Having read and been impressed by the excellence of John L. Allen's two recent books about the Catholic Church, "Conclave" (2002) and "All the Pope's Men" (2004), I had no hesitation in hurrying out and securing a copy of "Cardinal Ratzinger" as soon as I heard of the subject's elevation to the papacy. Ouch! Fascinated as I was by the apparent wealth of information and documentation in these pages, I needed an asbestos bookmark to survive the heat of Allen's judgment of the man.
I am therefore most indebted to other reviewers on this page who report news I apparently missed, that Allen has backed away from this book and its lack of "sober analysis." It's good to see that the insightful, balanced, Allen of his later works is the true man, and my respect for him rises still further for his honesty in admitting that things got a little out of control the first time around.
Still, I would argue that this book is still worth a read because not all of Ratzinger's critics have made the same journey. "Cardinal Ratzinger" not only transmits Allen's own strong feelings at the time, but the judgments of many others throughout the length of Joseph Ratzinger's long career. Allen may have changed his mind, but he's just one (albeit prominent) man; the criticisms leveled here -- to say nothing of the invectives hurled by others -- aren't going away. Allen's new bio will no doubt be a far better book. But if you want to experience at least some of the strong feelings Benedict XVI and his pre-elevation legacy have generated, this may still be a worthwhile place to start.
Just bring your awareness of how the author's opinions have matured, and a good pair of oven mitts.
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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers (Cascadian)
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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