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.
... a judicious work of scholarship, carefully researched and elegantly narrated. The author draws from a jaw-dropping range of archival sources, and the portraits that he paints of leading Italian nationalists such as Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi are first-rate. Yet Mr. Kertzer interprets Pius IX and his Curia principally as political actors, eager to recover the Pope’s earthly kingdom and drag Europe back to 'medieval' times. Such an approach offers insight, but fails to examine the theological self-understanding that the pope had of his office and the relationship between its temporal and spiritual authority. Grasping these would require a depth of historical analysis beyond the political circumstances of midcentury Europe.