Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint by Donald Spoto (2008)

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Library Journal Review: Skilled biographer Spoto, who has written books on many celebrities (e.g., director Alfred Hitchcock and actor Laurence Olivier), has turned more recently to religious subjects, namely, Jesus and Saint Francis of Assisi. A former university teacher of religion and humanities, Spoto draws in readers by illuminating his subjects so that they give witness for themselves. Joan of Arc (1411/12-31) is presented with updated scholarship in clear historical context, with a fresh contemporary take on the country teenager whose faith led to a turning point in the Hundred Years’ War and the molding of France as a nation. Spoto effectively refutes some earlier cynical views of Joan with facts showing the reasonableness of and precedents for her actions. Liberal quotes, especially from her trial record, demonstrate how much falsification took place for political purpose. Joan was burned as a “heretic” on trumped-up charges, but the trial was nullified in 1451, and she was finally canonized in 1920. Recommended for academic and public libraries as a worthy contribution to a renewed understanding of a figure who still speaks to today’s realities. Anna M. Donnelly

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