An “Engrossing Look Behind the Scenes”

Library Journal: March 2013

Much has been written about Pope Pius XII and his actions during World War II, most famously by John Cornwell in his provocatively titled Hitler’s Pope.

Speculation continues among historians about how differently things might have turned out for Europe had that pope taken a stronger stance against Nazism and Italian fascism.

This book focuses on his predecessor, Pius XI. It has now become known that, with the help of American priest John LaFarge, he was ready to take that stronger stance in the days before his death in 1939.

Pius XI specifically asked LaFarge, whose writings on American racism the pope had read, to draft a strongly worded encyclical against racism and anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately it never saw the light of day.

Using LaFarge’s journals and recent releases from the Vatican archives, Eisner (The Freedom Line) tells the story of LaFarge’s clandestine recruitment for the task and the intrigue surrounding the encyclical’s ultimate suppression.

VERDICT This engrossing look behind the scenes of the Vatican at a pivotal moment in world history will appeal to history buffs.

It would make a great book club read as well, where a lively discussion over one of the great “what ifs” of history could be had. —Brett Rohlwing, Milwaukee P.L.