinates pinpointing albino monk training camps. Or perhaps full disclosure of untold wealth flowing through offshore bank accounts. Instead one finds exhaustive research, interviews and careful analysis that reveal a group alive with ideas and purpose, but a bit short on sinister plans. Removing the sense of mystery surrounding Opus Dei may not serve future thriller writers well, but the journey is fascinating in its own right. Allen's biography of Opus Dei is also necessarily a brief biography of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, born in Spain in 1902, whose vision of the sanctification of work gave birth to Opus Dei, or "The Work" as its members call it. The idea of finding sanctification through work was not original to Escrivá, but the power of his vision certainly brought it to a fuller realization within the Catholic church. Allen explores this central idea that "one can find God through the practice of law, engineering or medicine, by picking up the garbage or by delivering the mail, if one brings to that work the proper Christian spirit." For Escrivá sanctification flowed in equal measure both in and outside the walls of the church. Much of Allen's own work getting to know Opus Dei is done with numerous, wide-ranging personal interviews, from the halls of the Vatican, to Africa, to U.S. suburbs. Allen is also careful to include voices of ex-members. He recognizes the best way to dispel the aura of mystery surrounding Opus Dei is to shine a bright light on it, and with a remarkable degree of cooperation from Opus Dei itself, that is exactly what he does. His aggressiveness in countering conspiracy theory with information reaches its apex in the only slow-going chapter in the entire book, a survey of Opus Dei's financial holdings and activities where a double-shot of cappuccino is recommended before attacking the endless lists detailing financial information. Ultimately, Allen's work comes across as a balanced, perceptive inquiry into a group that, while perhaps not preferring the center stage limelight, does not suffer greatly when exposed to it.--Ed Dobeas
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ISBN-10:  0385514492
ISBN-13:  978-0385514491
Author:  John L. Allen
Publisher:  Doubleday Religion
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review by . May 06, 2013
A fair, balanced and well written investigation into the history of Opus Dei.
Ever since Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code came into print and was then later brought to the big screen by Ron Howard, misconceptions immediately arose around Opus Dei and its beloved founder, Saint Josemaria Escriva. Sometimes deemed a cult with manipulative and unorthodox recruiting tactics, others see the lay Catholic organization as a divinely inspired miracle whose purpose it is is to evangelize a secularized and wounded society and culture, the latter being something closer to the truth. …
review by . June 18, 2006
I have never (to my knowledge) met a member of Opus Dei; I had no previous knowledge beyond the most superficial about this group. Allen's book starts off strongly and finishes in the same eager spirit, as he addresses Opus Dei with his own suggestions about how they could dispel the myths and be more straightforward with the rest of us about their mission, their indocrination, and their allegiances. Friends of mine knowing my own religious interests had been asking me what I knew about Opus Dei …
review by . December 19, 2005
It's a cliché by now to say that someone has "wrestled" with a difficult question, but to the extent it can ever be applied appropriately, I believe this book merits it. John L. Allen has tacked a large and complex topic -- one that is surrounded in myth and mystery, brings out strong feelings from critics and defenders alike, and involves questions of deep, even eternal, importance. He has done it remarkably well.      I've read, I believe, all of John …
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