Friday Finds 8/22/2008

What great books did you hear about or find this week?

The Secret Female Pope Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope by Eleanor Herman. Morrow, $25.95 (452p) ISBN 9780061245558

In this engrossing “forgotten story” of the Vatican, Herman (Sex with the Queen) relays not only the life of 17th Cenutry Papal puppet-master Olimpia Maidalchini, but the political and social history of her age, including glimpses of art and architecture, family relations, medical care, religious traditions and daily life. Born into a family of average means, Maidalchini rebelled successfully against her father’s plans to place her in a convent. This early triumph gave her a will that she’d eventually use to grab the ultimate seat of power in 17th century Italy, the Papacy, through the likely accomplice of her indecisive brother-in-law, a lawyer with holy orders who was dazzled by Maidalchini’s intelligence, planning and accounting capabilities. He submitted to the her plans, and she eventually ushered him into power as Pope Innocent X. As her wealth and strength grow, so does the resentment around her, but her fate would be sealed by the bubonic plague. Exhaustively researched, with historical vignettes interwoven seamlessly, Herman’s latest provides a window into an age of empire, nepotism and intrigue that rivals any novel for fascinating reading. – Publisher’s Weekly

Zoli by Colum McCann. Random, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6372-7

McCann’s story is loosely based on a real Gypsy poet, Papsuza, who was exiled by her people when her poems were published. He has enriched that story with insightful and evocative prose, and in Zoli has created a vibrant character who is able to maintain her identity and proud heritage, even when abandoned by those she loves. – BookPage


Not a Genuine Black Man: Or, How I Claimed My Piece of Ground in the Lily-White Suburbs by Brian Copeland. Hyperion, $22.95 (336p) ISBN 1-4013-0233-5

Laugh through tears at Copeland’s chronicle of a black childhood in white San Leandro. “Honest and engaging, this memoir is a valuable book for anyone trying to straddle racial lines, for anyone who has ever felt out of place.” – Publishers Weekly


One response to “Friday Finds 8/22/2008

  1. Since you noted Mistress of the Vatican, just wanted to call your attention to a new post in the Baltimore Sun’s book blog ( about vandalism at the Enoch Pratt library’s headquarters. Here’s the beginning of post:

    The shattered glass has been repaired in the display window that had advertised the Sept. 16 appearance of Eleanor Herman, author of Mistress of the Vatican. But this morning, the display still stood empty, a sad gap among the tall, metal-framed windows that front Cathedral Street.

    There’s no sure proof that the vandal who shattered the window was protesting Herman or her book, about a woman who ran the Catholic church through her brother-in-law and reputed lover, Pope Innocent X. But Herman, who grew up in Roland Park, wrote to Read Street that a Pratt security camera showed a man “who appeared to come from across the street, where the Basilica of the Assumption is located, though they don’t know if he came out of the church itself. He was white and well dressed, in his thirties, and stared at the display before leaving the range of the camera, where he picked up a rock from construction and threw it at the window. This doesn’t seem to be a random act of vandalism. He seemed deeply perturbed by the poster. I would like to think that the Catholic Church, with its rich, colorful 2,000 years of history going straight back to Jesus, need not be threatened by a history book.” …

    The direct link is:

    Regards, Dave

    Dave Rosenthal, Readership and Sunday Editor

    The Baltimore Sun


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