Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: The Vatican

The Vatican: Secrets and Treasures of the Holy City

A few weeks ago I received an elaborate mailing piece for this book. I looked through it longingly and then resolutely threw the pieces in the trash. I had no business purchasing a book right now, even if it was a DK Publishing book ... those grown-up picture books that I love so much.

You can easily imagine my delight then when I received an email offering a review copy the next week.

What you may not be able to so easily imagine is just how beautiful this book is. In fact, I took it to my Scripture Study class the night I received it and was afraid I wouldn't get it back. Person after person paged through, lingering over the beautiful photography of the gardens, treasures, and buildings. Each of them asked the price ($35) and then would say, "That's all? But it's such a big book with so much in it..."

Actually, upon checking, I found that DK offers it for a nice discount and Amazon for an even steeper one.

So now that all those preliminaries are out of the way, just what is in this book?

The author is a historian and former Vatican employee who clearly knows his way around the ins and outs of Vatican City. He also knows the Vatican officials well enough to have gotten full cooperation and to be able to display some things that the regular visitor would never see.

Divided into six sections that cover the Church year, history, architecture, daily life, people and treasures, the book goes into much more depth than one would expect. True, many of the 320 pages feature the stunning photography that is DK's trademark. However, the history section has a succinct yet thorough overview of popes and their accomplishments than I expected. In fact, it is nice to see one that handles the basics so well without getting bogged down in the details. Admittedly I tend to read some very indepth books.

I think that my favorite section features people and their jobs. We see at work those famous Swiss Guards (and their training), the ceremonies assistant, the mosaic restorer, the papal photographer, and even what extensive practice that one must have to sing in the choir. All these have multiple photos and captions that put us in place with them.

However, I also enjoyed the architecture section more than I thought I would. Let's face it. It is unlikely that I will ever go to Rome, much less the Vatican. This book puts me there where so much that is integral to the Catholic faith takes place and has taken place for hundreds and hundreds of years.

This is well worth the price and would make a wonderful special Christmas gift for someone. Highly recommended.

To see more inside spreads, visit DK.com

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