The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World.
By Cullen Murphy.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 310 pp. $27
The history of Vatican City stretches back to the first century ad, and it is a story filled with more heroes and villains, saints and sinners, high-minded visionaries and lowbrow crooks, than Hollywood’s morgue of B-movie scripts. Everyone who has done research in the exquisite Vatican Library comes away with a few experiences that can enthrall any dinner party. When, in 1991, I was researching the life of Galileo, I was escorted by a bloodless German priest, the head of the Vatican Archives, through the narrow corridors of the stacks, up serpentine staircases, past multiple locked doors and glass cases filled with the golden gifts of kings to popes over the centuries, into an inner sanctum. There, I would be shown the transcript of the Inquisition’s four withering interrogations of Galileo. The priest removed a strap lock across a steel cabinet and reverently opened a middle drawer, reaching for the leather-bound record. Next to it was another volume.
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James Reston Jr., a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, is the author of Galileo: A Life (1994), Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors (2005), and Defenders of the Faith: Christianity and Islam Battle for the Soul of Europe, 1520–1536 (2009). His forthcoming book, a novel, is The Nineteenth Hijacker.more from this author >>