Bloomsbury, $24.95, 448 pp.
Published shortly before Pope John Paul II’s death, Universal Father is one of a raft of biographies of Karol Wojtyla. The most notable of the bunch is George Weigel’s Witness to Hope (HarperCollins), which had the advantage of both papal cooperation and exhaustive research. Weigel is still the person to go to for fact-checking, though less for interpretation, since there is a whiff of the hagiographical about it.
Gary O’Connor, a veteran biographer of theater personalities, has produced a solid, readable study of the late pope. He has a pleasing prose style and the ability to condense complex issues into a few pages. He spends a good deal of energy attempting to capture the pope’s “inner” life, particularly his universally recognized commitment to prayer. O’Connor’s tone is far more sympathetic than the muckraking assessment of his countryman John Cornwell (The Pontiff in Winter); O’Connor operates with the hermeneutics of trust rather than suspicion and is rightly dismissive of the more egregious judgments of the less than well-informed.