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Francis of Assisi
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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.

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.DDavid Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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