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Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life

Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life

by Adrian House, Karen Armstrong (Foreword by)
This book is written for readers of any faith or none. Although the whole of Francis's life was based on his belief in God, he was the least dogmatic of saints, seeing himself as God's troubadour or fool. It is unnecessary to share his faith in order to appreciate his soaring achievements.

His life (1182-1226) was rich in its succession of dramas. After his


This book is written for readers of any faith or none. Although the whole of Francis's life was based on his belief in God, he was the least dogmatic of saints, seeing himself as God's troubadour or fool. It is unnecessary to share his faith in order to appreciate his soaring achievements.

His life (1182-1226) was rich in its succession of dramas. After his debauchery as a young playboy, merchant and soldier-he fought at the Battle of Collestrada—he stripped naked in court, abandoned everything he owned and devoted his life to the poorest and sick. The all-embracing relationship between him and Clare enriched each as man and woman. On his missions he walked over the Pyrenees barefoot, was shipwrecked and crossed the lines during the Fifth Crusade to parley with the sultan in Egypt. In 1224 marks similar to Christ's wounds appeared on his hands, feet and side, the first recorded case of the stigmata.

His feelings for creation, epitomized in his sermon to the birds, stimulated the realism of the Italian Renaissance artists; his vernacular poems inclined Dante to write The Divine Comedy in Italian, not Latin. The first religious order he founded, for men, had a radical effect on social justice and the developing universities in Europe; his second order, the Poor Clares, soon numbered hundreds, including royalty and half a dozen saints; his third, for laity sworn to peace, helped destroy the military power of feudalism. Men like Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Cervantes and Galileo allegedly joined the Third Order. But, above all, it is through his universal love that he has influenced the world for nearly eight centuries, drawing more than three million people every year to his tomb in Assisi.

About the Author:
Adrian House read medieval and modern history at New College, Oxford, and was for many years a publisher with William Collins (now HarperCollins) in London. He has spent four years researching and writing this book, living for six months in Assisi and visiting Franciscan sites, communities and libraries in the United States, Britain, Italy, Spain and Egypt.

Editorial Reviews

Barry Unsworth
In a biography as good as this it is difficult to know what to praise most: the engaging clarity of the style, the compelling narrative of a dramatic career, the vivid recreation of everyday life in the period or the deftly interwoven power struggles of Pope and emperor in the background.
Sunday Times
Daily Telegraph
Adrian House has written a book that is...gentle and reflective....this is a book to be grateful for. It is a beautifully clear exposition of a life that is worth emulating.
Financial Times
Adrian House succeeds beautifully in reinterpreting the medieval vitae of an official saint as records of the life of a man full of contradictions, and in giving his readers an inkling of life in 13th-century Italy.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The world would not seem to need another biography of Francis of Assisi, the Italian saint who has charmed the religious and the irreligious alike in the eight centuries following his death in 1226. Indeed, House, who has spent many years in the publishing world in London, begins this one with an explanation for having added to the "legion" of books about the saint. Quite simply, he confesses, he was curious about Francis and "this book is the result." It is a happy one at that. The four years House devoted to writing about and researching the life of Francis were clearly well spent; his book is not only comprehensive in treatment but superbly written. He draws the reader into the saint's life with the ease of a master storyteller who has organized the details so skillfully as to allow them to do the work of spinning the tale. His method of setting Francis in the context of the times that shaped him is especially effective. He explains, for example, how dreams were taken seriously in the Middle Ages and how they in turn were significant to Francis in discerning his spiritual calling. Without casting Francis as a modern environmentalist or feminist, House nonetheless shows how the saint's great love for creation and regard for women captured the essence of these later movements. House's approach also gives the relationship between Francis and St. Clare new texture and meaning without overly romanticizing it. By writing for those of any or no faith, the author has given aficionados of Francis and Clare as well as the merely curious much to savor. (Mar.) Forecast: Although the market is comfortably full of biographies of this popular saint, this title offers additional crossover appeal to women and those interested in ecospirituality. This biography attracted stellar reviews when it was published in the U.K. last year; Hidden Spring will support the book's U.S. debut with national publicity, New York and San Francisco author engagements and a 500,000-piece direct mail campaign. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
House has provided a sizzling tale of adventure and spirituality within the format of a biography of St. Francis. An enormous amount of legend surrounds the few historically certain facts of the saint's life, but the author displays his awareness of the problem. Acknowledging that he is not a historian, House is still able to produce a work that makes creative use of both historical and legendary material while always being conscious of the historical roots. Three things make his work different from others. First, he makes the most of the "almost continuous drama of [Francis's] life without sacrificing accuracy." Second, he effectively sets Francis's life within the social, economic, military, and religious forces of Italy during this time (1182-1226). And third, he shows in detail how the lives of Francis and Saint Clare were interwoven. Beginning with Francis's youth, including his military time, House describes the visions of Francis, his relations with various Popes, and the eventual founding of the Order. His description of events at the end of Francis's life are especially interesting. What results is not a spare presentation of historical facts but a vivid, interesting, and readable extended historical speculation on St. Francis.--David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An admiring biography of the medieval Italian saint. House (The Great Safari, 1993) declares at the outset that he is no scholar, but he did live for six months in Assisi and has visited many of the world's important Franciscan sites. He begins with Francis's death in 1226, introducing two notions he examines later-Francis's uncanny capacity for relating to animals, especially birds (when he died, it was said that singing larks circled above him), and the appearance on his body of the stigmata (the five wounds of Christ). House then returns to conventional chronology. And so we hear about Francis's childhood in the household of a prosperous cloth merchant, about his somewhat dissipated youth (including full measures of wine, women, and song), his year in captivity during regional warfare, his increasing sensitivity to the needs of the poor, and his decision to renounce all worldliness and devote himself to a life of self-denial and religious purity that was astonishing in its rigor. House chronicles the slow, steady growth of his following, his visit in 1209 to the Pope, who granted him permission to establish his own order (the Friars Minor, or Franciscans), which has grown to become one of the most influential in the Church. Here, too, are the stories of his principal followers, most significantly his Clare, the young woman who established the Poor Clares, the second order of the Franciscans, who today number some 18,000 women. The author follows Francis to the Holy Land, where he failed to convert the Sultan to Christianity but earned his admiration nonetheless. Throughout, he offers some half-hearted (and sometimes half-baked) scientific and psychological explanations forsomeof the miraculous aspects of Francis's story, but invariably he concludes that the supernatural is actual. "[A] sweeping dismissal of such occurrences [miracles]," he declares, "is as irrational as their wholesale acceptance." A labor of love, but hagiography nonetheless. (4 maps; 14 color illustrations)

Product Details

Paulist Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are Saying About This

Paul Wilkins
A fresh look not only at Francis, but at the world he inhabited and was to sanctify. Adrian House leads us through the life of the spiritual father of ecology, this humble, gentle spirit who speaks to our age as powerfully as he spoke to his own. A most valuable and needed book.
—(Paul Wilkes, author of Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life)
Bernard McGinn
Adrian House has managed to perform a rare feat--to write a new biography of St. Francis that is both readable and accurate to the sources...particularly effective for the way in which it locates Francis in the midst of the changing world of early thirteenth-century Italy.
—(Bernard McGinn, Naomi Shenstone Donnelly Professor in the Divinity School, University of Chicago)
Eric Newby
A fascinating, exceptionally well-written evocation of the medieval life and times of St Francis�an altogether splendid book, one which I am plunging into for the second time with real pleasure.
—(Eric Newby, author of Love and War in the Apennines)

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