Kertzer tells this story in greater detail and with more infectious energy than it's ever been told in English, and he never loses sight of the crucial larger issues that were at stake when armed mobs stormed the Papal territories ... What the papacy lost in territory it regained ten times over in spiritual authority. The Pope Who Would Be King tells the very human story of this modern rebirth of the papacy, one of the world's foremost tales of political survival.
As David Kertzer shows in this subtle and brilliantly told account, the exile of Pius IX was an event that shaped modern Europe ... Kertzer is especially illuminating on the geopolitical dimension of the pope’s exile and the jockeying among the powers to control the terms under which the restoration of papal government should take place ... In the last part of his book, Kertzer chronicles the counter-revolution in the Papal States, vividly evoking the unexpectedly bitter and lethal struggle to subdue the city and the repressions that attended the restoration of papal government ... Kertzer writes lucidly, navigating the crowded scenery of his tale with great deftness. His narrative achieves momentum without sacrificing reflective depth, and makes spaces for the many stories spun by the protagonists themselves as they reasoned their way into and out of the predicaments they faced. The sunshine of authorial attention and sympathy falls almost equally on all the principals ... this is a story about the brief triumph of liberal modernity over the forces of an obscurantist theocracy whose present-day avatars still menace the liberal democratic project.
Kertzer unfolds the tense drama when the newly reactionary pope faces such popular hostility that he furtively flees Rome after hearing the cheers of crowds lauding the assassin who has murdered his chief administrator. The drama intensifies when the pope later reenters Rome backed by French and Austrian forces, crushing the hopes of both Italian nationalists and French republicans as he restores the church’s theocratic prerogatives. Diverse personalities, regimes, and philosophies come into focus as formative influences on the unpredictable evolution of church, city, nation, and continent. Essential reading for students of modern European history.